27 September 2019 - National Moth Night

Large Wainscot (Nonagria pilicornis)
If I hadn't turned the camouflage tent upside down this morning I would certainly have missed seeing this freshly emerged Large Wainscot drop onto the grass.  At first I was sure I hadn't seen a wainscot moth this size before but I soon discovered that it had been seen once before at Shandy Hall when a rather battered example was recorded.  That was seven years ago.  With its larvae feeding on the leaves of reed mace it is a stately and rather magisterial moth that can be found in muddy areas where the common reed grows.  In the old reference books the scientific name is Nonagria pilicornis which refers to the Greek island (Andros) that was once called Nonagria; cornis usually indicates an association with a 'horn' but no further enlightening information can be found.  The present scientific name is Rhizedra lutosa - 'the muddy feeder on roots'.

Large Wainscot (Rhizedra lutosa)
The Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata) is relatively common in Yorkshire.  'To wash off the greenish/yellowish colour' is the Chloroclysta part of the name, with the 'siterata' meaning 'pertaining to corn' - the inference being that the green colour of the forewing turns yellow after death.

Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)
The Carpet moths are not always easy to positively identify - until a mental search image is in place. The autumnal coppery-red colour that underlies the green of the wings, just visible in the photograph, along with the shape of the wings, makes this garden visitor recognisable.  The female adult overwinters.

Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)
Every Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa) seems always to be crisp and fresh with clearly defined markings and an alert and purposeful approach to life.  Some moths hide, some play dead, others become agitated and remain restless while the Lunar Underwing retains its poise.  The scientific name is specific - the omphalos is the navel, the middle point; and 'celis' refers to a stain that exists on the hind wing that is disc-shaped or lunar-shaped. Which can't be seen in the photograph... 

Barred Sallow (Xanthia aurago)

There are a number of Sallows and the majority have all visited Coxwold gardens at some time or other over the last few years.  They tend to remain static when the trap is opened but if disturbed they tend not to immediately fly, preferring to take the line of least resistance.

Pink-barred Sallow (Xanthia togata)
The scientific name refers to the yellow ground colour (Xanthia) and the Roman toga (togata) which is suggested by the broad purplish band across the forewings.  This is not particularly clear in the photograph above but the arrangement of markings and blotches on the moth's wings are more reliable for identification than the colouring.  This moth is common and can be seen all over the county and indeed the country, wherever sallows grow.

Pink-barred Sallow (illustration)

The illustration of the moth in flight was a useful identifier for the collector, if the moth was destined for the display cabinet, but not much use to the naturalist as this was not the resting position. As a little work of art it merits some attention.  

Rosy Rustic (Hydraecia micacea)
The Rosy Rustic overwinters as an egg and then the caterpillar emerges in April.  It eats a wide variety of plants including Broad-leaved Dock, Field Woundwort, potato, strawberries, and hops by tunneling into the plant stem and descending to the roots.  Here it pupates without a cocoon and emerges as an adult to look like it does in the photograph above.  For some reason I have to re-learn this moth's name every year..

Rosy Rustic (illustration)

The patterns on the wings of the Rosy Rustic are clearly seen on the illustration of the moth in flight.

Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavaga)
Gortyna is the name of a town in Crete.  What memories the name evoked to Ochsenheimer the lepidopterist we may never know but the moth that now carries the name of Gortyna is rather beautiful.  The patterns on the wings are consistent and the moth is well distributed throughout the country flying between late August and October.  'Flavaga' is yet another word for 'yellow'.

Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae)
I thought the moth on the left was new to the garden.  I couldn't recall seeing a species that carried a tiny white saddle-shaped marking at the mid-point on the wings. That is until I saw and recognised the moth on the left - a very nicely marked Green-brindled Crescent which also has the same marking in the same place.  This is a good example as to how confusing identification can sometimes be.  The variety of markings on the Magpie moth or the Garden Tiger moth are part of why they are delightful but they don't confuse or mislead  Had that moth on the right not been there I might still be scratching my head over the mystery of the one on the left.  The scientific name? Allophyes means 'changeful'.  A lesson learned.

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)
What could be more delightful than seeing one Mervielle du Jour in the trap?  Two is the answer.  Here is that magnificent moth from two angles.  Autumn is definitely here when this moth appears.

Common Marbled Carpet (Chloroclysta truncata)
On the inside of the tent I found a moth with stitching along the base of its forewings. It seemed the best place to photograph it as it was so obligingly positioned next to the stitch marks of the tent.

It is now time to release the moths from last night's trap.

Below, as an extra for National Moth Night, is an image from Humphreys and Westwood's British Moths and their Transformations  pub. in 2 Vols by William Smith of London. 1843. It is a hand-coloured illustration of the recently re-introduced Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini).  The first half of the scientific name Catacola means 'beautiful beneath'; the second half is a reference to the ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) which Linneaus (wrongly) thought was the food plant.

Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini)

19 September 2019 - Some of the Usual Suspects

(Agonopterix arenella)

Agonopterix arenella is not an easy moth to see as it is quite small.  It is also not straightforward to identify as it is similar to Agonopterix alstromeriana (uncommon)  and Agonopterix yeatiana (very scarce). Agonopterix assimilella is another from the same family which is also uncommon.  Agonopterix arenella has been identified once before in the gardens - and in the same month of September - so I can confidently record that this is its second appearance and the other possibilities are all sufficiently different and can be discounted.

The Flame (Axylia putris)
The Flame (Axylia putris) or more simply 'Flame' is a straightforward identification.  The September version is smaller than its other appearance in June and July but otherwise its straw colour, with a dark kidney mark with its likeness to a dry stem are all consistent.  The scientific name refers to the moth's appearance being similar to decayed wood (putris).  It is a common moth and one that can be expected to turn up in the moth trap during the early Autumn.

Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria)

Resident. Common. Well distributed throughout England, Wales, Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland (Field Guide to the Moths of GB and Ireland by Waring and Townsend).  This pretty little green moth loses its colouring quite quickly but the markings on the wings are distinctive.  It feeds on Bedstraw and also Goose-grass.

Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos alniaria)

The Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos alniaria) is unmistakeable - however the scientific name is difficult to pin down.  Ennomos means 'legal' and alnus means 'relating to the alder family' upon which the larva feeds - according to Linnaeus and we don't argue with him. The moth is a startling yellow colour and comes to light quite regularly at this time of year. If not seen in the moth trap it is difficult to spot in the wild as it blends into the background like an early autumnal leaf.

Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago)

Thistle, foxglove, ragwort and mullein (all of which can be found in the garden at Shandy Hall - or just over the drystone wall) are food for the larvae of the Frosted Orange moth.  The adult flies until late October. The patterns on the wings are consistent and once seen it is easy to identify. Gortyna is the name given to a town in Crete but the reason for this is not apparent.

26 August 2019 - Winnowing Fan

Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)
I had to chase this Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata) across the lawn as it had taken off from where I was planning to photograph it in search of sanctuary.  Fortunately the spotted flycatchers have had their two broods and have now left for Africa otherwise there would have been one less of this species.  It is a male moth - you can tell as the tip of its abdomen is curled and raised.  The caterpillar feeds on Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) which will cheer the heart of many a gardener as this plant is persistent in attempting to take over as much of the garden as it can.  Every larval banquet is welcome.
The scientific name doesn't reveal much - to be wanting (from the Greek 'ekleipo') in the face ('opos'); sileceata means 'having the colour of yellow ochre' which I couldn't spot in this example.

Pale Eggar (Trichiura crataegi)
The egg of the Pale Eggar overwinters on the leaf of the food plant (usually birch) but the caterpillars also can be found on hawthorn, blackthorn,  as well as crab apple and hazel.  It is a neat, compact moth with distinctive stripes across its wings.  The 'tufted tailed moth that eats hawthorn' is the meaning of the scientific name.  This moth has turned up on pretty much the same date for the last three years.

Copper Underwing (Amphipyra pyramidea)
There are two Copper Underwings in the UK and they are very similar.  To determine which is which requires the underneath of the hind-wing to be examined, which is a skill I do not possess.  The Field Guide gives advice but it seems a considerable amount of practice is required before the examiner becomes confident.  The moth photographed is either Svensson's Copper Underwing or just plain Copper Underwing.  The scientific name refers to 'flying around the fire' (amphipyra) and also to a conical hump on the back of the larva.  Ingvar Svensson (1919 - 2011) identified the species that then took the name of the highly respected lepidopterist.  The moth is quick in every movement.  It will run for cover and when it takes off it flies fast and straight.

Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis)
 Understanding the scientific name for this moth has changed the way I look at it.  The common name is Mother of Pearl, which is pleasant and descriptive enough as the wings of the moth have a lustrous sheen to them, but when it is understood that Pleuroptya ruralis refers to the winnowing fan used in the countryside (ruralis) to separate the chaff from the grain it somehow makes it seem more valid.  The Mother of Pearl is a micro-moth despite its size and is very common. It possesses the ability to curl its antenna (see the photograph) and I seem to remember seeing one of its kind searching with its proboscis so I assume the adult does feed.  The common nettle is the food plant for the caterpillar.  

18 August 2019 - Goths and Magical Numbers

Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis)

Click on the photograph of the Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis) and the enlarged image will show the feathery antennae which confirm that this is a male of the species.  Not an uncommon visitor to this part of Yorkshire this muddy-coloured (from the Greek tholeros) insect comes to light as an adult and is mainly found on moorland.  The 'decimalis' part of the scientific name refers to 'the tenth' - but which tenth is being referred to is a mystery. 

Sallow (Xanthia icteritia)
More than a hint of Autumn is carried on the wings of the Sallow (Xanthia icteritia) and this is the first of its kind this year.  The moth is coloured so beautifully to disappear among the leaves - camouflaged and safe.  The scientific name opens up a digression which is revealed here

Gold Spot (Plusia festucae)

There is the Gold Spot (Plusia festucae) and there is the Lempke's Gold Spot (Plusia putnami) and they are very similar. Reading the differences and variations that are visible on the moth's wings might seem to guarantee an identification - but then we learn that each variety will sometimes carry marks found on the other.  I am pretty sure this is not Lempke's as the markings that look like a little keyboard have only one white key and not four. B J Lempke (1901-1993) was a Dutch lepidopterist whose name is now linked with this sub-species.

Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata)
The final species from last night's trap - which had not a single micro moth to be found - is the Magpie.  I always associate this moth with one that I saw as child.  It was inside a greenhouse, in the garden of a dahlia grower in Bilborough, Notts.  It was so bright and extraordinary I found it difficult to believe it was a moth.  The scientific name is examined here.

13 August 2019 - A Palette of Browns

(Agriphila tristella)

There were possibly two hundred moths in the last trap but the number of different species was limited.  20 or so Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis) moths most of which were released into the bushes as soon as possible to prevent the less boisterous moths from being disturbed; then an army of Underwings crouching like missiles in the peaks of the egg-boxes were persuaded to find shelter in the shrubs; Dunbar, Common Rustic, Dark Arches, Silver Y, Willow Beauty, Poplar Hawk-moth were all housed in a spacious mesh cage to await release later that evening and that left a handsome Gold Spot and Agriphila tristella. 

A 'mournful lover of the field' is a reasonable translation of the scientific name from the heavy sombre shading on the forewing.  The moth is common throughout the county and will take flight if disturbed during the day from the shelter of Wavy Hair-grass or meadow grass on waste ground.

No new species of moth has been recorded now for nearly two months.  Overall the numbers are down and for this the weather must carry some responsibility.  A trap will be set tonight as the forecast is rain-free.

1 August 2019 - Food for Bats

Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata)
The Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata) can usually be found tucked into a space that it seems to create all for itself.  Whilst the Mother of Pearls, the Underwings and the Elephant Hawk-moths are whirring around, this bluish-grey (glaucus) little moth remains serene and undisturbed imitating a bird-dropping.  The cilix part of its scientific name refers to Cilicia, a coastal region of SE Asia to the north of Cyprus.

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (Noctua fimbriata)
The Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (Noctua fimbriata) is one of those moths that can disturb everything and everybody when it gains access through the open window late at night,  cannoning and catapulting itself crazily around the room.  Its flight is rapid and vigorous and it can easily be disturbed by day from wherever it has chosen to rest.
Beautifully marked, the moth appears in a number of colours - the one above seemed less brown and more steely-blue when I photographed it, but the markings are consistent.  Nettles primrose and dock are the food sources for the caterpillar and the adult is much loved by bats - the brightly coloured underwings being the evidence that remains after the bat has made its meal.

Drinker (Euthrix potatoria)
The-sipper-of-dew, the lover-of-water could be alternative names for the Drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria) that appears regularly as July comes to a close.  A member of the group of moths known as the Eggars.  These moths tend to be thickly set and quite large and can be mistaken for tiny birds as the moths also fly during the day.  They do not feed in the adult state and the caterpillars provide a vital source of food for the increasingly scarce Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) that is not deterred by the bristle-haired larvae.

No new species found in the gardens for quite some time but at least the numbers of moths attracted to the mercury vapour light seem to be healthier than earlier in the year.

27 July 2019 - Dr Johnson's Omission

Dingy Footman (Eilema griseola)
If you had to identify a Dingy Footman (Eilema griseola) you might expect it to be a little dingier, a little dirtier, than the example photographed above.  The word 'dingy' seems to have originated in south-east UK where it was a dialect word 'common in speech but not in writing'.  Dr Johnson did not recognise the word but other sources conjecture it to be a derivative of 'dung', with a hard 'g'.  Normally this species of moth has a pale grey colouring to the fore-wings but it is often seen in this soft creamy-straw colour.  The caterpillar feeds on lichen and moss growing on trees.   

(Ancylis badiana)

Ancylis badiana was quite easy to identify, the markings being consistent.  A  swooping white circle around the grey ground colour on the wings along with a series of comb-like markings on a chestnut-coloured (badiana) background.  Ancylis means 'like a scythe or a sickle' which I assume refers to the hook-like marking.  This moth is found all over the UK where it can be seen flying at sunrise.  The caterpillar feeds on vetches, peas and clover.

(Pyrausta purpuralis)
Pyrausta purpuralis is not seen very often at Shandy Hall but this is probably due to the fact that it is not attracted to light.  Our UPenn intern, Gabriella gives an excellent account of its first appearance in 2018 just here

The beautiful illustration (beneath) by Andrzej Krauze shows the problem of moths and flames...

The Candle and the Moth
(used with the kind permission of Andrzej Krauze)

17 July 2019 - Moths go to School

After the moth release.
An early morning inspection of the trap was encouraging and there were a number of colourful species that might interest Year 6 primary school children. Persuading the moths into the collecting tubes and then attaching a label with the common name written on it seemed the best way to give the children some basic information.  It was the names that attracted me in the first place after all - so the plan was to include 'moths to expand vocabulary'.  

Moths tend to settle in the darkest part of the tube - next to the white screw-top cap - and that is where they are most difficult to observe - so a back-up of projected images showing each species more clearly was useful. 

Dun-bar (Cosmia trapezina)
This Dun-bar (Cosmia trapezina) did not represent itself in its usual colours of brown or ochre and this monochrome version was puzzling at first.  A common moth at Shandy Hall with a scientific name that introduces geometry, referring to the quadrilateral with two sides parallel - the trapezium.

Clay (Mythimna ferrago)
The Clay (Mythimna ferrago) seems to be on the increase.  Generally numbers for all species have been discouraging this year but The Clay seems to be doing well.  Feeding on dandelion and chickweed, or grasses generally, it is quite easy to identify with the two white dots showing quite clearly.

Bright-line Brown-eye (Lacanobia oleracea)
The Bright-line Brown-eye (Lacanobia oleracea) displays both line and eye - the bright line at the base of the wings, looking like very sharp teeth and the brown/orangey 'eye' make it distinctive.  Both parts of the scientific name refer to vegetables, living as the larva does on the roots of greens. 

Slender Brindle (Apamea scolopacina)
The Slender Brindle (Apamea scolopacina) is not common in the garden and only shows its beauty with close inspection.  Click on the image to enlarge the photoraph and the complex patterns that can be seen on the wings are remarkable.   The second part of the binomial (the specific epithet) refers to 'scolopax' - the woodcock; the bird with 360 degree vision.    

(Aethes cnicana)
This was an unknown moth when it was taken to Husthwaite Primary School.  Two of the girls tried to match the moth to the appropriate Lewington drawing in the Micro-moths Field Guide but they found it very difficult as the moth would not stay still.  As it is important to help the children to understand that no harm should befall these hapless insects and they should be disturbed as little as possible, it was put in a cool place and left to settle down. When I returned home I photographed it as well as I could and I am pretty sure that Aethes cnicana is the correct identification.  There has only been one recorded in the gardens in the last ten years and that was more strongly marked. The photograph is not ideal as the moth is illustrated is from the side, but the patterns seem consistent for it to be a Thistle Conch (Aethes cnicana).

11 July 2019 - A Footman Awaits

Common Footman (Eilema lurideola)
'In early use, a runner in attendance upon a rider of rank;... a servant who ran before his master's carriage, called more fully a running footman.'  The Oxford English Dictionary also has 'A man-servant in livery employed chiefly to attend the carriage and wait at table.'

It is the second definition that perhaps gives rise to the common name of this family of moths - enrobed in livery as it might seem to appear.  The way the lead-coloured wings wrap around the abdomen bring to mind the silhouette of a liveried servant.  If disturbed this moth will throw itself hither and thither in short spasms of movement but rarely takes flight.  If undisturbed it can remain in the same position all the day long.

Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis)

A Burnished Brass is always a welcome sight to the garden.  Photographing it on this colourful egg-box gives it a rather different atmosphere.  This moth has two varieties - one where the burnished pattern is divided clearly (as shown above) and the second where the glinting pattern covers the whole ring.  There is a Slender Burnished Brass as well but this is a rare immigrant.  Feeding on nettles it is useful and helpful addition to the garden.

Parornix species
A long time was spent trying to identify this very small visitor.  The attitude the moth adopts when resting and the white markings on the wings seem so distinctive that it surely should appear in one of the field-guides, or on one of the moth-blogs.  But I couldn't find it.  Charlie Fletcher told me that this family Parornix can only be clearly identified by dissection and then I remembered we had seen this moth before - just here to be exact - when Jane Wu our UPenn intern recorded how hard it was to be certain which family it belonged to.

Beautiful Hook-tip (Laspeyria flexula)
For some reason this moth seems to embody an idea of excellent design.  The sweep of the wings, the placing of the double spots, the earth coloured tinge to the tip of the hook all combine to give the observer a sense of satisfaction.
The Beautiful Hook-tip was one of 23 species that were transported to Carlton Miniott primary school today for years 1 and 2 to have a closer look at moths.  Each species was persuaded into a plastic tube with an identifying tag giving each their name and the children seemed to find the whole experience interesting.  Now, returning to Shandy Hall, it is time to set them all free.

1 July 2019 - National Garden Scheme Moths

(Pseudargyrotoza cowagana)

Not a name to forget.  Certainly a very long name for a very small moth.  What secrets can be unlocked by finding the derivation of the scientific name? 'Pseudos' is the Greek for 'a falsehood' and the 'argurotoxos' refers to Apollo - the bearer of the silver bow.  He also had a golden bow with which he overcame the serpent Pthon.  If this moth is observed with a raking light, tiny silver scales can be seen on the forewings.  This moth had not been photographed before but was recorded by Dave Chesmore (moth expert and enthusiast) on one of his first visits to Shandy Hall - before this blog-posting ritual was born.  There were four of these little moths all showing the distinctive circular splodge of yellow on their backs.
'Conwagana' is a tip-of-the-hat to Conway, an 18th century entomologist who was a good friend to Fabricius, the most distinguished student of Linnaeus. Quite a lot of myth and scholarship for one moth to carry.

Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella)
I was pleased to quickly identify a moth I had seen only once before - the Codling Moth.
A full description of its identity can be seen here.  The little dots of tarnished gold make its identity certain.

Riband Wave (Idaea aversata)
The number of moths caught in the moth trap on the night of 28 June was a little more promising than the previous five weeks or so.  Many of the traps set earlier in the year have been empty - completely empty - and this is cause for concern.  Just over 50 people turned up to visit the gardens in the early evening (the best time) and there was a sufficient variety of moth species to provide interest.  

The Riband Wave (Idaea aversata) arrived in plenty displaying a smattering of spots on its fawny wings and also the characteristic 'kink' in the third band on the edge of the wing.  It is a very common and very delicate moth that just needs a quick observation and then released before it damages itself against the perspex.
Mount Ida pertains to where the Greek gods and godesses observed the Trojan Wars and the 'aversata' part of the scientific name comes from 'aversus' - belonging to the under part. Linnaeus wrote 'punctum in pagina inferiore magis saturatum' - the spot more deeply coloured on the underside of the 'page', the 'page' meaning the surface of the wing.  A very bookish moth.

Small Angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara)
The Small Angle Shades always looks as if it has just come back from a good scrub and polish and then has been neatly folded. Its scientific name refers to the plaiting and weaving that the moth's resting position displays (can you see the 'fold' in the photograph?) and the second part (lucipara) refers to the 'light brought forth' as a golden mark beneath the black/purple colouring.
The larva feeds on foxglove, nettle, ferns and sallows in particular.

This week will bring a trap on Thursday and (hopefully) a sufficient number of moths to show to primary school children ...

22 June 2019 - Cold Moon

Shoulder-striped Wainscot (Mythimna comma)
The moth evening arranged for early June was a complete wash-out.  The gardens open in the evenings and a moth identification and release has been part of the evening for near enough ten years now.  June is such an unpredictable month and the rain and wind this year seem to have reduced the moth population to a mere fraction of what might be expected.  Next week we will  have another attempt...
Meanwhile here are four examples of moths that are high on the list of those you might find flitting like fairies in the shrubbery.
The Shoulder-striped Wainscot has two black stripes running centrally down the forewings, following roughly the line of the abdomen.  A vein of white can also be seen that divides into two or three branches and a small white spot.  The caterpillar feeds on grasses, including Cock's-foot.

Ingrailed Clay (Diarsia mendica mendica)
Not only is the Ingrailed Clay (Diarsia mendica mendica) extremely variable in its appearance but it also resembles a number of other species just to add to the general confusion.  This example is particularly strongly marked and the white box shape near the kidney mark can be clearly seen.  The larva will feed not only on primroses and violets, but will chew its way through hawthorn, sallow, hazel and blackthorn.  It is very common and a regular visitor to the gardens in Coxwold. 

Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis)

This most common of moths doesn't normally have such a heart-shaped mark to identify it by.  The dart too is clearly seen.  The Heart and Dart can be found all over the country and has two generations a year.  According to the Field Guide there could be hundreds in the moth trap - this was the only one.

Marbled Minor (Oligia strigilis)
The fourth moth that can be expected to be seen in June through to August is the Marbled Minor.  Another moth that has a wide variety of different wing colours and patterns but the one in the photograph is quite a good exemplar.
The scientific name can be broken down into 'oligis' small - hence 'minor' and 'striga' a little line. 'Stringere' means to draw and the strigil is that implement that Roman bathers used to draw across their skin to keep their bodies smooth. 

This blog dates from 20 June and there is another trap waiting to be examined this evening.  If there is anything of interest (which there is bound to be) the next post will reveal all.