9 March 2015 - Stirrings Still

Shoulder Stripe (Earophila badiata)

Last year (10 April 2014) the Shoulder Stripe was recorded as a new species for Shandy Hall. However the scientific name was different (Anticlea badiata) and its derivation was linked to Ulysses, war and grief.  In this alternative version (Earophila badiata) a different identity is conjured up and one that is more appropriate to the location of this photograph.  The Shoulder Stripe was spotted at 10am this morning in Kersey, Suffolk - one of the prettiest villages in England. The timbered houses crowd up to the ford (The Splash) and scramble up the hill to the magnificent, flint-napped church, passing on the way a road-sign of a blazing torch with the word 'Children' beneath. This village is of another era.

The moth had been lured to this location by an outside light and it had clamped itself onto the plaster close to the front door of one of these ancient buildings. I hope its camouflage (badiata - bay-coloured) will keep it safe until nightfall for it loves the Spring (from the Greek 'ear') and this morning was one of the most perfect of the season yet to come.

Recording a moth in Suffolk for a blog that is based in Yorkshire needs a connection and there is one.  Kersey cloth - a dense, warm woollen cloth - was made in the village in medieval times.  Another location was Calderdale.

27 February 2015 - Moth Anthology

A page from A Moth Anthology

The Moth Anthology took place at the University of York last week.  Haiku by Billy Collins, Maura Dooley, Roger Keyes, Goldsmiths College students and other creative writers were included, all drawing their inspiration from the moth species recorded in Coxwold and in the Museum Gardens in York.  The haiku were translated by students at Yamanashi University, Kofu, Japan under the supervision of Professor Michiyo Takano and Mr Yasuaki Inoue.  If you have Japanese friends do suggest they take a look.

I'll post a few pages from the book over the next few weeks while moth activity in the garden is nil.  We had no luck with the Small Eggar. 

A page from A Moth Anthology

7 February 2015 - Miniatures

The woodpecker has been drumming all morning.  It has found a spot on a telegraph pole where some sort of metal plate is fixed, high up.  The plate amplifies the sound and presumably the bird is deeply satisfied.  Snowdrops and aconites are scattered over the garden.  No moths though.  A trap has been moved to the east of Coxwold in the hope of capturing a Small Eggar - the caterpillars have been identified - but nothing has turned up yet.

Here are two more haiku from the Moth Anthology project.  

Red Green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)

Nigel Hutchinson

summer's green carpet
now a bearded chestnut fall
the sun's arc passing


December Moth (Poecilocampa populi)

Rebecca Farmer

moths in December
gather their cloaks about them -
shouldn't still be here


22 January 2015 - News from Japan

Death's-head Hawk-moth (Acherontia atropus)

Here is the image that started it all. 

The Death's-head Hawk-moth (Acherontia atrophus) is so extraordinary and so strangely beautiful that it attracts and repels in equal measure.  This particular one was hatched at Shandy Hall in 2006 and (along with half-a-dozen others) proved to be a lure for local school-children and visitors from all over the county. The moth was persuaded onto a copy of Tristram Shandy, opposite the page that tells of the death of Parson Yorick, and the photograph was taken. (I trust that the association is clear enough without further explanation.) Nowadays I would have dozens of images but this is the only record of that time.

Now the moth's reputation has flown to Japan and settled on a page in the form of a haiku by the writer Abigail Parry.  The poem has been translated into Japanese by students from Yamanashi Prefectural University, Kofu and that translation appears today in one of Japan's oldest newspaper Asahi Shimbun.  The article informs the nation that there is to be a presentation of haiku this coming weekend which will include poems by Billy Collins (Poet Laureate USA 2000-2003), Maura Dooley, Roger Keyes and students.

Asahi Shimbun article
Death's-head Hawk-moth

The dance in full swing
and that slender fellow there,
cracking his knuckles.

Abigail Parry

Another from a writer at Goldsmiths, University of London:

moths caught in headlights -
dancing maniacs drunk
on the fake moonshine.

Rebecca Farmer

(See the notice at the top of this blog for a parallel event due to take place in February at the University of York.)

Needless to say there is very little moth activity in the gardens at Shandy Hall. Winter Moths and November Moths can still be seen occasionally and the eggs of the December Moth await Spring, otherwise all is cold and quiet.

21 January 2014 - Haiku by Maura Dooley

Sandy Carpet (Perizoma flavofasciata)

Sandy Carpet

A cockle-shell wing
opens like the memory
of a seaside town.

Maura Dooley

8 January 2015 - New for Yorkshire Region - and Billy Collins Haiku

(Calybites phasianipennella)

This slight and highly decorative insect flew into the trap in the Museum Gardens in York last July where it was identified as (Calybites phasianipennella) and posted on the blog.  What we didn't know was that it hadn't been recorded in this neck of the woods before.  For statistical purposes, Yorkshire is divided into five separate areas VC61-VC65 and the Museum Gardens is in VC62.  Had I been recording the species directly into the database (MapMate) rather than using a written list, the fact that Calybites was new to that region would have been immediately apparent. (I had been putting off using MapMate as it is anything but simple.)  Thanks to Charlie Fletcher's end-of-the-year checking of the species lists that had been submitted, followed by searching questions and requesting photographic evidence, we discovered, just this week, that Calybites was a first.
An excellent start to the year.

Marbled Beauty (Cryphia domestica)

Posting the news of Calybites gives the opportunity to introduce the idea of observing moths in a slightly different way.  To give each species of moth its correct common and scientific name is not an easy thing to do and requires close observation.  Some species are straightforward and cannot really be incorrectly identified (Ghost Moth, Scarce Silver-lines, Poplar Hawk-moth, for example) while others are extremely variable.  Arriving in the trap cloaked in different shades of brown or sometimes losing or gaining patterns and markings, the amateur has to rely on the knowledge of the experienced moth-trapper.  My referees are Dave Chesmore and Charlie Fletcher and were it not for their help the list of 360 species at Shandy Hall would be far from accurate.

However, show a moth to a writer of haiku (that precise and condensed form of poetic expression) and other possibilities arise.

The haiku below (written for the Marbled Beauty moth above) is by Billy Collins (American Poet Laureate 2001-2003) and is one of a number written specially for a project with The Laurence Sterne Trust.

Marbled Beauty
In your grey and white
wings, is there one face
or one for every viewer?

11 November 2014 - Autumnal Shade

(Oxypate gelatella) Autumnal Dagger
Is the moth in the hand-coloured print above the same species as the moth in the photograph below? If that is so, the Autumnal Dagger has a history of changed and altered nomenclature out of all proportion to its size.  

This species of micro moth was recorded at Shandy Hall on 15 November 2012 and blogged under the heading 'Arriving with the Frost', as that is essentially the meaning of its scientific name.  When it reappeared last night I wondered if it had a common name but couldn't find any trace of exapate or congelatella in the older reference books here.  Fortunately Charlie Fletcher kindly helped me out by sending me a list of scientific names for this  moth at different times in its history :  in 1759 Clerk called it Phaelena congelatella; then Linnaeus adjusted it to P. gelatella in 1761; Phaelena paradoxa was the name given by Sulzer in 1776; Lithosia gelata by Fabricius in 1798; before 1834 it transformed into Oxypate gelatella and then, in 1906, the moth was reborn as Exapate ignotella by De Rougemont - sometime after, the name by which it is now known was bestowed upon its tiny head.  Porter's list of vernacular names (2002) breaks a bottle of champagne  in celebration of a new name : Autumnal Shade - it is not clear if this is a 'traditional' name or one Porter created. 

The Autumnal Shade flies with slate-grey wings on still afternoons, just before dusk, free from the shackles of taxonomy.

Autumnal Shade (Exapate congelatella)

3 November 2014 - Eggs for December

December Moth eggs
Throughout the year the egg-cartons in the bottom of the trap have been checked (the inside and outside of the trap as well), just in case a moth has decided to lay a batch of eggs during its temporary confinement.  This has happened in the past and the responsibility then rests on Shandy Hall moth-trappers to either adopt the eggs and help them on their way or, try to remove them (not an easy task) and find a suitable place to put them in the garden.  The first course of action involves making sure the hatching larva are provided with the correct variety of food-plant.  Then care must be taken to see the caterpillars through to pupation or alternatively to release them in the garden.  The December Moth eggs shown above, won't hatch until April so I am in two minds - snip the section of egg-box with the eggs on and place it in a sheltered spot or wait until the eggs hatch and rear the caterpillars. 

December Moth (Poecilocampa populi)
Here is one of the adults - this the smaller male seen from the front and looking more and more like Toshiro Mifune.

December Moth (illustration)
December Moth larva (illustration)

The last drawing shows the caterpillar.  I've never seen one like that before so I think the decision will be to keep the eggs in a cool place and wait until Spring.

31 October 2014 - Wandering Migrant

Rusty Dot Pearl (Udea ferrugalis)
A new species for Shandy Hall as October comes to a close.  The Rusty Dot Pearl (Udea ferrugalis) has made an appearance at last.  A neat little jet-fighter of a moth that is not easy to photograph as its movements are rapid when disturbed. It was persuaded onto this autumnal setting and fortunately stayed put long enough.
The moth is a migrant and can be distinguished by the clear dark markings on the wings and its very white legs, which were clearly seen in the shadow of the egg-box in the bottom of the trap.  The scientific name refers to the iron-rust ground colour (ferrugo).  It is listed on the Flying Tonight site and seems to show up quite often in Yorkshire.  The image beneath is from the usual source and shows the markings accurately. 
The Rusty-dot Pearl (sometimes Rusty Dot, sometimes not) is species number 360. 

Still not a Sprawler to be seen despite the fact that it seems to be more frequently spotted than the Green Brindled Crescent and there are half a dozen of that species every night.  

Rusty-dot Pearl (illustration)

28 October 2014 - See You Again in the Spring

Pale Pinion (Lithophane socia)

The Pale Pinion was last seen in April.  If the 'search' facility on the website is used it can be seen that last Spring the moth was recorded under a different scientific name - Lithophane hepatica.  It seems to have been labelled anew as Lithophane socia.  Either way the example identified in Spring will have mated, laid eggs which will have hatched into larvae, the larvae will have pupated and the adult (the moth in the photograph above) will now feed and then find somewhere to hibernate - generally under loose bark.  It will take flight again next Spring.  Such a delicately tuned process.  The Pale Pinion is generally seen in the south of England but is increasing in the north.  

The photograph shows the thoracic and abdominal crests when viewed from the side.

Last night's species were: Feathered Thorn, Beaded Chestnut, November Moth, Red-green Carpet, Snout, Green Brindled Crescent, Dark Chestnut and the Pale Pinion.  Where is the Sprawler?


24 October 2014 - Yorkshire Moths Flying Last Night

Dark Chestnut (Conistra ligula)

Last night was warmer, the wind had dropped a little and there was good cloud cover. A thick pile of midges beneath the lamp and an extraordinary number of caddis flies - between thirty and forty in total - hiding somewhat malevolently on the underside of the egg cartons. A number of trembling insects on very long legs - barely able to balance until airborne - left the trap when the plastic cover was removed.  Flies with eyes like rubies and a couple of toffee-coloured ladybirds had also taken up temporary residence alongside the closed fans of lacewings.  And lots of moths.

Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)

I thought there might be two species here but the spattering of chocolate coloured spots on the wings of the moth below were just there to confuse me.  The submarine shape of a caddis, one of those ruby-eyed flies and a Merveille du Jour are also included in the photograph.  The Feathered Thorn at rest.  This might have been the moth that was battering at the window pane last night and I couldn't identify it.  The colour and the size point in this direction.

Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)

Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata) 

The Red-green Carpet comes in a variety of different intensities of colour.  The green is as rich a green as you will ever see when the moth is fresh (see below), but green is the fugitive colour in the moth world.  The moth above has not taken to the water, the dew is on the outside of the plastic cover and the moth was perched on the inside. 

Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata) 

December Moth (Poecilocampa populi)

On close inspection there is something of the samurai about this moth.  It is chunky and hairy and seems prepared more for fight than flight.  There were four in the trap and the species seems to be doing well in Coxwold.

Aethes smethmanniana (Yarrow Conch)

Bowen identified this moth in August, just before he left to return to UPenn and, as I hadn't seen it before, I thought it was a new one for the list.  I was looking forward to identifying it and marking it as new (it is so well marked that an error would be unlikely) but it was not to be.

Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta puta)

Another moth already recorded at Shandy Hall, but only once before this year.

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilana)

Satellite (Eupsilia transversa)

The Merveille du Jour was as beautiful as ever and the Satellite particularly well marked.


Not sure which member of the Acleris family this is.  It could be laterana but then again it doesn't look brown enough.

Snout (Hypena proboscidalis)

This Snout should be second generation for this year but this one is not much smaller than usual.

Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)

The Lunar Underwing is the last example from last night's trap.  The weather looks promising again on Saturday so a trap will be set in the quarry.  

The full list of species for last night has been recorded but the sample above shows how one night can be so different from another - the trap on Wednesday had one Red-line Quaker and that was all.

13 October 2014 - Cryptic Moths

Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii) and Brick (Agrochola circellaris)

The Chesnut is easy to see but the Brick has almost disappeared into the leaf.  Two good examples of moths that fly in October and on landing, merge into the background of dun and sallow colours and so break up their visual outline.  The moon was near full last night and the skies clear - the worst combination for moth-trapping.  The temperature dropped to below 9 degrees after midnight and the heavy, chilled dew all combined to make the species count a small one.  A Snout, Beaded Chestnut, November Moth, Angle Shades and the two above was the total. Sexton beetles and dor beetles have been common all year but even they seem to have moved into another stage of their life-cycle.  No more underwings.

Another trap in York - where it might be warmer at night - will take place very soon.


6 October 2014 - The Most Beautiful of Moths

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)

The forecast warned of heavy rain at 7am so the trap had to be gathered in by 6am. Fortunatley  the relatively warm night had brought a reasonable catch of moths.  A visit to the museum and gardens had been booked by a group of German 'garden tourists' and it seemed sensible to draw their attention to the beauties of our little environment after seeing the splendour of Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx Terraces.  What we lack architecturally we make up for entomologically.  The Berliners were impressed with the Green Brindled Crescent and the Orange Sallow and were suitably enchanted by the Merveille du Jour - the one that everybody loves.  Mouths were opened in surprize and delight when they realised the stick of wood had more than lichen attached to it.  

It has been recorded and photographed before (see September 2011) but this is only the third time for Shandy Hall. 

Marvel du Jour (illustration)

The illustration (above) is an excellent record of 'this fine species'.

4 October 2014 - A Hard Return

Gold Triangle (Hypsopygia costalis)

The warmer evening and night of the last day of September brought dozens of moths to the trap and a total of twenty species.  I am certain I missed a couple of shapes and colours that I hadn't seen before - gone with a whirr of wings.  Of those that remained there were Beaded Chestnuts in abundance with Canary Shouldered Thorn, Common Wainscot, Red-line and Yellow-line Quaker, Sword-grass, Green Carpet, Green Brindled Crescent and varieties of Garden Rose Tortrix. 

That spell of warm weather has now gone and this morning's investigation of the trap in York revealed a Yellow Underwing, a Setaceous Hebrew Character and a Garden Rose Tortrix.  A hard return for an early rising.  Fortunately the trap that contained the Pinion-streaked Snout also offered up two little jewels in the form of a pair of Gold Triangles.

By chance each showed itself in a different attitude of rest.  Triangular as in the example above and pug-like (with raised abdomen) in the image below.  The Gold Triangle is recorded as a common moth but this is the first time I have seen it.  Found in haylofts and stacks or in the drey of the squirrel or the nest of the magpie, this little moth feeds on dry matter, especially clover hay. The fringes of the wings are metallic gold and the richness of the plum ground colour is sumptuous.  

The scientific name refers to the costa (the anterior margin of the insect's wing, where the two gold spots are positioned) and the Greek words for a 'high rump' when the moth is at full rest.  Like many of the carpets and pugs, this moth settles quickly on landing after flight - two gentle adjustments of little wing-beats and it then stays as still as stone.
A new moth for the garden brings the total to 359.

The Gold Fringe (as it was once called)  is shown below, frozen in flight, from the MDCCCXLIII edition of British Moths and their Transformations.

Gold Fringe (Hypsopygia costalis)

2 October 2014 - Mystery Moth & National Poetry Day

Pinion-streaked Snout (Schrankia costaestrigalis)

A mystery moth both scarce and local.  What is the mystery?  No-one knows anything about the life-cycle of the Pinion-streaked Snout.  It is seen near fens and marshy meadows, perhaps often overlooked, and has only been recorded in the adult (imago) state in the wild. The larvae have been reared in captivity and have grown to maturity feeding on lettuce, but what constitutes the normal food-plant is yet to be determined.  This small moth was very active (the photograph had to be taken while it rested in the plastic tube) and after ensuring the image was good enough, I had to release it before it damaged itself.   

Releasing moths is one of the pleasures of moth-trapping.  When the fastening on the cage is unhooked after dark, the entrapped moths can be seen at their most dynamic and purposeful.  Their antennae are cocked and almost bristling with the information they are taking in.  The movement  required to take them to a good launch position is direct and unhesitating.  The take-off flight is fast and invariably upward into the dark sky.  A sense of complete liberation.

Scorched Wing 

Awoken too soon 
to a flame that drew him close
here lies Icarus

A moth haiku by Maura Dooley for National Poetry Day   

1 October 2014 - Overlooked but not Forgotten

Nutmeg (Dicestra trifolii)

At the end of July - think back to the summer for a moment - a large number of moths were trapped and identified in Coxwold and in York.  This one was temporarily forgotten.  Our UPenn intern, Bowen Chang, was stumped (he thought it might be Grey Arches) and I was stumped too.  It was in a batch of images of micros that were sent to Charlie to confirm and give a name to and it just got overlooked. Fortunately it was remembered and sent to Dave Chesmore who pronounced it 'Nutmeg'. According to the scientific name it should eat clover (trifolium) but it prefers orache.  The dicestra part is from the Greek word meaning 'a pointed instrument', a reference to a 'post-thoracic fine crest'.  

The Nutmeg is a perfect example of the difficulties of moth identification.  Until a species has been seen and correctly identified in real life, it can be easily confused with moths that are similar. Until the marks, shades or shapes of the newly found species have been absorbed into your personal picture-library, it could be any one of three or four varieties. New to the gardens at York (and not seen yet in Coxwold) this late addition is welcome.

29 September 2014 - Virginia Woolf the Lantern Bearer.

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta)

This is a near perfect specimen of a Red Underwing (Catocala nupta), a moth I have been hoping to see for a number of years.  Common in Nottinghamshire when I was young, I have only seen one other here in the last five years.  I read that it tends to be attracted to the lure of wine-ropes rather than the glare of mercury vapour light, but 'sugaring' (another term for the mixture of rum, absinthe, schnapps and whatever other boozy liquid there happens to be around mixed with treacle and demarara sugar and then soaked into rope and hung in the garden) is a method that has never worked for me.  Compared with all the other moths I have seen in the garden, this one is impressively large.  I wasn't completely sure of its identification until it opened its wings and then, the bridal (nupta) petticoat is displayed.

The underwings disclosed

Virginia Woolf wrote a gently satirical account of a moth hunt in her 1899 "Warboys" diary. It tells of VW (as lantern bearer) 'lighting the paths fitfully with a Bicycle lamp of brilliant but uncertain powers of illumination' in the company of the Leader wrapped in brown plaid and looking 'picturesque & brigand like; ... a female form in evening dress' and completing the company 'Gurth the dog member, whose services are unrequired & unrewarded; being the first to investigate the sugar & having been convicted of attempts to catch moths for no entomological purpose whatsoever'.   The young enthusiasts manage to trap a 'rare red underwing' which Virginia identifies before 'with a gleam of scarlet eye and scarlet wing, the grand old moth vanished'. 

23 September 2014 - The Greek χῖ

Narrow-winged Grey (Eudonia angustea)

Fore wings narrow, elongated, ashy-brown, with darker clouds and three whitish streaks, -the first near the base, broadly edged on both sides with brown; the second, strongly incurved beyond the middle (and between these three indistinct dusky marks, the outer one somewhat resembling the Greek chi, placed on a dusky space); the apical portion of the wing brownish, with an outwardly curved white streak, and a marginal row of black dots. Taken in London and various parts of Kent in June.  British Moths and their Transformations 1845.

Does that help?

Narrow-winged gray (Eudorea angustea) Fig 1.

Two moths from the last catch were new to me so Charlie Fletcher was given the task of identification.  The first remains a mystery - only dissection would have resolved the problem and the moth is no longer in captivity.  The other moth was easier though.  It had to be a eudonia or scoparia but I couldn't work out which one it could be.  The description in British Moths and their Transformations confused in its attempt to clarify and illustrations and photographs on the internet made it difficult to be absolutely sure.  Charlie gave the answer: Eudonia angustea (Narrow-winged grey) - the scientific name meaning 'the narrower one that rests on trees'. The other moth above (3) is Eudonia mercurella which we trapped last week.  

The other mysterious leaf-miner below represents one of over a hundred Nepticulidae, a family of moths that can often be identified by the tracks that are visible on the leaves of the food-plant.  This moth was tiny - not much more than 2mm - and very active and had to be photographed in a plastic tube.

A Nepticulidae

19 September 2014 - The Fields are Wearing Clear

Pale Mottled Willow (Caradrina clavipalpis)

The weather has changed.  Yesterday evening was warm and the relative increase of species to be found in the trap is encouraging.  More moths in the headlights on the drive back from the station. Bats, a fox, little owl and barn owl all to be seen on the six-mile country trip home.
In the York Museum gardens the results were better as well.  I have been placing the trap in a bed of shrubs near to the main entrance - partly for convenience and partly because all of the locations that have been tried, that one seems to be be most productive.  Moths that don't quite make it to the trap will crashland into the vegetation, so we will be missing a few as they will be too difficult to spot, but on the whole it's the best.  The Pale Mottled Willow (Caradrina clavipalpis) is a new moth for this blog - not trapped at Shandy Hall so not to be added to the list - but welcome all the same.  The scientific name includes a reference to the Caradrina - a river in Albania.  Perhaps a favourite holiday spot for Herr Ochsenheimer, who gave this moth its name.  (That river is now called the Black Drin.)  

The moth is delicately marked in quite a distinctive pattern - sufficient for me (with help) to be able to distinguish it from the Beaded Chestnut - and is generally associated with harvest time.  All is pretty much gathered in around here - the late-night lights in the fields have disappeared for another year.   

Pale Mottled Willow (illustration).

A couple of micro-moths were found in this catch - I've sent images to Charlie Fletcher in the hope that he can identify them.  His response will be posted as soon as I hear.  There will be traps in York on two nights next week, including one to coincide with Researchers Night.

14 September 2014 - Moth Progress

Mouse Moth  (Amphipyra tragopoginis)

We are seen as being a bit soft at Shandy Hall - we use humane mouse-traps.  The old house is regarded as a welcome place to hide by shrews, wood mice and house mice and they are happy to inhabit the roof-space or the outbuildings.  Fortunately the traps are generally successful and, as long as they are checked first thing every morning, we can release the captured creatures at least a mile away on the road to Byland Abbey.  (Apparently they find their way back otherwise.)  The moth above has been humanely trapped and released as well and its common name refers to its habit of scuttling into hiding rather than flying.  Amphipyra means 'flying round the fire' and tragopoginis is the name of the food-plant : goat's beard (Tragopogon pratensis).  The distinguishing marks can just be seen on the photograph - three black spots on each wing, one higher than the pair beneath.

Another moth that has been recorded but not photographed is Celypha lacunana or Common Marble (see below).

Common Marble (Celypha lacunana)

This micro-moth took a while to identify as I used as a starting point the fact that in the photograph it has a green eye - which was pretty stupid.  Dave Chesmore gave me a near certain identity when I emailed the image.

Common Rustic agg. (Mesapamea ....)

The final moth - again already recorded but not posted with an image - is the Common Rustic (Mesapamea secalis).  It could be a Lesser Common Rustic (Mesapamea didyma).  It could also be a Remm's Rustic (Mesapamea remmi), but it would seem this is unlikely.  I couldn't work out which species this is without expert help.  The moth was very clearly marked but the pages depicting the Arches, Brindles, Minors, Rustics and allies (pp. 261-267 of Lewington's guide) are the Slough of Despond for the moth enthusiast, who can sink under the weight of possibilities.