|Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)|
I had forgotten about them. I had stopped to think about something or other and my gaze accidentally fell upon the plastic container behind the geraniums in the porch. By some fortunate coincidence the seven remaining caterpillars had begun their search for food that very morning. They ignored clover and buttercup but set their mandibles to work on the leaves of a rose. Perhaps we will now find out what species they are.
The first moth trap of the season was a chilly affair. It was a National Gardens Scheme opening and the hope was the weather would be warm. It wasn't. But a few varieties of moth appeared - the same day as the return of the swallows. Nine Hebrew Characters, an Early Thorn, Powdered Quaker, two Twin-spotted Quakers, Small Quaker, and an Early Grey (Xylocampa areola). The Latin name means 'wooden caterpillar' (Xylocampa) as the larva resembles a twig. The areola describes the dark-ringed pale stigmata on the forewings.
The next public trap will be on the evening of 18 May - Museums at Night.
|Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)|
|The Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)|
This post is of a moth off-site and the only one to date. Perhaps it's time to see what there is to be seen in the garden at Shandy Hall.
Snow has fallen all over the country and next year's life is locked with ice. The upper surfaces of the apple tree branches have a thick covering of flakes but the undersides are sheltered and will remain so. Another place to overwinter, but as a pupa not as a caterpillar. Can you see it? A silk thread has been attached to the bark on either side of the casing and the creature hangs suspended like a lifeboat on the side of a ship. The camouflage is almost perfect and the position surely out of reach of most predators. Perhaps a blue tit might see through the disguise? They seek spiders in the corners of the windows and underneath the cills and, as they do so, they hover for brief periods. Or perhaps the treecreeper?
And what is the pupa? Probably a large white butterfly. Have a closer look in the photograph below.
This is what the caterpillars are doing - overwintering. In November they started to spin cocoons in the corners of the plastic container, one by one. A couple of others decided a leaf was more to their liking and the silken threads anchored the leaf to the bottom of the container. At first I thought they must be pupating - but, if they were, the moths that would hatch must be very small and they wouldn't have long to pupate and hatch into their flighty selves before the winter came. I hadn't realised the caterpillars might overwinter when they were so small. Presumably they will come out of their hibernation in Spring, resume eating and pupate accordingly. Assuming they survive. No further trapping at the moment - the odd December moth comes to the window but hardly a glimpse of moth-life in the headlights. We overwinter as well. Happy New Tercentenary Year.
|Blair's Shoulder-knot (Lithophane leautieri)|
The second new species was extremely difficult to see as it was nearly as black as the plastic upon which it was resting. No certainty it was a moth either - but when I looked at the Yorkshire Moths site to see which species might be flying tonight, there, at the bottom of the list, was Exapate congelatella - the moth that appears at the first sign of frost (congelatus : frozen); the exapate part means 'gross deceit' and is a complicated reference to the tortricid moth looking like a tineid. That's the gist anyway. The moth was keen to be off and was difficult to photograph - a collecting tube was turned upside down, positioned on a new book by the Incline Press and then carefully unscrewed. A quick photograph to show its characteristics and then put outside to await release this evening.
It has just started to rain. Another trap on Saturday if the weather stays mild. Species list now grown to 257.
|Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria)|
|Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)|
|Scarce Umber (Agriopis aurantiaria)|
|Grey Pine Carpet (Thera obeliscata)|
Four new records for Shandy Hall gives a total of 255
|December Moth (Poecilocampa populi)|
|Red-line Quaker (Agrochola lota)|
|Yellow-line Quaker (Agrochola macilenta)|
|Red-green Carpet (Chlorocylsta siterata)|
|Dark Chestnut (Conistra ligula)|
The Dark Chestnut (Conistra ligula) is not a definite identification – it seems the most likely but awaits confirmation. The November moths (Epirrita) are similar. There are four species (Pale November, Autumnal, Small Autumnal and November) and the one that was attracted to the light would seem to be Epirrita dilutata – its rivulets (Epirrita) certainly look pale and washed out (dilutata) – hopefully Dave Chesmore will agree it is, at least, a member of the November moth family.
So, with these five species, three pretty certain, one reasonably certain and one from a family that hasn’t appeared at all (Epirrita), that could take the species list to 250 or 251. We’ll have to wait and see.
|Yellow-tail (Euproctis similis)?|
This group photograph shows their discarded skins and the remaining eight or nine larvae in various stages of development.
This caterpillar news replaces a proper mothblog because there is so little to report. Last night the temperature fell and the resulting globules of ice on the lawn give an indication as to how cold it was. A Pink-barred Sallow, four Green-brindled Crescents, a Large Yellow Underwing and two Angle Shades - nothing more. How will the bats fare?
|Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae ab capucina)|
There was only one other moth in the trap - and a dead wren. This causes concern and I hope it will not happen again. Wrens lurk around the trap and will occasionally pursue a carpet moth into the undergrowth but this is the first time one has flown into the light-trap and been unable to find its way out.
A day-flying moth in search of nectar is caught on camera by Elinor. Can you see the Y shape on the forewing? That means it's either the Silver Y (Autographa gamma) or the Scarce Silver Y (Syngrapha interrogationis) but most probably the former as that species flies well into Autumn. There were two or three busily feeding on the valerian bush by the front gate. The nights are too wild or too cold to anticipate any catches in the trap. No moths - no apples. This time last year the lawn was covered in windfalls. This year - none.
|Black Rustic (Aporophyla nigra)|
|Large Wainscot (Rhizedra lutosa)|
Two more species take the total to 245.
|Lunar Underwing (Omphaloscelis lunosa)|
Species number 243.
|Brindled Green (Dryobotodes eremita)|
|Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa)|
The caterpillars (see last post) now have a clearly marked golden stripe running the length of their bodies and what looks like a spur or tuft on their backs. Not all have managed to make it through to the second instar but those that have are munching ...
Moth eggs were found on the outside of the trap. They weren't immediately apparent as they were covered with a blanket of tiny brown hairs. A scalpel blade was used to slide beneath and lift them off the plastic and they were put into a specimen box. After ten days they hatched and here they are four days later. The green sprigs are stems of clover so that gives some idea of size - the caterpillars are extremely small.
The internet has been searched for similar images but nothing familiar yet. We'll see how they grow. The White Ermine caterpillars have been released as they were on the verge of pupating. They can look after themselves without my help.
The nights are cold again and the wind is chilly. One Pink-barred Sallow, a couple of Yellow Underwings and a few gloomy looking caddis flies was all the trap held. A trap on Tuesday night might be better.
|Another batch of similar eggs on the outside of the trap|
|Brown-spot Pinion (Agrocola litura)|
Only two moths in the trap this morning and hardly a midge in sight – how things change from day to day. One was a Marbled Carpet (Chloroclysta truncata) and the other was new – and appropriately new as it seems to be Agrocola litura, a Brown-spot Pinion. The meaning of the Latin name is from ‘agros’ – a field; ‘khole’ – gall or bile (from the colour of some species in the genus) and ‘litura’ – a smearing on a wax writing tablet or an erasure. This refers to the black spots on the wings which may be said to block out what is ‘written’ beneath. Or ‘mystically hid under the dark veil’ one might say if a Sternean reference was required.
This moth has probably emerged in the last day or two. Its egg will have spent the winter tucked away somewhere for the caterpillar to hatch from in spring. A couple of months chomping through meadowsweet, sorrel, or perhaps hawthorn as it grows larger, followed by a period of six weeks underground in a sturdy cocoon. And now on the wing – or it will be again tonight when it is released. The Brown-spot Pinion used to be very common but numbers have declined since the 1970’s and aren’t recovering.
This one has found its way onto the catalogue for the next exhibition 'Printed in Norfolk' – a writing tablet moth settled on a printer’s work.
|Rhomboid Tortrix (Acleris rhombana)|
|Centre-barred Sallow (Atethmia centrago)|
|New Pine Knot-horn (Dioryctria sylvestrella)|
|Dark-triangle Button (Acleris laterana)|
|Moth on Cuckoo Flower|
John Clare thought there were:
'One almost fancies that such happy things,
With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,
Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade
|Brown House Moth (Hofmannophila pseudospretella)|
Otherwise the trap was full of midges, one or two carpet moths, a couple of water boatmen and various underwings. The night's are not warm again - I do hope something of Summer still remains.
|Double-striped Tabby (Orthopygia glaucinalis)|
|Sallow Kitten (Furcula furcula)|
Carl Clerck was an entomologist who was a contemporary of Linnaeus and he gave this moth its name (fercula meaning 'small fork') from the two-pronged appendage on the tail of the caterpillar - rather like those of the Puss Moth. When this moth was persuaded to rest on an ash twig it went through a gentle ruffling routine as it settled. A crouch, a kneading movement with the legs and then an abrupt stop as the moth appeared to almost clamp itself in position. The Emerald moth and The Magpie both flap their wings in increasingly gentle movements as they settle - flap, flap, flap - then still. Adjustments not dissimilar to those made by dogs and cats when they settle - round, round and slump. Tiny behavioural movements that are astonishingly exact.
|Garden Rose Tortrix (Acleris variegana)|
So it was good to find one new species hiding amid the chaos. Bearing in mind there are approximately 100 varieties of roses in the garden, it seems strange that the Garden Rose Tortrix (Acleris variegana) hasn’t been recorded here before. ‘Particoloured and unallotted’ is the meaning of the Latin name but Latin has crept into the common name as well – tortus : to twist, which refers to the silken pocket the larva makes inside a rolled-up leaf.
The Garden Rose Tortrix appears in different colours and markings but is quite distinctive. And very easy to photograph as it is wrapped up very quietly. Welcome species number 235.
Here is a photograph of the growing caterpillars just to mark their progress – their third instar, I think.
|Not yet identified*|
*Anania coronata - Dave Chesmore informs me. I was fooled by the colour - still lots to learn. So that's species number 234 - crowned with a wreath at Shandy Hall.
Below is another micro. This is Ysolopha scabrella - high-crested (Ysolopha) with rough (scabrella) raised scale tufts, behaving just as it is illustrated in the guide.
Last night there were over a hundred Lesser Yellow Underwings, Broad-bordered Yellow Underwings and Large Yellow Underwings in the trap. The bats will be happy.
The Honeysuckle Moth is new : Ysolopha dentella – 'high-crested and wing-toothed'. A rather sharply defined insect is the Honeysuckle and its distinctive shape should make identification straightforward.
|Honeysuckle Moth (Ysolopha dentella)|
Two macro moths have been recorded this weekend: The Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata) is the first. Abraxas is a Coptic word said to have been coined by Basilides, an Egyptian Gnostic, to express 365 – the number of days in the year. Abracadabra comes from the same source. Grossulariata refers to the gooseberry which is the food source. There is something startling about The Magpie – the combination of colours gives it a dramatic and almost talismanic appearance.
|Antler Moth (Cerapteryx graminis)|
|The Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata)|