21 April 2018 - March Dagger

(Diurnea fagella)
The first trap of 2018 was set following the hottest April day for many years - however the overnight temperature had dropped considerably and when I went out at 6am this morning the dew had saturated the lawn with an icy coldness and expectations were low. Visitors were due to arrive mid-morning and introducing moths and moth-trapping to a new audience having only Clouded Drabs, Hebrew Characters, Yellow-line Quakers and Early Greys as examples might not demonstrate why this caper is so interesting.  Fortunately, to the discerning eye, an Early Grey is a thing of beauty and so it was to the guests.  Four Early Thorns added welcome variety and then, lurking at the bottom of the trap, one that was unfamiliar. 

I went through all of the photographs on this blog to see if I could see one already recorded.  The head and upper thorax was as black as pitch and I began to wonder if it was a moth and not a sawfly or a species of caddis.  The Lewington guides were riffled through as was the Yorkshire website but I couldn't spot its like.  Fortunately an email to Charlie Fletcher was responded to and the moth was identified as a poorly marked Diurnea flagella the 'daylight-flying, lover-of-beech-trees'.   

(Diurnea fagella)

Humphreys and Westwood in British Moths and their Transformations Vol 2  has the moth on Plate 110 and there (above) can be seen the standard variety (fig 9), the larger variant (fig 10) and the female (fig 11).  The description informs the reader that the female of the March Dagger (as it is described) is smaller than the male but it doesn't record that she is flightless.  The wings are somewhat short in the illustration but the moth is unquestionably airborn so perhaps her restrictions were not common knowledge.

March Dagger is species number 426

17 April 2018 - Herald

Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)
A surprise clinging onto the back of an empty picture frame, in what serves as a garage for the mower, was an overwintering Herald.  What to do for the best? I know you are advised not to be concerned about preserving life-forms artificially, but I have generally believed that Androcles was behaving very sensibly when he extracted the thorn from the lion's foot.  One good turn deserves another.  Who knows when I might need help from the brotherhood or sisterhood of moths? If I leave the Herald in the garage where I found it there is no easy way out. The garage shed is a bit disordered and as a result there are a large numbers of spiders and webs. If I leaned the frame against a wall outside, it could be too early in the year for the delicate insect - especially with the drops in temperature we have experienced this Spring.

I left the door ajar - it was gone in the morning.  What a beauty to start the year.

26 October 2017 - Old Wood

Red Sword-grass (Xylena vetusta)
The promise was that there would be no rain, no rain for two or three days.  And warm, it said.  It wasn't.  But the weather didn't prevent a new species arriving in the garden - the Red Sword-grass (Xylena vetusta).  With my mix-up over the Turnip Moth and the Dark Sword-grass I thought I had recorded this moth some time ago - but I was as wrong as the weather forecast.

The Red Sword-grass is quite distinctive with its dark brown and rich clay colouring and its resemblance to a sliver of wood.  It emerges from the chrysalis in October and November and then hibernates to reappear in the early months of the following year.  The scientific name is straightforward : Xylena meaning 'wooden'; vetusta meaning 'old' - like a piece of old wood. 

Red Sword-grass 
According to records this moth is neither scarce nor common, if anything it is increasing in number in Yorkshire and can be found scattered locally throughout the county. 
Humphreys and Westwood (British Moths and their Transformations) declare that the moth is rare (in 1843) but can be found in Darenth Wood in Kent.  The wood is now under the protection of the Woodland Trust so the chances of it still being found there are quite high.

Red Sword-grass and larva (illustration)

The caterpillar of the Red Sword-grass  can be seen feeding on sedge (Carex) behind the wing of the illustrated moth.  The species count is now 426.

16 October 2017 - Turnips and Mangel-wurzles

Turnip Moth (Agrotis segetum)
I have only seen the Turnip Moth once before and that was at Bottengoms Farm (on the Suffolk / Essex border) when Ronald Blythe kindly invited me to trap in his garden.  I had hoped to be able to show him how many different species there were floating through the foliage and perhaps peering in through the windows at night.  The night was cooler than one would have wished but there were just enough species to show there were many about which he (and I) knew nothing.  One was a Turnip Moth.  The scientific name can be broken down to 'grassland countryman' (Agrotis) and 'field where a crop is grown' (segetum).  This reveals the true nature of the caterpillar which will munch through turnips and mangel-wurzles at considerable speed.

I assumed the moth photographed (above and below) at Shandy Hall was a Sword-grass as the wings seemed to enfold the thorax like chocolate.  But it didn't look like either of the sword-grass moths that have been identified here already.  Could it be a Pearly Underwing (Peridroma saucia) ? Possibly, but that moth is not common and yet 'may appear almost anywhere' - according to the Field Guide.

On consulting British Moths and their Transformations Humphreys and Westwood pub. 1843 the following description was found : 

'This variable insect measures from 1½ to nearly 2 inches in the expanse of the fore wings, which are of a brown colour, very inconstant in its hue, sometimes being nearly black, and considerably irrorated with darker shades; near the base of the wing are several indistinct  irregular darker fasciae, one of which runs more distinctly across the wing at the base of the spear-shaped stigma; the basal stigma is oval and rather small, circled with a dark line; the ear-shaped one is large and dusky, and followed by a double undulated fascia across the wing, and the margin is marked with a row of small semi-oval black spots.' 

Turnip Moth (above)
And there (above) is what has been described so carefully.  Mr Fletcher revealed the true identity so I can be sure it is correct and that we have now recorded 425 species 

Turnip Moth (illustration)
The illustration shows (Agrotis segetum) but the name is listed as Common Dart.

15 October 2017 - Connection with the Sphinx

Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx)
Identifying this morning's collection of snoozing moths took longer than it should have, largely due to my own incompetence, but also because of the slight variations of colour and pattern on the wings of the insects.  Some moths are straightforward and easy to identify as they always look the same.  Others appear wearing colours of different shades or intensity.

The moth above is a case in point.  Most of the images of this moth show it with a general brown colour - but the one hiding in the egg carton this morning was grey and white; the markings on the furry back of the head show strongly in the photograph, but not so strongly in other photographs in books and online; the resting position of the legs (pushed forward in front of the moth) helped but wasn't conclusive.  It wasn't a Dagger, it wasn't a Blair's Shoulder Knot, so what could it be?

Thanks to Charlie Fletcher's confirmation, a new species can be added - the Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx).  It is a little early in the year for the Sprawler.  The 'Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight' has it at #38 on the list of most frequent sightings at this time of year and it is the first moth on that list that hasn't already been recorded at Shandy Hall.  New species are becoming harder to find.

The scientific name includes a reference to the Sphinx and is thought to refer to the position the caterpillar adopts when threatened - the head is thrown back over the body in an 'enigmatic posture' suggestive of the riddle-posing monster. 

Placing the trap near to the ivy blossoms will not have acted as a lure for this moth as the adult does not feed.  Other moths, found this morning, that might have been attracted to the proximity of the feeding plant included Angle Shades, Chestnut, Common Wainscot, November Moth, Red-green Carpet, Dusky Thorn, Burnished Brass, Red-line Quaker, Yellow-line Quaker and Square-spot Rustic. 

14 October 2017 - Moth and Sympathetic Magic

Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae)
Fortunately I was reminded that it was National Moth Night.  The mercury vapour light was switched on around 8pm and a few moths appeared immediately.  The trap was positioned close to the clumps of ivy in the walled garden as the recently flowered climber has been visited by lots of Red Admiral butterflies over the last couple of weeks.  Ivy seems to provide one of the last sources of nourishment for insects as the year fades.

The first moth to be recognised in the trap this morning was the Green-brindled Crescent.  The scientific name refers to the food plant (hawthorn - Crataegus oxyacantha) and to the Greek allophues - 'changeful in nature'.  It is a common moth and easily recognisable but the amount of green colouring present varies considerably.  The one above has a splatter of colour where the wings meet over the thorax.

Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)
The Feathered Thorn - the moth with the 'stunted ears' - seems to have found the perfect leaf upon which to settle.  The scientific name is open to interpretation as it might be a typographical error.  The distinguished German entomologist Hubner believed that the name could have been Calotois (beautiful ear) rather than Colotois (stunted ear).  The fact that the moth doesn't have ears makes it all rather confusing; pennaria from the Latin penna refers to the feather-like antenna

Yellow-line Quaker (Agrochola macilenta)
The Yellow-line Quaker is another familiar visitor although the one pictured above is paler than usual.  The caterpillar feeds on oak and beech - further north it adds heather to its diet.
It's a busy little moth, easily disturbed and keen to hide from the daylight.

Sallow (Xanthia icteritia)
There are a number of Sallow moths and this one is the Sallow itself - Xanthia icteritia.  The name is particularly interesting as it seems to tap in to an ancient understanding of sympathetic magic.  Icterata is the Latin for jaundice and the Icterus was a yellow bird that, if caught sight of, would cure the malady.  If the cure was successful the bird itself would die.
(On the south doorway of Alne church in North Yorkshire can be seen carved a Caladrius, a remarkable bird that can also take away sickness from the afflicted.) 

Pale Tussock Moth (Calliteara pudibunda) cocoon
Two extra images of a mothy nature.  This large bundle of silk was found by Chris on the back of one of the garden notices.  I had a hunch it might be Tussock moth and a quick check confirms the fact.  I have seen the spectacular Pale Tussock moth caterpillars on two occasions at Shandy Hall, both in the same location - beneath the sycamore next to the gallery steps.  This one will be left in peace and hopefully the hatching will be seen next year.

Autumn caterpillar
As for this tiny creature....

28 September 2017 - Stone Pinion

Blair's Shoulder-knot (Lithophane leautieri)
Last night was quite active in the moth world. The temperature was relatively mild and the cloud-cover was quite thick and this stimulated activity.  The species identified this morning were : Angle Shades, Green Carpet, Red-green Carpet, Red-line Quaker, Lunar Underwing, Dark Sword-grass, Common Wainscot, Snout, Silver Y, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Merveille du Jour, Flame Shoulder, Beaded Chestnut, Rosy Rustic and the two shown above and below - Blair's Shoulder Knot and Frosted Orange.   

Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago)

Blair's Shoulder Knot has firmly established itself in this country after appearing on the Isle of Wight in 1951.  With the planting of Cypress trees in the 60's and 70's the moth spread north and is now one of the commonest moths to be seen in Autumn.  It has another identity as Stone Pinion - so the photograph is in keeping.

The Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago) is included purely because it is very pretty.
Click the link and it will take you to a full description from 13 October 2013 - the last time I saw this species. 

24 September 2017 - Ivy and Ash and Thorn

Black Rustic (Aporophyla nigra) with ivy

It was warmer last night - following what seems like weeks of rain and chill.  Perhaps we have a micro-climate here in Coxwold.  The Hambleton Hills seem to conspire with the Howardian Hills and funnel wind and rain down a narrow corridor that keeps the trees moving pretty much all the time.  This morning was still, peaceful and a pleasure.
Not too many moths though.  Beaded Chestnut and Lunar Underwing and a couple of different species of Carpet moths all looking fresh and cleanly marked.  The brooding presence of the Black Rustic (Aporophyla nigra) was good to see having only seen it once before.  The adult moth feeds on the flowers of the ivy which provide one of the last sources of nutrition for the hover flies, butterflies, wasps and bees. 

Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria)

The Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria) has appeared before but not on Shandy Hall's list. An example of this species was trapped by Martin Huxter a couple of years ago when we trapped in his back garden and I remember wondering when it would turn up here.  Well, here it is.  The scientific name derives from the Greek ennomos - lawful.  Fuscans refers to the 'purplish fuscous suffusion in the subterminal area of the forewing' - that pair of smoky curtains on the wings in the photograph.
The caterpillar feeds on ash.  I tried to photograph the adult on a spray of ash leaves but it was too impatient to oblige.  It beat its wings so vigorously they became a blur and I had to abandon the idea.

The Dusky Thorn adds another species to the list at Shandy Hall which now stands at 423. 

7 September 2017 - Gothic Browns

Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis)

An intricately patterned moth is the Feathered Gothic, with its strings of white on a delicate, brown ground colour.  The broad antennae give it the appearance of being tuned in to information sources about which we know not a thing.
The moth scatters its eggs over grassland and the eggs remain dormant over winter - like the Swift moths do.  When the caterpillars hatch they feed at night on hard-bladed grasses.
The moth is common but not often seen unless caught when it comes to light. 

Dark Sword-grass (Agrotis ipsilon)

Another moth seen only once before in the garden at Shandy Hall  - the Dark Sword-grass. This one was in excellent condition.  It is an immigrant moth and it hasn't been confirmed that it ever breeds in this country.  It will come to light traps and can be seen in almost every month of the year especially on the coast.

Square-spot Rustic (Xestia xanthographa))
None of these three moths is new but they each reflect the fact that Summer is coming to an end. Dark browns and soft browns combine to aid camouflage as the apples ripen and the leaves turn.  The Square-spot Rustic is flying in numbers at the moment.  This one just looked particularly perfect.  

Looking at the list of moths that should be active during this month I see that the Chevron (Eulithis testata) is not uncommon and is yet to be seen in Coxwold.  An objective then...

29 August 2017 - The Typo Moth

Leopard Moth (Zeuzera pyrina)
Such a striking moth is the Leopard (Zeuzara pyrina).  This is only the second time that this species has been seen in the garden.  As the pupa overwinters, sometimes for two or three years, it is possible that the eggs laid by the previous Leopard (in 2012) have hatched, pupated and transformed into the flying adult that came to the trap last night.  The moth was found outside the trap on the white sheet where you would think it would be easy prey for predators.  As the only previous record was found in similar circumstances perhaps the distinctive colouring acts as a warning and it doesn't need to hide.

The moth's legs terminate in very 'sticky' feet and when disturbed it curls up, slumps and appears to be dead.  It took some time before it could be persuaded to cling onto a leaf and then be carried to an apple branch and photographed.  An apple or pear tree is the home of the caterpillar for the majority of its life. The adult does not feed.

The scientific name is a typographical error.  The binomial should have begun with 'zenzura', the Italian name for a gnat, from zenzero (ginger) referring to the sharpness of the gnat's bite and the pupa's jaws - this caterpillar tunnels through branches. P. A. Latreille, a distinguished French entomologist, gave the species the name but either the printer or the expert himself failed to spot the typo.  My bet is on the printer.

Leopard Moth (illustration)

Wonder of wonders a Red Underwing was also in the trap.  A fine, recently hatched creature that was as impatient and edgy as every other one I have ever seen.  Getting a decent image of its glorious red hindwings might have lead to its escape and I was concerned that it would just get snapped up by one of the numerous birds that gather around the trap.  The flycatchers seem to have disappeared but there are plenty of other species happy to get breakfast on a plate.

The Red Underwing (Catolcala nupta) 'the bride with beauty beneath' refers to the brightly coloured petticoats (hindwings) that Linnaeus seems to be describing.   The photograph doesn't give a clear enough impression as to how big this moth is, but if you see one (and this is only the third I have seen in North Yorkshire in six years), you will be surprised. 

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta)

The hand-coloured image does the moth justice.  The depth of colour is accurate.
Red Underwing (illustration)

The last species to be recorded is one that hasn't been seen for a long time - the Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius).

Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius)
The Prominents are members of the Notodontidae family and some are the best camouflaged moths we have in this country.  They tend to have long tapering wings which fit closely around the abdomen and the males have feathered antennae.  The Iron Prominent photographed is not in the best condition but splashes of rust colour can be seen relatively easily.  None of the Prominents feed as adults but all tend to come to light.

23 August 2017 - China and Gold

Small China-mark (Cataclysta lemnata)
A new species to Shandy Hall - but not to the blog.  How can this be?  

A moth trap was set in Luddington-in-the-Brook in 2015, in the garden where the artist Carry Akroyd* lives.  Even before I  had set up all the paraphernalia that seems to go with identifying and recording moths, and before night had fallen, I noticed two or three insects drifting gently over Carry's lawn close to a small pond.  Small China-mark (Cataclysta lemnata) was the name that sprang to mind, and the reason they were there was the pond - the place where the moth's larva spends some of its time.  Or so I had read.  There was the mothy proof.

I hoped that one might be seen at Shandy Hall one day and, two years later, it has arrived - species number 422.

The pond that we managed to dig in the quarry (a few years ago now and thanks to kind volunteer help) is now full of newts. It must also be a shelter for the Small China-mark's cocoon - constructed using duckweed floating on the water.  The Small China-mark was a bonus for what turned out to be a rain-drenched night in North Yorkshire.

Triangle Plume Moth (Platyptilia orthodactyla)

The forecast hadn't looked too bad, just a little rain at around 7pm and then cloudy and warm. It threw it down. When I went to switch off the mercury vapour light this morning, I could see immediately that the cloudiness and warmth had attracted over two hundred Underwing (of different species) and around a hundred Straw Dot (Rivula sericealis).  The underwing invasion is (thankfully for the planetary food-chain) predictable, but I haven't seen so many Straw Dot moths before and I don't know why there should be so many.  What else was to be found in this swirling mass of fluttering? 

A couple of Gold Spot (Plusia festucae), a Gold Triangle (Hypsopygia costalis), dozens of Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura plecta), a Double-Striped Tabby and a Plume. It is always cheering to see a Plume as they seem to represent everything that is magical about moths. But which species is this one? We have had a Brown Plume, a White Plume, an Emmelina monodactyla, and a Beautiful Plume.  Is this one new to the garden?  It seems larger than the Beautiful Plume and the others in the 'family' that could qualify are all far too scarce to turn up in Coxwold. If you click on the photograph it will show you the moth in a little more detail.  I sent a photograph to Charlie Fletcher in the hope that he would identify it and he confirmed that it was a Triangle Plume (Platyptsilia orthodactlya) - wide-winged and of the colour ochre (platus ptilon okhra).

According to the website Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight (a helpful resource) this moth is 'uncommon and thinly distributed' in the county, so it is especially pleasing to have recorded it in Coxwold.  The moth has Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) as the food plant - a plant that I haven't seen for years and one that we don't have in the gardens.  The scientific name refers to its use as a cure for a cough (L. tussis).

The Triangle Plume is species number 423.

Gold Spot (Plusia festucae)

A regular visitor in the later days of August is the Gold Spot.  The wings are decorated with gold and silver flashes and it is very easy to identify.  There is a variant - Lempke's Gold Spot - which we have recorded as well.

Gold Triangle (Hypsopygia costalis)

The little Gold Triangle (Hypsopygia costalis) is in its initial resting position in the photograph.  When fully at rest the fore-wings and hind-wings are spread out and the abdomen is slightly lifted : hupsos meaning 'height' and pugaios meaning 'pertaining to the rump'.

What else?  An Angle Shades, Gothic, Dark Arches and sexton beetles, wasps, ichneumon flies, caddis flies, those little beetles that look like moving rabbit droppings, shield bugs, mosquitoes, lace wings, ground beetles and a variety of different crane flies.

*Carry has recently published a beautiful new book : Found in the Fields.  www.carryakroyd.co.uk

15 August 2017 - Magical Circle of Moths

Magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata) in variety
A strange similarity to the last blog. Three moths of the same species beautifully illustrated by Henry Noel Humphreys once again, but this time they are Magpie moths and their circle might be easily conceived as magical. Abraxas is a Coptic word coined by the Gnostic teacher Basilides.  He wished the word to represent the number 365 - the number of days in the year.  Gem stones were inscribed with the magical word together with images of entwined human and animal forms. The word Abracadabra, the conjuror's word is from the same root. The arrangement in the image seems appropriate.  
The three moths show examples of the variations of pattern on the wings of the Magpie moth - the photograph below is the one that was lured by the mercury vapour lamp.

Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata)
The second half of the binomial refers to the thorny plant beneath - the gooseberry.  This little plant is growing close to a stone wall and is, I think, the only example in the garden. There is no sign of caterpillar activity on the leaves so this moth must have flown in from a neighbouring garden.

Not the best of images but I was lucky to get one at all as this moth rushes back and forth in a very animated state.  The Honeysuckle Moth (Ypsolopha dentella) with the tooth-like shape to the wings when at rest.  Ypsolopha means 'high crested' and the food plant is honeysuckle. 

Honeysuckle Moth (Ypsolopha dentella)

Honeysuckle Moth illustration
The little hooks on the end of the fore-wings (seen in the illustration), form the 'dentella' that can be seen in the photograph of the moth on a rose stem.  Rather wonderful in its own way. 

10 August 2017 - Ring a Ring a Rustic

Common Rustic (Mesapamea agg)  in variety

The trap was set on Wednesday night with high expectations (no rain!), but there was a definite chill in the air. This is supposed to be the height of Summer so surely there would be a wide variety of species despite the drop in temperature.  Sadly it was not to be.  A Common Wainscot, Lesser Broad-bordered Underwing, Large Yellow Underwing and three Common Rustic moths was the sum total of the catch.

The Common Rustics displayed their varieties and the three were remarkably similar to the ones drawn and painted above (British Moths and their Transformations, Humphreys and Westwood. 1843).   
The description that accompanies this illustration is a veritable flourish of scientific description : 
In some specimens (Fig. 8) they are nearly of a uniform mouse-brown colour, with the slightest indication of the strigae.  In others (Fig. 9) they are of a rich dark chocolate brown, and shining, with still less distinct traces of the strigae, except the wings be held in a certain position, when they may be perceived of a duller hue than the rest of the wings; whilst some (Fig. 7) have the fore wings much varied along the inner margin, and beyond the posterior stigma with a pale luteous buff.  In almost all these varieties the posterior stigma is more or less distinct and accompanied by a white dot and the undulating subapical striga is succeeded by a darker tinge, forming an irregular margin along the apex of the wing.
[The striga referred to seems to mean the presence of a 'furrow'.  I can't find a more appropriate definition.]

Common Rustic (Mesapamea agg)
It is now firmly established in the world of moths that there are three varieties of Common Rustics and, as they cannot be reliably identified, they have to be recorded as Mesapamea agg.  One food plant of this busy little moth is the buddleia (see above) which is still in full flower in the garden.

3 August 2017 - New Moth as Farewell

(Acleris aspersana)

Despite the ominous clouds and rain, my last moth trap yielded amazing results. The number of moths increased immensely compared to the past few traps and the number of species rose as well. No matter the outcome, I would have been excited and grateful either way. In fact, there has never been a day during these past two months where I was not looking forward to working on moths.

The Ginger Button (Acleris aspersana) had me especially ecstatic. I will admit, not finding any new moths created some disappointment, but finding this one has eradicated all those feelings. When first spotted, I thought it was probably another worn tortrix moth that I had already seen before. However, I decided to capture it as there was a sense of unfamiliarity. This turned out to be a lucky decision. Compared to other members of the Acleris genus, Acleris aspersana is smaller in size. It likes grasslands and heaths and is common nationally but scarce locally. Its scientific name aspersana means ‘sprinkled’, which describe the several variations of patterns the moth might have. Some may have patterns resembling netting and linear lines.

The larvae of the Ginger Button live inside the rolled leaves of various herbaceous plants. Some of these include the European Crab Apple, Cinquefoil, Blackberries, Strawberries, Burnet, Meadowsweet, and Goat’s Beard. There’s some Goat’s Beard (Spiraea aruncus) in our garden which might be the origin of our tiny moth but the meadowsweet is a possibility too - the quarry is full of it.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

A new species to Shandy Hall, Acleris aspersana is moth number 421! A great way to end my journey here in England.

Acleris aspersana (2 male, 3 femalewith Campion

I just wanted to mention how grateful I am for this opportunity. Despite studying computer science, growing up, I have dreamed of being a zoologist. While I didn’t get to explore the Amazon rainforest searching for reptiles and amphibians, this experience has allowed me to tap into my inner love for animals and help fulfill a dream of mine. Maybe I’ll even become a lepidopterist in the future. I also wanted to thank everyone I have met throughout my time here at Shandy Hall. All the workers and volunteers have been amazing and I will truly miss this wonderful place.

Final post : Walter Chen [U Penn intern]

28 July 2017 - Heralding the End

Phoenix (Eulithis prunata)

I started this internship with rain and the forecast tells me I will probably end with it as well. There’s still a few more days left so hopefully I can get in another moth trap before my departure. The past few traps have unfortunately been disappointing. The number of moths has decreased and subsequently the number of species. I believe it might be due to the change in the weather. 

The Phoenix (Eulithis prunata) arrived in our trap set on Tuesday night. The moth was upside down when I first saw it so I didn’t know what it was. I took one of our jars used for larger moths and carefully captured it. As it flew into the jar it quickly attached itself to the side of the container and slowly lifted its tail, creating a 90-degree curve.

Phoenix (illustration)
Eulithis meaning ‘goodly stone’, refers to the species of this genus having a yellowish color similar to sandstone, while prunata makes reference to the plum fruit although in Britain, it is not the food plant for the larvae.

Redcurrant fruit
The larvae of the Phoenix feed on blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) and redcurrant (Ribes rubrum) which is in abundance just outside the kitchen window of my flat. As I write this the redcurrants are currently ripening and are quickly being devoured by birds.

The Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)

Bringing the rain with it, the Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix) made an appearance in the trap. Its shape and pattern makes it seem to belong in a fantasy novel. The longitudinal red streaks shine and look like embers emanating from its wings. Its scientific name, Scoliopteryx, means ‘crooked wing’ which is a description of the curvy edge of the wings. 

The second half, libatrix, means ‘one who makes a libation to the gods’. There is no explanation to the reasoning behind this name but one theory states Linnaeus might have thought the naming of the Herald deserved a drink. Interestingly, the Herald overwinters as an adult and can be found hibernating in barns and caves. 

The Herald (Scolopteryx libatrix)

Larvae of Scolopteryx libatrix feed on Willow (Salix) and Poplar (Populus). In our quarry, we do have a White Poplar (Populus alba) which can be easily distinguished when compared with other trees as its leaves are white and grey. It may even appear to be covered in snow when viewed from a distance.

White Poplar (Populus alba) 

22 July 2017 - Slender Footman

Slender Footman (Eilema complana)

Before opening the moth trap we scanned the interior of the tent, looking for any moths hiding inside the crevices or folds of the fabric. Usually when the tent is set up, there will mostly be a population of Common Footman and Mottled Rustics to be found. This time was similar, but added to by Chinese Characters as well. As we flipped the tent to its side however, I spotted a skinnier than normal footman resting next to the zipper. We put it in a tube and decided to head back inside as the rain had started t come down harder. 

Identifying the few moths caught from the tent alone, things seemed hopeful as the footman turned out to be a Scarce Footman (Eilema complana). Its coloration is overall appearance is similar to the Common Footman, but unlike its cousin, the Scarce Footman's wings are curled up around its body when at rest. Like its name suggests, the moth is uncommon and resides mainly in the south and east of England, preferring moorland and coastal areas. Recently, it has been gradually moving to the North and West. Charlie Fletcher tells us that our record extends its range by five miles! 

Eilema means ‘a veil’, which describes the wrapping of the wings around the abdomen. The second part complana means ‘to make level’.  This part of the binomial has a complicated derivation as it also refers to the position of the wings when the moth is at rest.

The larvae of the Scarce Footman, like many others of the family, feed on lichen which is plentiful here at Shandy Hall.

Water Veneer (Acentria ephemerella)

A Water Veneer (Acentria ephemerella) was also found fluttering around in the bottom of the tent. Moths are usually inactive in the morning so I had some doubt whether it was actually a moth or not. It has been recorded at Shandy Hall but not photographed before. I predicted it to be difficult to photograph as the moth was not keen on remaining still. To my surprise, the Water Veneer stayed motionless on the leaf I placed it on allowing me to get a detailed photograph of it.

The moth's lifestyle is extraordinary compared to other moths as it lives around ponds and slow-moving water. The females can either have wings or not, the ones without living underwater. The males have wings and will mate with females on the surface of the water. The larvae are aquatic and feed on the several varieties of pondweed (Potomogeton sp.). We have a small pond located in our quarry right next to an oak tree. This pond, despite its size, holds a diverse ecosystem of newts, insects, and plants.

(Opostega salaciella)

Finding these species in the tent had me excited for the moth trap which remained unopened. The egg boxes turned out to be covered in species I have never seen before, one of which was the Opostega salaciella. Another uncommon moth, Opostega salaciella is the only moth in its family that is completely white. Its large eye caps, which can be seen in the photograph, open as it moves along. Unsurprisingly, Opostega means ‘face roof’, which derived from the large eye caps. The second half salaciella means ‘lustful’, which is thought to have come from its flight patterns around its foodplant being delightful.

Not much is known about the early stages of the moth but it is guessed that the larvae feed on Sheep’s Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). We do not have any Sheep’s Sorrel here in Shandy Hall but we do have a species of sorrel in a small pot.

Both the Scarce Footman and Opostega salaciella are new to Shandy Hall. Our count rises by 2 which means we have reached 420 species for the two acre plot.


Post : Walter Chen [UPenn intern]