23 July 2014 - A Second Coming

Pearl Grass Veneer (Catoptria pinella)

Earlier in the week I mentioned that I had neglected to photograph one particular nocturnal visitor to the gardens. We had shown this species to everyone who was curious as to what we were doing in the gardens in York at 7am in the morning, to demonstrate that moths are very special creatures.  Where else (except perhaps at a Venetian carnival) could you find such vibrant, gloriously coloured strangeness?  The Pearl Grass Veneer (Catoptria pinella) is not something you can see every day -'uncommon and thinly distributed' is its status in Yorkshire - but once seen it is unlikely to be forgotten.  However, because of an oversight, we had no visible evidence.  We don't like to trap in the same location on successive nights - the moths need a breather - so trying to catch the released specimen was not an option. Fortunately, on the following night, another appeared from a different part of the gardens, as crisp and fresh as its predecessor.
The moths scientific name comes from the Greek katoptron: a mirror; pinella: from pinus, a pine tree.  Named by Linnaeus in 1758, he attempted to change the name in 1761 to pinetella, but the rules of nomenclature insisted that the original name must stand.

So here it is, along with a photograph (below) which captures the moment of verification - thanks to Lewington's indispensable field guide to micro-moths.  

22 July 2014 - Where's the Yellow Underwing?

Least Yellow Underwing (Noctua interjecta)

Martin Handford's 'Where's Wally?' series of books for children has been one of my favourites while growing up.  In the book, the reader is asked to find the protagonist (Wally) dressed in a red and white sweater and light-blue jeans, in a setting filled with hundreds of other people.  The sheer number of characters in the illustrations can sometimes be a little overwhelming, but one (and only one of them) is special.

Yesterday I had to solve a 'Where's Wally?' puzzle of my own - in the moth trap.  The trap was packed with Yellow Underwings, including the Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), the Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes), the Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (Noctua fimbriata) and the Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing  (Noctua janthe).  I counted 130 Yellow Underwings in total.  However, only one was a newcomer to the garden.  It perched quietly under the clear plastic covering of the trap, its distinctive orange black-banded wings hidden from sight.  The new moth was a Least Yellow Underwing (Noctua interjecta caliginosa) adhering to the stringent hierarchy of the Noctua genus where  Noctua refers to the night, being also the name of the goddess Athena's owl. Interjecta means 'in between'; caliginosa means 'dark and obscure' - both words affirming the Least Yellow Underwings humble status in the family order being the most recently named, and smallest in size of the Yellow Underwings.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

21 July 2014 - Like a Hare at Nightfall

Miller (Acronicta leporina)

The title of this blog refers to the first moth - Miller or Acronicta (nightfall) leporina (like a hare [in winter]).  The moth was on the outside of the trap and close to a Dagger (Acronicta psi) but was sufficiently different to warrant a closer look.  In fact it was a case of looking very closely this morning as the number and variety of moths was very encouraging.  We are waiting for confirmation of some of the species photographed before posting on the blog, but both of the traps (Shandy Hall and York Museums Trust gardens) were full.  A Ruby Tiger and a Catroptria pinella were highlights - but how did I neglect to photograph them?  Visitors to the York gardens were mightily impressed to see such splendid moths - we will trap again tonight and hope more turn up. 

Batia lunaris

The New Tawny Tubic (Batia lunaris) is a most attractive micro.  The origin of the scientific name is unclear - it is thought to be named after the thorn-bush (batos), but isn't connected in any way; or after Batia, daughter of Teucer, who founded the royal house of Troy.  I think the latter -it is more impressive.  

Both of these moths are new to the gardens at York.  We will be there tomorrow from 7.30am until around 10.30am if you want to come along.

16 July 2014 - Blackneck Moth

The Blackneck Moth (Lygephila pastinum)
For a long time, Jean-Francois Millet's painting, The Gleaners, formed my perception of the life of the countryside. In the painting, the peasant women are hunched over a wide expanse of field, picking up the remains of a harvest. Their clothes, from the brown apron to the dark-blue dress, seem to blend into their surroundings. You can see the evening receding in the background; you can almost feel the stillness of the air; and everywhere you can smell the odor of the earth.

If I were tasked to reproduce The Gleaners, but to incorporate a moth to the scene, I would no doubt choose the Blackneck (Lygephila pastinum) as my subject. The specimen we found in the York Museum Gardens this morning would fit the picture perfectly. 'Lygephila' means the love of darkness. It tells us the Blackneck will arouse from its daytime slumber to fly at the earliest glimpse of dusk – as if in restless anticipation of night. 'Pastinum', on the other hand, describes farmland that has been dug and tilled ready for planting. The wings of the Blackneck, saving for two prominent black spots at the centers, display parallel venations that resemble the fine furrows for planting seeds.

The only irony is that I first encountered this moth in the middle of a bustling city.

--Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

13 July 2014 - A Moth of Contrasts

Marbled Beauty (Cryphia domestica)

Yesterday we recorded a visit from the Marbled Beauty - a moth already listed but not photographed before.  The moth's scientific name, Cryphia domestica is a strange juxtaposition of words.  Domestica describes everything that belongs to a house : the hearth, the fireplace, the dinner-table, the softly glowing lamp and perhaps even the lichens on the outside walls which the Marbled Beauty feeds upon.  Cryphia, in contrast, describes the hidden, mysterious and arcane.  The somber colours of the moth's wings and body are the likely inspiration for this.  The outer edges of the moth's wings are defined by a distinctive band of black and white segments, like railway lines on an old map.  

The overall wing pattern is largely geometrical and reminds me of a Roman tiled floor I once saw in an exhibiton about Pompeii.  The mosaic had once decorated the interior of a sumptuous Roman household, but had been unearthed from the depths of volcanic dust.  It had witnessed vibrant society but had also endured years of silence and neglect - the mysterious and the ordinary combined. 

Marbled Beauty (illustration)

The moth (illustrated above) tends to run if disturbed - an unusual tactic.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

9 July 2014 - New to Yorkshire

Denisia albimaculea

A new species for Yorkshire - that statement has a satisfying ring to it.  Thanks to Charlie Fletcher, Harry Beaumont and John Langmaid, the Yorkshire Museum Gardens can welcome a new species to the Yorkshire list.  The trap was set again last night to see if there might be another specimen to be found but, despite a good catch, Denisia albimaculea didn't appear again.  The main attractions (out of sixteen different species that workers on their way through the gardens could observe on our stall) were the Shoulder-striped Wainscot and a beautiful Swallowtail Moth. 

White-spotted Black (Denisia albimaculea)
The White-spotted Black (Denisia albimaculea) was originally known as Anacampsis albimaculea and it was reported as being scarce in 1828.  The illustration above is from Plate 107 of British Moths and their Transformations where the moth is shown very close to the gutter of the book, away from the other moths all gathered around a stem of yellow wort (Chlora perfoliata).

This moth might be just a speck but it is a considerable one.  

6 July 2014 - Small Dingy Tubic

(Borkhausenia fuscescens)

Last night we had an impressive catch at Shandy Hall's gardens – not bad after recording an impressive fifty-four species for National Moth Night the night before. This morning a Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) was seen perched on the side of the trap; a Garden Tiger (Arctia caja) displayed its high-contrast patterned wings; a Regal Piercer (Pammene regiana), with its remarkable yellow crown, also caught our attention.

What almost escaped our notice became the most important catch of the day. On the side of the trap's transparent lid rested a miniscule moth that is hardly remarkable in any way at all – besides, perhaps, being one of the smallest moths we've recorded since my arrival. It was a Small Dingy Tubic (Borkhausenia fuscescens). 'Fuscescens', or 'fuscuous', means to be dark and somber in color. Indeed, the moth's wings appeared muddy and brown. Little distinctive patterns could be made out besides two pairs of dark spots along the middle of each wing. What finally betrayed its identity was the long hairy edge of its wings. In contrast to the elegant 'trimmings' on the wings of, say, a Silver Ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata), like an ornate Victorian dress, the hairy wings of the Small Dingy Tubic reminded me of the furry coats of a steppe rider. It's important, I suppose, for a moth this small to carry a somewhat hardy appearance.

So far, we've recorded 348 different species of moth. We hope July will continue to add new species to the list.

On Wednesday morning (9 July - from 7.00am until around 10.30am), if you are near the Museum Gardens in York, the moth catch from the previous night can be seen on our stand near the observatory.

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn)

4 July 2014 - Close to the Rare

Denisia sp.

This photograph of a moth has been lurking, unidentified, for a number of days.  Finally, thanks to Charlie Fletcher and Harry Beaumont, it has been identified as a member of the Denisia family - but which member it is will probably have to remain a mystery.  Named after a Viennese entomologist [M Denis (1729 - 1800)], this micro moth is not common and could (if it turned out to be Denisia albimaculea) be a significant catch.  However, this is the closest (without dissection) that we can get to its identity, so the Yorkshire Museum's garden moth-list registers another new species, but whether albimaculea or augustella we do not know.  The Norfolk site is one of the best for giving the common as well as the scientific name for moths caught in the county - especially the less well-known micros - but Denisia doesn't seem to have been recorded so we are left even more in the dark. 
Where hopefully this moth is. 

3 July 2014 - Little Slender

(Calybites phasianipennella)

Calybites phasianipennella is a very small moth; a very little, slender moth, which (if the scientific name is anything to go by) lives in a hut and looks like a pheasant.  The cone of silk the caterpillar spins for its protection refers to the 'hut' (like a yurt, perhaps?), but the pheasant connection is rather more difficult to understand.  Those outrageous roadside sentinels are blazing with purples and reds at the moment, but Calybites' colouring looks quite discreet. 
Little Slender (for that is its colloquial name), was one of three micro moths trapped in the gardens at the Yorkshire Museum last night and those members of the public who stopped, on their way to work, to look at the 'catch' found it difficult to believe that something so small, that could barely be seen, could indeed be a moth.  Here it is under a macro lens.  It is not glimpsed very often as it spends up to nine months hibernating or overwintering.  The antennae wave almost constantly, sensing and investigating the air.

(Crambus perlella) 

Another micro from the YO1 area last night was a Crambus perlella - the Yellow Satin Veneer - here shown in a collecting tube and looking every bit as terrifying as Hirst's shark.
The scientific name means 'dry' or 'withered pearl'.  The moth can be found on grassland, gardens and heathland and is quite common.  
We are still trying to identify the third micro and will post when we find out.  

1 July 2014 - Shadow of the Minster

Gothic (Naenia typica)

York's skyline is dominated by the magnificent contours of York Minster. Last night, the passing shadow of the Minster left a trace inside our trap in the York Museums Garden. 
We discovered a Gothic moth (Naenia typica).

Typica means to have a distinctive pattern. The moth's black wings are suitably decorated with bright trimmings. Branching silvery lines expand from its thorax to the tips of its wings. These lines are punctuated in their paths by horizontal connections, forming intricate lacework. At the same time, the silver thread divides the dark wing surface into a mosaic of elongated triangular and rectangular patches. This pattern reminds me of the elaborate tracery on the windows of the gothic cathedrals. Just as the stained-glass windows of York Minster give the architecture its sacred atmosphere, the black mosaics of the moth's wings add a layer of enigma to the moth's appearance.

The Gothic's behavior is equally enigmatic. Gothic is fittingly named after Naenia, the Roman goddess of funerals. Naenia is responsible for providing rest and peace to the dead in the afterlife. Like Naenia, Gothic moths preside over a world that is little known but omnipresent around us. Outside of the reaches of the lamp-lights, nighttime waste grounds, suburban woods, and wild marshes make up the Gothic's haven. It's characteristically reclusive and reticent. Unlike most other species of moth, the Gothic isn't easily attracted to light. Despite being a common species in Britain, it is a rare visitor to light traps, which makes its presence today all the more unusual and noteworthy. However, I can only imagine the sight of a fluttering Gothic moth at night. When its black wings dissolve into darkness, all that remains will be the silver trimmings delineating its contour. It flies into the night, like a spirit, and disappears.

Gothic (illustration)

The illustration above is reproduced from British Moths and their Transformations (as usual).  The Gothic is shown alongside a caterpillar of the Chestnut (Conistra vacciniicrawling up the stem of a Bilberry.  The wavy fronds of the Field Larkspur add a suitably mysterious background.

This moth hasn't been seen at Shandy Hall so isn't included in our list.

Post by Bowen Chang

26 June 2014 - 'These pretty moths'

Lime-speck Pug (Euthepicia centauriata)

A strongly marked pug in the moth trap is a pug most welcome and when it is three on the trot, it becomes a celebration. Pugs are normally so difficult to identify as they all look pretty much the same and as they are also delicate and flighty - flapping away at the slightest disturbance - they are rarely greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.  

These three ambassadors for the group are a different story - bold clear markings and unmistakable. Well the Lime-speck at least.  What a beauty.  Named Eupethicia (goodly dwarf) "because these pretty moths... are characterized by the elegant attitude in which they repose, with their wings beautifully expanded, lying close to the surface on which they rest" [AH Howarth].  They feed on knapweed - centaurea.  This one can't be added to the Shandy Hall list for it was caught and identified this morning in the Yorkshire Museum gardens where we are conducting our research into the York city-centre moth population. But it is a new one for YO1. 

Toadflax Pug (Euthepicia linariata)
And here is a similar story.  Yesterday this freshly emerged Toadflax Pug was trapped in the museum gardens close to the stand of trees next to the ruined abbey.  It's another new one for the gardens, not seen yet at Shandy Hall and takes its name from the foodplant: linaria - toadflax.  It can be confused with the Foxglove Pug (Euthepicia pulchellata) but Stuart Ogilvy in York is as confident as I am that this identification is correct.  A new moth for YO1 and another yet to be seen in Coxwold.

Green Pug (Pasiphila rectangulata)

Pasiphila is a new name for this insect. It used to be Chloroclystis - meaning : fugitive green colour (as with many green moths the colour fades quickly); rectangulata : from a rectangle of dark spots on the underwing.  Again a new pug for the Yorkshire Museum gardens and a relatively simple identification. 

25 June 2014 - Fading Green

Green Oak Tortrix (Tortrix viridana)
Two weeks without rain have taken away the lush, green blanket on the fields behind Shandy Hall and the tall grasses in the pasture are starting to show signs of dusty yellow. Even the mighty oak trees carry a hint of shriveled brown on their leaves.
Fortunately, a flash of new green visited the garden this week.  It came in the form of a moth - a Green Oak Tortrix (Tortrix viridana) that made its appearance in our new actinic light trap.  It is a small moth with no flamboyant patterns on its wings.  Like many other species of the Tortricidae family, it was plainly bell-shaped and the bright green colour of its forewings make it instantly attractive.

Green Oak Tortrix (illustration)
The moth's green color will not last long; green pigments always fade as the moth ages. Like the overwintered Autumn Green Carpet (Chloroclysta miata) this tortrix is fated to become unrecognizably grey come July.  In nature, green is perhaps the most transient color of all. Whether on moth wings or in oak leaves, it always fades fast.  Conversely, when rain falls the oak will recover its verdant cloak. Next year the viridana will flutter once more with its wings of jade.  In this regard, green is also a resilient color.

A new species for Shandy Hall : number 347.  (The leap in numbers will be explained...)

Post by Bowen Chang (UPenn) 

22 June 2014 - Thistle Ermine

Thistle Ermine (Myelois circumvoluta)

We all learned what a vampire looks like from reading Bram Stoker's Dracula - a pale face, gaunt and always dressed in tightly-fitting monochromatic garments.  A similar description could be used for our new moth today.  The Thistle Ermine (Myelosis circumvoluta) has pale white wings sprinkled with black spots.  Unlike its bigger 'brothers' - the White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) and the Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum), its wings are tightly wrapped around its body, like a vampire's lanky cloak.  The moth's scientific name furthers this fanciful connection as Myelosis means 'marrow'; here it refers to the pith of plants. Feeding on the pith of thistles is not so very different from the vampire's feeding on the 'lifeblood' of man.
We thought this moth was new to the gardens but last night found the name lurking in a list from a couple of years ago.  However, it hasn't had its own photograph on the blog until now.  

Thistle Ermine (Oncocera cardui)
The observant moth enthusiast may notice that the scientific name of the Thistle Ermine in the 1843 illustration is different from the one it bears today.

Post by Bowen Chang

21 June 2014 - Dainty Warrior

Fenland Pearl (Phylctaenia perlucidalis)

There was quite a 'moth festival' at Shandy Hall on Friday evening.  Dr Dave Chesmore was here, along with visitors from villages near and far, to examine the trap from the night before.  He was quick to point out a new species amongst our catch.  A Fenland Pearl (Phylctaenia perlucidalis) made its debut in the gardens.  Because Fenland Pearls are mainly recorded in the coastal regions of south-east England, it is surprising to find one here in Coxwold.

The moth is appropriately named.  Its wings display a muted grey colour; elegant wavy patterns decorate the outer edge of its wings.  It is not difficult to associate this silvery moth to a precious pearl buried in a watery marsh.  The scientific name, perlucidalis, means 'light' or 'brightness'.  Indeed, its wings are thin and translucent - they filter sunlight beautifully. 

However, the Fenland Pearl's flimsy appearance is somewhat misleading.  It is thought to feed on a variety of thistle.  Thistles are perhaps the most resilient plants in the farm fields nearby.  Their sharp prickles protect them from even the thick-skinned herbivores on the farms. Ironically they are no match for this delicate moth.  Under its dainty wings, the Fenland Pearl is a hardy warrior.

Moth evening at Shandy Hall

Post by Bowen Chang

20 June 2014 - Captain Cook Connection

(Lozotaenia forsterana)

The latest discovery in the garden is Lozotaenia forsterana or Large Ivy Tortrix or (according to Westwood & Humphreys [illustration below]) Forsters.  The name 'Forsters' comes from the Polish naturalist J.R. Forster (1729-98), participant on one of Capt. Cook's voyages.  However, this moth is less exotic and eye-catching when compared to the best of the Pacific fauna Forster might have seen.  It is a micro-moth that is brown through and through, though there is a delicate lattice on the surface of the wings.  It is distinguished by the oblique (loxos) bands (tainia) on the forewings and a heart-shaped marking is prominently displayed at the center of its folded wings.

Like other tortrixes, the wings of Lozotaenia forsterana form a bulging bell shape when folded together, like the shell of a tortoise.  This humble, earth coloured moth feeds on the high-flying ivy climbing the walls and trees providing a beautiful contrast. 

(Lozotaenia forsterana) illustration 

A new species to the garden: number 340.  Let's hope for more with Moth Night at Shandy Hall (National Garden Scheme) tonight.

Post by Bowen Chang

17 June 2014 - King and Beggar

Purple Clay

The new addition to Shandy Hall moths came to us in the most inconspicuous way.
A Purple Clay (Diarsia brunnea) was found crouching in the cell of an egg-box this morning. The second part of its scientific name brunnea (brown, earth-colored) correlates to 'clay'.  As its name suggests the moth is rather unassuming in appearance.  The colors of its wings are dark and indistinct, possessing neither the elegant, high-contrast patterns of the Small Magpie (Eurrhypara hortulata), nor the playful colours of the Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) - both species found in the trap as well.

However, when I observed it more closely, in the light, I noticed its concealed beauty.  It's wings showed a glimmer of purple, the furry surface suddenly looked like fine velvet.  It reminded me of the luxurious robes of royalties of the past; purple, after all, is a regal color.

Ingrailed Clay (Diarsia mendica)

As the Purple Clay's kinsman, an Ingrailed Clay (Diarsia mendica) was also recorded and photographed for the first time, albeit having been previously identified.  It had a pair of light-brown wings carrying characteristic black markings. On the whole the Ingrailed Clay appeared more ordinary.  To complete the hierarchy of the moth world, the mendica (a beggar with a drab appearance) seemed to fall somewhat below its royal kinsman.

The Purple Clay brings Shandy Hall moth number: 339.

Illustrations of: Purple Clay (above) and Ingrailed Clay (below)

Post by Bowen Chang

16 June 2014 - Blowing in the Wind

Apple Fruit Moth (Argyresthia conjugella)

Yesterday the trap was filled with some giants of the moth world - we recorded three different species of hawk-moth in the one catch - Small Elephant, Eyed and Poplar.  They were, however, not new to the garden.  Ironically, the subject of my first blog post at Shandy Hall will be the smallest member of yesterday's cohort: Argyresthia conjugella, as confirmed by Charlie Fletcher.  Commonly called the Apple Fruit Moth it raises the count of Shandy Hall moths to 338.

The first part of the scientific name Argyresthia originates from the word 'arguros' meaning 'silver'.  This refers to the silvery patch at the top of the moth's wings.  Conjugella (meaning 'connection') attributes to the dark stripe that divides the silvery patch when the wings are folded together.

I was amazed at the peculiar stance that the Apple Fruit Moth takes when at rest.  The weight of his already minuscule body is precariously balanced upon three pairs of disproportionately thin legs.  The moth's body leans heavily forward, its wings folded tightly around its abdomen and tilted upward as if in the absence of gravity.

The moth is so thin and light, and its stance so precarious, I fear it would be carried away with the slightest gust of wind.  How then does it thrive in the windy climes of North Yorkshire?  As it turns out, my fear is excessive.  This species of moth not only thrives in England, but is also found in Siberia, Japan, North America and much of the northern hemisphere.  Instead of battling the wind, I suppose it must simply adhere to the wind's direction to all far corners of the world.

Post by Bowen Chang

13 June 2014 - Time is Out of Joint

Autumn Green Carpet (Chloroclysta miata)

One day last Autumn I checked the Yorkshire Moths Flying Tonight website and found there were four moths that were common enough in the county to stand a fair chance of turning up in the gardens in Coxwold.  One was the Juniper Carpet (which duly arrived) and the other was the moth in the photograph above - the Autumn Green Carpet.  Had not Charlie Fletcher identified it as an overwintered adult from last year I don't think I would have given this particular moth a second glance.  The green tinge is all that remains of a what was once a resplendent colourway and is not as noticeable in real life as it is in the image. Despite its battered and drained look, this moth has battled through the winter, the torrential rains in Spring and avoided ending up as a snack for a bat.  It is a true fighter and a most worthy addition to the list of species which now numbers 337.

Autumn Green Carpet (illustration)
The moth can be seen flying around grass stems in the illustration.

12 June 2014 - Meadow Neb

(Metzneria metzneriella)

This moth was a puzzle.  Fortunately Charlie Fletcher recognized it as Metzneria metzneriella for, had he not done so, we would still be trying to discover its identity.  It is more easily identifiable from above when the spots on the fore-wings are more apparent.  It is named after Herr Metzner - a civil servant and enthusiastic moth collector who died in Germany in 1861.  The moth feeds on knapweed and is known as the Meadow Neb.  I can't find it illustrated in Westwood/Humphreys so when it was first identified is a mystery to me.  Helen Levins had posted this species on our blog two years ago and I missed seeing it.  Not a new species, but not a bad photograph.

Bowen Chang (our U of Pennsylvania intern) is beginning to get used to the routine of setting the trap and his help will be invaluable as there are three set for tonight - a garden in Marygate (York), the Museum Gardens (York) and the old quarry (Coxwold).  It isn't windy, it isn't raining, so all we have to do is set the alarm.