26 May 2015 - Pale Shoulders, Brocade and Slippers

Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina)
The Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina) has been seen once before at Shandy Hall when Jane Wu recorded it on the blog dated 14 June 2013.  I don't remember seeing it at the time so this beautifully marked moth came as a surprize to me this morning.  I couldn't work out its identity and had to seek advice from Dave Chesmore.  Now the pale shoulders are clearly apparent and I hope I won't get confused again.

The excuse for a second entry of this very pretty moth can be seen below.  When illustrated in British Moths and their Transformations the Pale-shouldered Brocade has a different scientific name : Hadena thalassina with the first part of the binomial referring to the Underworld - as in the Lychnis (Hadena bicruris), a moth that was seen earlier in the week. The illustration shows the moth and a beautiful Lady's Slipper orchid as its botanical companion.  This orchid is now one of the rarest plants in the UK - if it hasn't disappeared completely.  The hand-coloured moth book was published in 1843 when the plant was not uncommon.

Pale-shouldered Brocade and Lady's Slipper Orchid
In total there were only six moths in the trap : Herald, White Ermine, Brimstone and two Pugs.  What sort of Pug?  Common, I think but Pugs are notoriously difficult. 

25 May 2015 - Longhorns and other Horns

Parornix sp. 

Another chilly night means very little is happening in the Shandy Hall garden.  A couple of Sandy Carpets, a Pseudoswammerdamia combinella, and this little micro which looks as if it belongs to the Parornix family.  There has only been one record of a Parornix (June 2013) and that one could only be identified by dissection, so it remains recorded as Parornix sp. - which is what I suspect this one's fate will be.  It can't count as a new species as it looks too much like the other one.  The scientific name means 'alongside the bird' (para ornis) - 'feathery winged'.

Elephant Hawk-moth - pupa

Last year Bowen Chang, our UPenn intern, was very pleased to see an enormous caterpillar marching across the gravel.  It was the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk-moth  It seemed determined to find somewhere to pupate and promptly disappeared beneath the leaves and soil we provided.  This was in August.  Today I noticed one end of the chrysalis was above the ground, just by a quarter of an inch.  I'll have to keep an eye on it and hope to photograph the adult when it emerges.  The little spur or 'horn' can be seen on the right end - the sign of a hawk-moth.  The daisy is for scale.  

In 2012 a Longhorn moth was seen on the cuckoo flower and again the following Spring. This year's visitor has lost half an antenna and has settled on the flower of a forget-me-not and was quite easy to photograph.  I am still not entirely convinced that it is Cauchas rumifitrella but the other longhhorn species seem to be more clearly marked.

The mercury vapour light has been switched on again as the temperature is forecast to be around 10 degrees.  Hopefully there will be more to report tomorrow.

10 May 2015 - Moon Hedge

Moon Hedge 

Moth-trapping is about to start in earnest at Shandy Hall.  The delay has been partly to do with the exhibition which opens today in the gallery.  The title of the show is Happy Spirits and the paintings, serigraphs and lino-prints are by Carry Akroyd.  Carry has shown a number of times in the gallery, usually works relating to John Clare and the countryside, and this year's title refers to a new collection of work selected by RKR Thornton and Carry herself.  This Happy Spirit is 'a collection which celebrates the joyfulness of Clare's writing'. Her mothy image, based on observations at Shandy Hall, fits perfectly.
The exhibition opens at noon today and continues until 14 June, open every day (except Saturday) 11am - 4pm.

23 April 2015 - Biorythms

Larva and eggs of December Moth (Poecilocampa populi)

My biorhythms must be attuned to those of the December Moth or I wouldn't have searched out the egg-box (hen) with the eggs (moth) on its side this morning and wouldn't have seen that one had hatched.  That was at 7am this morning.  By the time I had had the opportunity to take a second look another six had nibbled their way out of their egg-cases and were wandering around in an adventurous manner.  Hawthorn and lime leaves have been placed close to the hatching caterpillars in the hope that they will begin to feed.  The books and UK Moths say 'variety of deciduous leaves' and 'especially lime, birch, oak and hawthorn' so these scraps of foliage should be ideal.  The hatched caterpillar is just to the left of centre in the image. 

These particular eggs were laid on 3 November 2014 (see the blogpost for that date) so they have been lying dormant for over five months.

16 April 2015 - Diversions and Digressions

The Streamer (Anticlea derivata)

This moth is The Streamer (Anticlea derivata), not an unusual visitor to the gardens but one that hasn't been given any special attention.  First recorded at Shandy Hall in 2011, single specimens have turned up every year and my assumption was that the patterns on the moth's wings reminded one of a banner or ribbon and it was named accordingly.  The derivata part of the scientific name tells us otherwise - derivo means to divert a stream (rivus) so the moth is named after the marking that starts halfway down the edge of the wing to its base.  If you look at the right wing it is the pattern from the word 'pack' to the word 'eggs'.  A little rivulet of imaginary water.  The photograph doesn't show the delicate purple colouring to the wing surface and I would have taken a better but The Streamer did not crawl obligingly onto the proffered leaf - it flew off the moment it was disturbed. 

The Streamer (larva)
The caterpillar of The Streamer is generally understood to feed on the leaves of the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) which leaves the individual above as a bit of an outsider as it seems quite happy munching Galium. 

The Streamer (illustration)

That diverted stream can be seen just above the word 'The' in the illustration.

Last night produced more moths than I was expecting - Early Thorn, Clouded Drab, Early Grey, Red Green Carpet, The Chestnut, Common Quaker and Small Quaker of which the most numerous were the Quakers.  No bats yet.  Too many rabbits.

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