Mid Moth Season Update

It’s the end of the second quarter for the Garden Moth Scheme (GMS), so I thought I’d review some of the mothy highlights from the last couple of months. I trap once a week for the GMS but also occasionally trap on other nights too and last weekend tried trapping at my Dad’s house in Herefordshire for a change – so the photos below are from a mixture of all three. The first quarter of the GMS was dominated by the fairly plain Quaker type moths, so I’ll make no excuse for deliberately picking the more colourful and exciting moths (yes I do find moths exciting!) for this selection! Having said that I’ve just realised I’m starting with a grey one – but it is a particularly cute grey one!

These first three photos are all part of the Ermine group of moths, although the top ones are actually called Muslin Moths. These are grey male Muslins – the females being white. We seem to get a lot more of the males than the females in our garden for some reason.

Muslin Moths

This next one is I think a White Ermine although it could just be a female Muslin moth which are very similar. The White Ermines are so named because they look a bit like the fur that used to be used to trim rich people’s clothes (I’ve got an image now of Henry VIII covered in White Ermine moths!)

White Ermine

The final one of this little trio is a Buff Ermine – making beige look good.

Buff Ermine

The next four I’ve only grouped together on the basis of how beautiful they are. The first is even called the Beautiful Hook Tip!

Beautiful Hook Tip

The next is a Pine Beauty – a stunningly patterned small moth.

Pine Beauty

The next two may not have beautiful names, but they could rival any butterfly for its stunning colours. The Brimstone is named because it is yellow like sulphur.

Brimstone

The Scarlet Tiger is simply stunning and flies by day as well as by night – this one we caught in the moth trap, but on occasion we’ve seen a small flock of them flying in the afternoon.

Scarlet Tiger

The next one is a Peppered Moth – I’ve included this as it reminds me of biology lessons at school on the power of natural selection. The Peppered Moths are famous for the swing in the population’s colour during the Industrial Revolution when the whiter forms like this one, stood out against the trees blackened by soot and were therefore easy pickings for birds. The darker forms were better camouflaged at this time and so had higher survival rates and so came to dominate the populations. Since environmental standards have improved, there’s less soot and the white forms are once again the more common. We only ever seem to get the whiter ones in our garden – guess we’re soot-free!

Peppered Moth

The next few, I’ve chosen simply because of their interesting adaptations to avoiding being eaten. This Buff Tip manages to look remarkably like a broken twig. It matches even better on a Silver Birch twig, but this apple stick was the best I could do. If they keep still on the Birch, they must be virtually impossible to detect.

Buff Tip

This Scorched Wing uses its colouration to avoid looking like a moth at all. The fading lines are supposed to break up its outline to make it harder to detect. No idea why it sticks its bum in the air though?

Scorched Wing

This Spectacle is one of my favourites. For a start it is very easy to identify – no other moth has a pair of specs on its head like this and secondly I find it adorable. It’s possible these “specs” are used to startle birds by looking like a large pair of eyes – several other moth and butterfly species use eye-like markings to shock birds, but as far as I know none of them look quite like this!

Spectacle

The Shark moth I chose really just so I can claim we have sharks in the garden! I think it’s the triangular pointy head that gives it the name. I’ve been wanting to find one for years, so was really chuffed to spot this in the trap in June.

Shark

The next two I’ve included partly because I like their names – Puss Moth (top) and Sallow Kitten (bottom). I’ve always assumed they were called Puss and Kitten because of their furry legs. I also like the way they have a tendency to sit with their front legs stretched out ahead of them – again a bit like a cat does.

Puss Moth

Sallow Kitten

And finally for this update the Hawk-moths. The biggest most spectacular moths we get in the UK. I’ve seen 4 species over the last couple of months, 3 in our garden and one at my Dad’s place. The first two are the ever-popular Elephant Hawk-moth (left) and Small Elephant Hawk-moth (right). It still amazes me that they are even real – they have bright pink bodies and just seem like a moth a child would draw if left with a load of bright pink crayons!

Pair of elephants

The next one is a Poplar Hawk-moth which is even bigger than the Elephants above. It always holds its wings at this awkward looking angle and flies in quite an ungainly way.

Poplar Hawkmoth

The final one is an Eyed Hawk-moth – we have had them in our own garden, but so far this year we’ve only seen this species at my Dad’s in Herefordshire. They have these bright “eyes” on the hindwings which they flash when disturbed to try and scare off predators.

Eyed Hawkmoth 2

So those are some of my mothy highlights from the last couple of months. Apologies to those species that I’ve not included – it would have been a very long blog post if I’d rambled on about them all – we’re up to 108 species for the garden already this year. But I do love them all – each new species that we find is a treasure and it’s wonderful to know just how diverse the moth fauna is in our garden.

30 Days Wild – Day 12

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_12Day 12 of 30 Days Wild and it’s been all about the moths. This weekend has been the annual Moth Night (which slightly confusingly has run for 3 nights) – a celebration of all things mothy. The theme of this year’s Moth Night was Hawkmoths, so I was really hoping I’d get some in the traps.

I had both moth traps out last night and was up at 4am this morning to empty them before the robin beat me to it. The last 2 days I’ve been pretty much eyeball to eyeball with this robin as he has clearly learnt that moth traps provide easy pickings! I only have to turn around for a second and he’s there sitting on the edge of the trap, peering in. If only he could tell me their names, he’d be a big help!

Skinner TrapI’d run one trap on Friday night as usual for my weekly Garden Moth Scheme count. So I could use those numbers for Moth Night too – great when the data can be used for 2 schemes at once!

 

Safari TrapLast night though I put the other trap out as well (I can only use the wooden one for the Garden Moth Scheme) to try and maximise my haul for Moth Night. Fortunately the rain held off last night until about 5:30am, by which time I had collected all the moths ready to photograph at a more civilised hour.

I’ve spent a large part of today identifying the moths I’d photographed this morning and yesterday. I’ve no idea yet how other moth trappers got on, but I was pretty pleased with my total count of 174 moths of 41 species over the 2 days. Interestingly the number of traps didn’t make much difference – I got 27 species the first night with one trap and 29 last night with the 2 traps.

I was really chuffed to get 2 species of Hawkmoth – the Elephant (on the left below) and the Small Elephant (on the right obviously!).  We get the bigger one quite often in June and the small one less frequently. It would have been nice to get some of the other big hawkmoths too, but that’s the way it goes.

Pair of elephants

The dominant species in terms of sheer numbers was the Heart and Dart, which accounted for about a third of the total number of individuals. I love the way many of the moths are named – the Heart & Dart is so called because it has dark markings shaped like a heart and a dart! It does what it says on the tin!

Heart & Dart

The other numerous moth in the trap was a micro one – the Diamond Back Moth – named for its diamond shaped pattern on its back! This tiny moth is actually an immigrant and they’ve been blown over to the UK in recent weeks in huge numbers – they even got a mention on Springwatch.

Diamond Back moth

The Diamond Back wasn’t the only incomer, I also trapped a Silver Y moth each night – again named for the silvery Y shape on its wing. The Silver Y is one of the more famous immigrants in the moth world and even got recorded as part of the Big Butterfly Count last year.

Silver Y

Moths can generally be split into Macro and Micro moths. I tend to prefer the Macro ones because not only are they bigger, but they are usually easier to identify. This weekend brought some particularly impressive ones. The Scarlet Tiger is so bright and colourful it is often mistaken for a butterfly. They regularly fly in sunshine, but this one came to the trap at the weekend.

Scarlet Tiger

The Puss Moth and Pale Tussock are two other large species that turned up for Moth Night. I love the way the Puss sits with its front legs stretched out ahead.

Puss Moth

Pale Tussock

I was really pleased to find this next moth in the trap this morning as I’d only ever seen it in the books before – the Figure of 80 – so named because it looks like someone’s written 80 on each of its wings!

Figure of 80

Although the Micro moths are obviously smaller and so generally harder to ID, many of them are really quite stunning when you look at them close up, like this Cherry Bark Moth (top) and Barred Marble (below).  They’re both probably less than a centimetre long, but there’s such detail in their colouring.

Cherry Bark

 

Barred Marble

So that’s Moth Night over for another year. Hopefully they will have had lots of results submitted from all over the country and it will have raised the profile of moths generally.  I really enjoy taking part in projects like this; it’s great sharing the photos on social media and seeing what all the other moth-ers around the country are getting in their traps.

For more info have a look at their website:  http://www.mothnight.info/www/

 

Buttercup 30 WEEDS

Weed no. 12 in my 30 Lazy Weeds from the garden and it’s the Buttercup. One of our most iconic flowers, that even children will recognise. Most kids will have tried the old custom where you hold a buttercup under your chin and if it reflects yellow, it means you like butter. Of course all it really proves is that the buttercup’s petals reflect light very well, but that’s not quite so romantic a thought! Maybe it is that old custom though, as buttercups hold an innocent charm for me that few of the other flowers do.

Garden Moth Scheme

It’s the end of the first quarter of my first year participating in the Garden Moth Scheme. It’s not exactly been a flying start (no pun intended); the moths have been few and far between this spring. But I’m consoling myself with the fact that all data is useful, even if it shows disappointing numbers.

On the 9 nights the moth trap has been out for the scheme, only 46 moths have deigned to make an appearance. On two of the nights nothing showed up at all! The 46 moths represented individuals of 9 species. These 9 species were dominated by the Orthosia – 5 species of this genus; all typical spring moths.  I was particularly chuffed with the Twin-spotted Quaker record, as it was a new one for our garden. With the exception of the Hebrew Character, they are generally quite plain looking moths – see photos below.

Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda)

Small Quaker

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

Common Quaker 2

Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)

Clouded Drab

Twin Spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda)

Twin spot quaker (6)

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

Hebrew Character (2)

The GM scheme records 6 species of Orthosia  and the final species, Powdered Quaker (Orthosia gracilis), did indeed turn up in the trap, just not on a GMS night.

Powdered Quaker

 Besides the Orthosia moths, the other 4 species making up the 9 for the GM scheme were Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla), Double Striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata), Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) and a Brindled Beauty (Lycia hirtaria).

For the year to date though I’ve recorded 22 species – it’s just that most of them seem to appear on nights that aren’t official GM scheme nights so don’t get logged for the project, which is a bit of a shame. For some reason as well the non GMS nights seem to attract the more striking moths (not that they aren’t all lovely to my eyes!), such as the Herald, Oak Beauty and this Angle Shades and Early Thorn.

Angle Shades

Early Thorn

Hopefully the next quarter will bring a greater variety and abundance of moths. The trap is out again tonight – it’s not a GMS night so I’ll probably get something huge and spectacular  – Mothra perhaps?

Doomed Beauty

It was week two of the Garden Moth Scheme last weekend – I put the trap out twice – once for the official GMS count and once just because I probably need to get out more! Needless to say the non-GMS night produced more moths than the official night, but then it was several degrees warmer. I was tempted to log the better of the two results, but decided to be a good citizen scientist – after all the aim of the scheme is to find out about moth numbers on average nights, not just on the best ones!

The official night still produced 6 moths of 4 species, including this small Double Striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata), which landed on the garage wall next to the trap at the beginning of the night and stayed there until dawn.

Double Striped Pug

The trap also attracted a Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla) – a funny stick like micro moth, shaped like a capital T, hence its other common name T-moth.

Emmelina

The second trapping night produced 24 moths of 8 species, including this new species for our garden the March Tubic (Diurnea fagella).

DSC_3136

Another first for the garden was this much more attractive (apologies to the above March Tubic) Herald moth (Scoliopteryx libatrix). I’d been wanting to find one of these in the garden for a while (having previously only seen it when I’d rescued a few from a friend’s building site of a garage). Herald moths overwinter as adults, so this was probably one that had been hibernating somewhere nearby and emerged on one of the first warm nights.

Herald

But the star of the show was this magnificent Oak Beauty (Biston strataria) – a large moth with fantastic feathered antennae. We have had them in the garden before, but this was a lovely fresh specimen, looking his or her best. Sadly this beauty was doomed. Before I could move him to the safety of a quiet corner, he took off, flapping towards the apple tree. Unfortunately hubby and I weren’t the only ones watching him go and before we knew it, a robin swooped down and had our bright beauty for breakfast. It must have made a big fat treat for the robin, but I must admit I felt more than a little guilty at our part in this poor moth’s short life!

Oak Beauty

So the two nights trapping brings the total species count for the year to 12, which includes 4 new records for the garden – not a bad start to the year at all. Sadly the Oak Beauty can’t say the same!

Is it a moth, is it a fly?

I had hoped this weekend to be posting results from my first official moth trapping night for the Garden Moth Scheme. Unfortunately I got a complete no-show; not a single moth deigned to put in an appearance. All I got to record was the minimum temperature (-1.9°C)! I’m trying to console myself with the thought that there is no such thing as bad data – even a nil count provides information, even if it’s not very exciting information.

So in the absence of any moths, I’m posting about the next best thing – a Moth Fly.

Moth fly

This little beauty (and it is little – only a couple of millimetres wide) appeared this week on a garden planter next to a bucket of water. They may look like tiny moths, but they are actually a type of fly – hence the common name Moth Fly. They are also known by the less than romantic pseudonym of Drain Fly, as their larvae are found in drains or stagnant water. A slightly more appealing alias is Owl Midge.  Their wings and bodies are characteristically hairy giving them their moth-like appearance. I’ve no idea of the species (there are about 100 species in the UK); I suspect a microscope would be needed to identify it to that level. If anyone’s got any suggestions though, they would be most gratefully received.

Fingers crossed next weekend brings some warmer weather and some genuine moths in the trap.

Moth Count Down

Less than a week to go until the summer Garden Moth Scheme starts, so I’ve been dusting off the trap and my ID skills, such as they are. Although I’ve been moth trapping for a couple of years now, this will be the first time I’ve submitted my results to any study like this and I’m really looking forward to it.

So on Friday night I put the moth trap out as a sort of a dry run,  in the site I’ll be using through the summer for the scheme.  It was a slightly warmer night than it has been recently (a balmy 2.3°C) and virtually no wind, so I was reasonably optimistic about catching something at least. Sure enough, my optimism was rewarded with the grand total of 7 moths of 4 species; more moths than I’ve had in all the other trap nights this year put together. I even had one species I’ve never recorded in the garden before (probably because I don’t normally trap in February). The Grey Shoulder-knot (Lithophane ornitopus) below most probably hibernated as an adult moth over winter to emerge in the spring.

Grey Shoulder Knot

The remaining 3 species all belonged to the Orthosia genus of moths, which would have spent the winter as pupae. The first of these was the Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) which I’d already caught this year and mentioned in earlier blog posts.  The second was the unfortunately named Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) seen below camouflaged very well against a stone background.

Clouded Drab

The final species was the much more interestingly titled Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica), named apparently because the dark mark on its wing looks like the Hebrew character Nun: It’s not a perfect match, but you can see what they were getting at, when whoever it was named this moth.

Hebrew Character

So 6 species of moth under my belt for this year so far and looking forward to seeing what the garden holds in the coming months. Having the discipline of having to put the moth trap out every week for the scheme, will hopefully yield a few extra species that I would otherwise miss. And it’s nice to know that our Malvern moths are in some small way contributing to the wider knowledge of the UK moth fauna.