Friday, 14 August 2020

From my Moth Trap


A few years ago I was at Strumpshaw Fen photographing the Swallowtail butterflies. When we arrive that morning they had just emptied their mothtrap and there was an Elephant Hawkmoth, Eyed Hawkmoth and a couple of Poplar Hawkmoths sitting on the fence waiting to be photographed, see my blog of  9th June 2016 for the pictures.

Although I had long considered getting involved with "mothing", the realisation that I would not see such impressive specimens in my urban Worthing garden was a little off putting. All I did, over the next few years, was to record the odd, mostly day flying moth, that I saw when on my travels. However, last week I took the plunge and and purchased a cheap trap to see what was about.

It is a low powered bulb and given the location I hadn't expected big catches. However, I have to say that after a slow start, it was better than I had expected. The slow start being just one moth on the first night that I tried it out. My fault really, it was a cold night and very windy. I new it would not be good for moths but I couldn't wait to play with my new toy.

Two subsequent evenings gave better returns with between twenty and thirty moths each night. I ended up with a total of thirty three new moths for my rather modest list and I still have half a dozen species to be identified. I'm hooked!

Plumed Fan-foot - Pechipogo plumigeralis

Plumed Fan-foot. This is the moth responsible for my new purchase. I found it in the garage and after taking a particularly poor picture of it, forgot all about it. A couple of days later I looked it up in my moth book, to be told that it that it was a rare immigrant from across the channel, first recorded in 1995 and with reports in the low tens in subsequent years. False News! or at least old news. Checking with the county recorder Colin Pratt I find that it is now classed as "locally commonplace along parts of the Sussex coast" Global warming has a lot to answer for.

Anyway, having tried out my new mothtrap, here are a few photographs of the moths I have seen. As with my occasional forays into hoverflies, bees and flies, all identifications come with a health warning. I am new to moths and I will get some wrong. Please let me know if you see anything obvious.

The two most common moths have been the Marbled Green and the Light Brown Apple Moth. The Marbled Green coming in many different shades.

Marbled Green - Cryphia muralis

Marbled Green - Cryphia muralis

Light Brown Apple Moth - Epiphyas positvittana

So lets have a look at some of the more interesting moths that have put in an appearance at the trap.

The next picture could be a Dark Dagger or a Grey Dagger. The moths of the two species cannot be told apart without examination of genitalia which is not really my thing. I caught two of them in the trap and they are probably both Dark Dagger as that appears to be more common in Sussex. However, the caterpillars of each species are different and I realised that about six weeks ago I took a picture of a Grey Dagger caterpillar in the garden.

Dark Dagger or Grey Dagger Moth?

Grey Dagger Caterpillar 23/6/2020

The Grey Dagger is reported to double brood in the south of England so could this moth be from the same batch as the caterpillar I found. I will never know, but at least having found the caterpillar I can put the Grey on my garden list.

The Brimstone Moth is one that I see a lot when I am out butterflying. It is easily disturbed during the day and being such a vivid colour always catches the eye when it flies. Lovely moth and much easier to photograph when it is straight out of the moth trap.

Brimstone - Opisthograptis luteolata

Brimstone - Opisthograptis luteolata

Common Wainscot, just a great moth to see. It looks more like a child's cuddly toy. Very similar to the Southern, Smokey and Mathew's Wainscots but this one looks good for the Common

Common Wainscot - Mythimna pallens

The next one really threw me. When I first looked at it there was no clear colour or pattern that I could see, just a dark mess. Over exposing the picture brought out the purple and olive colours and a bit of searching led me to the Coronet. It still looked nothing like the picture in the field guide but if you study it long enough the pattern begins to emerge. The picture below is still slightly over exposed to show the detail.

Coronet - Craniophora ligustri

I initially had the next one down as a Cream Wave but eventually convinced myself that it was a Riband Wave form remutata.

Ribband Wave - Idaea aversata

A heart stopping moment when the Dusky Thorn came out of the trap. My first Thorn, could I get a picture before it flew away. Could I get it into the house to give me more time. How many times had I read that it is always the best moth that escapes when you open the trap. No problem on that front but it is an awkward shape for the narrow depth of focus on a macro lens.

Dusky Thorn - Ennomos fuscantaria 

I took a lot of shots of this Garden Tiger but it kept its wings firmly closed all through its photo opportunity. In the end I released it into the bushes, only to see it, a few minutes later, fly back to the patio and sit showing it's rear wings. Perhaps it was a thank you for having released it.

Garden Tiger - Arctia caja

It took me a while to identify the Least Carpet as well. It seemed more butterfly than moth and I couldn't pick it out from the field guide. Not sure why, there is nothing else that looks like it.

Least Carpet - Idaea rusticata

I nearly missed the Pale Prominent. It was tucked down in the corner of the trap blending in nicely with the background. I had seen one before but this is the first time I have managed to get a photograph.

Pale Prominent - Pterostoma palpina

The next moth is a tough call. I studied the images of the Uncertain and the Rustic for a long time. In the end I settled for Rustic but I am still not one hundred percent convinced.

Rustic - Hoplodrina blanda

The next is a micro moth. Fortunately I had just ordered the Field Guide to Micro Moths. The specimen is faded but is clearly of the genus Udea and from the markings looks like Udea ferrugalis the Rusty-dot Pearl.

Rusty-dot Pearl - Udea ferrugalis

The next two or three are a bit easier to identify. The first is the Setaceous Hebrew Character. What a wonderful name.

Setaceous Hebrew Character - Xestia c-nigrum

and the next the Shuttle-shaped Dart.

Shuttle-shaped Dart - Agrotis puta 

The Silver Y, another of the common moths. Populations vary from year to year. It doesn't seem to be easily disturbed during the day but some years I seem to find them everywhere.

Silver Y - Autographa gamma

and my final moth for this blog the Willow Beauty

Willow Beauty - Peribatodes rhomboidaria

Probably all routine stuff to the dedicated mothing community but it is all new to me.

Although this started as a birding blog my interests have expanded over the years. Birding will always be the main theme but there seems little point in just churning out the same old thing year after year. Bees and Flies are interesting but identification is getting a little too technical for me. I am interested in looking at the wildlife not in dissecting it. Orchids were interesting but not enough to get me going back this year. There are still a few I would like to see in Scotland and the North of England but that will be on an as and when basis.

Moths I like. I have a feeling that this blog will be showing a lot more "from my mothtrap" pages.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Silver-spotted Skipper

The end of July and it's Silver-spotted Skipper time again. That means a trip to Newtimber Hill and a morning searching one of the most productive butterflying locations on the Sussex Downs. Not having spent much time butterflying this year it was also a good opportunity to top up the year list with the downland species.

Sightings included Small, Large and Essex Skippers; Common Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Holly Blue, and Brown Argus; Small White, Green-veined White, and Marbled White; plus Painted Lady, Peacock, Dark Green Fritillary, Small Copper, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and a few micro moths. Not a bad haul but I was disappointed not to see Brimstone, Wall Browns and Small Tortoiseshell which this trip has delivered in previous years.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

Some of the other butterflies seen today

Brown Argus

Common Blue

Essex Skipper - Black tips to the underside of the antenna

Green-veined White

Small Copper

A couple of the micro moths. There were a good number about but I couldn't get any clear shots.

Pyrausta nigrata

Pyrausta purpuralis

and a few from last week

Chalkhill Blue

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark green underwings but it is a Silver-washed Fritillary

Lighter coloured Silver-washed Fritillary

Large Skipper


Small Skipper - orange tips to the underside of the antenna

I have missed a good few of the butterflies this year but visiting Newtimber for the Silver-spotted Skippers is one of the essentials for the year.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Beauty and the Beasts

The world of flies is truly fascinating. There are over 100,000 species world wide, with more than 7,000 recorded in the UK. The ability to identify them would require a lifetime of learning and endless patience - neither of which I have. I enjoy the challenge of identifying a new find, but I also end up throwing away dozens of pictures because I cannot spare anymore time researching them. However, I can always make time for the unusual.

The Beauty - Phasia hemiptera

Amazing colours on this fly. I spent a couple of hours trying to identify it, before I realised that I had seen it and photographed it before, but under different lighting conditions. The colours were there but not quite as obvious.

Reading up on colours in flies wings, it appears that there is another world of colour in flying insects. We do not see it but it is probably a key means of communication between flies, bees and wasps. Photograph a flies wing against a white background and it will probably appear as transparent, with no colour, as the reflected white light swamps the picture. Photograph it against a black background and with the correct lighting conditions and the colours become apparent.

I haven't yet pulled out any flies wings to try it out but there are good examples on the web. Have a look at this National Geographic article.

The picture below shows the three dimensional structure of the same flies wing, which I had not really noticed before. A quick check shows that there is a huge amount of research going on in this area. Clearly it has implications on manoeuvrability in man made flying objects.

Now for the beasts. Some of those flies that make you step back if they land close or fly near to you.

Robber flies, members of the Asilidae family and distant relative of the common housefly. These are amongst the top predators of the insect world. They feed on a wide range of prey, including other flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, various bees, dragonflies, damselflies, wasps, grasshoppers and some spiders. They wait in concealment and dart out to capture their prey using the long legs to hold them still. They then use a short, strong proboscis, to stab and inject victims with saliva containing neurotoxins and enzymes. These paralyze the victim and starts the digestion  of the victims soft tissues. The Robber Fly then sucks the prey dry.

Most are also capable of delivering a painful bite, so should be handled with care. Below is a Common Awl Robber Fly coming in at body length of about 15-17mm.

Common Awl Robberfly - Neoitamus cyanurus

and a picture I have used before, of a Kite-tailed Robber Fly Machimus (Tolmerus) atricapillus with a body length of about 20mm.

Kite-tailed Robber Fly - Machimus (Tolmerus) atricapillus

The largest of the family in the UK is the Hornet Robber Fly - Asilus carabroniformis with a body length of about 25mm. Although the abdomen is a bright yellow colour giving it the hornet name, the robber fly is surprisingly well camouflaged, hence the difficult of obtaining a clear picture against its preferred background of cow pats.

Hornet Robberfly - Asilus carabroniformis 

Hornet Robberfly - Asilus carabroniformis

Nowhere near as big at only around 10mm but even creeper looking is this Ferruginous Bee-grabber. They are parasitic, the females will pounce on Bumblebee and Miner Bees depositing an egg into the bees abdomen where it hatches and feeds on its host. They can be found feeding on nectar, this one on bramble, although she? seemed more interested in passing bees than in the nectar.

 Ferruginous Bee-grabber - Sicus ferrugineus

And no blog on beasties of the insect world could go forward without a picture of the dreaded Clegie a member of the Tabanidae family. Robber Flies bite in self defence, bees sting in self defence but clegs bite just for the fun of it and it can be quite painful. To be fair the female needs blood in order to be able develop eggs and the male doesn't bite.

The female injects an anti-coagulant to ensure she can feed freely. You probably also get a dose of Equine infectious anaemia (EIA), also known as swamp fever, which is a viral disease that attacks a horse's immune system. There is no cure and no vaccine for this viral infection, which is caused by a retrovirus closely related to the HIV virus in humans. EIA is often fatal to horses but does not affect humans. Maybe not, but for many of us, something in a cleg bite can cause serious swelling and considerable pain for a few days.

The culprit - or at least one of the culprits.

Band-eyed Brown Horsefly - Tabanus bromius

More beasts than beauties but it's great fun finding and photographing them. Lets hope for a few more before the summer is out.