Thursday, 28 August 2014

A Night For Moths And Insects

Rain was forecast last night and it certainly happened, but the temperature has risen again and reached a barmy 13 overnight. Moths will fly in rain but they don't like cold, so the rise in temperature brought in a bumper crop of two hundred and sixty, comprising 45 different species, a couple of whom are new for the year. This beats the twenty-three in total that were waiting for me the last time the box went out on August 20th and just shows how temperature effects some wildlife.

We are slightly inundated with Yellow Underwings of various persuasions at present. Thirty-one of the Lesser broad-bordered variety and fifty-six of the Large Yellow were in the box. My nieces, who had come for lunch, couldn't believe how big the Yellow Underwings were; 5cm or so is normal for them. They also couldn't understand how they got their name, as they look like boring large brown moths....until this happens....

Large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba) with a daring flash of petticoat

Lots of moths were outside the box, hiding among the greenery. It's always worth a trawl through the plants near the box because there are always moths who don't make it as far as the box itself. Today I counted several Light Emeralds and Maiden's Blushes, suggesting a recent emergence of both types in their second generations. They were fresh and perfect....

Peek-a-boo. Light Emerald (Campaea margaritata)

Light Emerald (Campaea margaritata)

Maiden's Blush (Cyclophora punctaria)

Maiden's Blush (Cyclophora punctaria)
The Maiden's Blush is a moth of Oak Woodlands more prolific in the south of the UK, which explains why they do well here, while the Light Emerald is a moth of deciduous woodlands and is common throughout the UK.

Also sharing a perch outside was a Pebble Prominent (Notodonta ziczac), and a handful of Swallow Prominents (Pheosia tremula).The larvae of both species feed on Sallow (willow) of which we have plenty here.

Pebble Prominent (Notodonta ziczac)

Swallow Prominent (Pheosia tremula)
Beside them outside was a Pebble Hook-tip (Drepana falcataria). This is the largest and commonest of the UK hook-tips. The larvae feed on birch and sometimes alder and the one below will be a second generation.

Pebble Hook-tip (Drepana falcataria)
As well as the moths, there were a couple of new shieldbug species wandering about near the moth box. The first is a Red-legged shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes) and the second a Green birch shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus). There were several of both leading me to suspect that they have just emerged as adults from their final instars. There does seem to be something about shieldbugs that makes people fond of them in a way other insects don't manage. I love them.

Red-legged shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes)

Green birch shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus)

Red-legged shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes)
Perhaps less welcome in some people's eyes is this Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis). I saw my first one a couple of days ago sitting on the hedge, and since then there have been several about, both males and females. Despite the name, and the fearsome-looking tail, these insects do not sting and are harmless.

The long beak at the front is used for scavenging on dead insects (often the scorpion fly steals food from a spider's web). The male uses his tail (which is big and bulbous at the end) in courtship displays, but mating is a dangerous business as the male can easily be killed by the female. To distract her from murderous intent, he brings her a pre-mating present of a dead insect or sometimes a mass of saliva. On the whole I think I am glad I am not a female scorpion fly.

Female Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis).

Female Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis). I think she is Rather Sweet myself :-)

While I was checking for more hidden moths among the flowers in my PJs and dressing gown I got the distinct feeling I was being watched.....

Hornet (Vespa crabro)
It was early morning and hornets generally are more soporific at this time of day, so I reckoned I was relatively safe. He did raise both front legs in a warning gesture when I got too close, which I thought was decent of him- wasps give you no such warning and are in there stinging before you realise what's happened. I have, however, witnessed hornets rip moths apart on more than one occasion so I was a little uneasy about him being so close to them. I finished checking the flowers, discovering four Brimstone (Opisthograptis luteolata) in various hiding places....

Brimstone (Opisthograptis luteolata)
....and took the moth box indoors to finish checking it. Among all the Yellow Underwings there were also.....

Blood vein (Timandre comae)

Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis)

Common Wainscot(Mythimna pallens)

Common Wave (Cabera exanthemata)

Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago)

Garden pebble (and friend)
(Evergestis forficalis)

Treble Lines (Or lesser?)
(Aplocera plagiata)

Yellow Ophion (Ophion luteus)

Pyrausta purpuralis a micro moth

Rosy Rustic
(Hydraecia micacea)

Small square-spot
(Diarsia rubi)

Square-spot rustic
(Xestia xanthographa)

White Point (an immigrant)
(Mythimna albipuncta)
I also had a reasonably rare visitor to the trap. This is a Balsam Carpet moth and they are listed as Nationally Scarce, so it is a Bit Thrilling for me to find one. They like damp woodland and the larvae feed on Orange Balsam (Impatiens capensis). I'm not sure we have any of that here, so I'm curious as to where it has come from.... Nice though....

Balsam Carpet (Xanthorhoe biriviata)
Thanks for bearing with what turned out to be a longer than anticipated post. I hope you enjoyed all the creatures. I'll leave you with a fantastic-looking caterpillar that Ma found in her garden a couple of weeks ago. It's a larva of the Sycamore moth (Acronicta aceris) which looks nothing whatsoever like its pillar, being grey and a little bit nondescript!

Sycamore larva(Acronicta aceris)

Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT :-)



  1. What wonderful photography! You really have given me a renewed appreciation for these beautiful creatures that we are lucky enough to share our space with.

    1. Thank you Shauna :-) Moths fascinate me- I think partly because they are unseen most of the time and when you do see them up close their colours and patterns are fantastic. x

  2. Definitely a bumper crop this time around! The weather really has been so up and down hasn't it. I thought that it was going to be sunny and then not all day and then the sun came out and promptly went down and it all went dark! xx

    1. Yes, a bit hit and miss at present, although M assures me we are in for a mini heat wave next week.... xx

  3. Great to have so many moths sill flying, wonderful photos and information. This is one of the reasons I like having my blogs as you can look back and see what was happening this time last year, perhaps I should note the weather down more?.Think we had a Pyrausta purpuralis moth fly into the house the other evening.
    Amanda xx

    1. I agree- blogging is a great way to chronicle the changes in the natural world. M charts the weather every day so I have a whole book of data to look at if needs be. I tease him about it, but it is useful :-) x

  4. What a great collection you got there in one night and how exciting to have something rare. The caterpillar is just incredible.

    1. Yes, it was a good haul, thanks to the higher temps. Caterpillars can be so incredible to look at, can't they?

  5. Love the Blood Vein. Question - how are you keeping these things still for photos? Drugs? A spell?

    1. Magic :-)

      Most moths are very sleepy by the time I see them and those that aren't go in the fridge for a couple of hours- this calms them down but doesn't harm them, so they are usually fine to photograph afterwards. It doesn't work for all of them- some moths are just naturally more flighty than others. You get to work out which this applies to after spending time with them.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x