Thursday, 24 July 2014

An Exciting New Conservation Project, A Step By Step Guide To Moth Trapping, And I Am A Mummy Again....

There is a rare moth in the UK called a Striped Lychnis. It has been assigned a 'Nationally Scarce A' status and has a BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) in place as a consequence. It's numbers have declined rapidly in recent years and now things are underway to reverse that trend.

Species listed as Nationally Scarce A are only found in 16-30 hectads (10km x 10km squares) of the Ordnance Survey National Grid. In this case, these moths are only found in a handful of sites across the South of England. BAPs were the Government's response to the Convention on Biological Diversity that came out of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The UK was the first country to publish a Biodiversity Action Plan in 1994, and as of 2009, 1,150 species and 65 habitats were identified as needing conservation and greater protection and were covered by UK BAPs (although the list has been updated since and now includes House Sparrows and Grass Snakes, among others).

Anyhoo, the point of telling you this is that I am involved in a project to monitor and protect the Striped Lychnis and today L and I went out to survey the food plant of their caterpillars (Dark Mullein- Verbascum nigrum) on some local sites here in Hampshire.

It's a fantastic project to be involved with and I already find myself caring very deeply about the survival of these endangered moths now that I have spent some time in the company of their wonderfully colourful caterpillars.

Dark Mullein commonly grows on roadside verges and in field margins

It's not a bad place to go to work really is it?

One of the three sites where the Striped Lychnis is breeding

Striped Lychnis Larvae (caterpillar). This is either a fourth or fifth instar as it looks fit to burst :-)

They are superficially similar to the much more common Mullein moth caterpillar, but the SLs lack the black spotting between segments and are also found a little later in the year than Mullein larvae (which are visible May-June instead of July-Aug)

I managed to find some fluttering friends while I was out on the hills looking at plants (of course). This male Chalkhill Blue was Very Friendly and followed me across the hill, stopping to rest on the occasional flower every now and then. We enjoyed each others company :-)

Egg-laying and hatching for the SL takes place over an extended period so larvae of different sizes are found on the same plant, which is what we discovered today. SLs are single-brooded, which means that the eggs are laid mostly in June and July and the larvae develop from late July to early September. They pupate in a cocoon on or just below the soil surface and the moth can spend up to three or four winters in its cocoon below the surface before the adults emerge in May/ June. They continue flying until early August, fly at night and sometimes (although rarely) come to light. They are much more visible as caterpillars than as adult moths, so recording them takes place when they are larvae., as per today.

The BAP management details for this moth include:
 1) Leaving unploughed field margins, long term fallow or ‘setaside’land to encourage the

2) Not cutting road verges or other sites with mulleins between May and September when the
foodplant is in flower.

3) Cutting in early autumn (once the foodplant is in seed), and again in spring to prevent sites from becoming overgrown and help to spread the seeds of the foodplant.
4)  Small-scale soil disturbance is needed from time to time to provide suitable conditions for the foodplant.
5) Small-scale rotovation or scarification undertaken on a rotation provides a mosaic of different vegetation structure, including areas of bare earth. which is good for the foodplant (see Butterfly Conservation's Fact Sheet on Striped Lychnis for more info). It's not rocket science and it should be achievable. So much about conservation is educating folks on how to make subtle changes that really benefit wild things, and then putting those changes in place.

Some of you asked for a step-by-steo guide to moth trapping, so here it is:
1. Place egg boxes inside the trap so the moths have somewhere to rest/ sleep/ shelter.

2. Place the box on a table (to avoid ginormous spiders climbing in) and switch on the light.

3. Leave the box in situ with the light on until dawn (if you can get up that early) or later (if you are me). I'm usually up by about 6.30 on a moth morning, but even so the birds beat me to it and have often polished off any moths who happen to be dozing outside the box before I can record them :-(  This is obviously less of a problem when dawn moves from 4am to 7am :-)

4. I bring the box into the breakfast room, which is shut off from the rest of the house, because when I open the lid several moths always escape and that way they can usually be found on the wall or window. Not always of course and you always miss a few. This seems to be the window of choice for moths in our house. It has a pleasant view of the patio with the trees and lake beyond. But given that they spend the daylight hours snoozing I have no idea why this should be an important consideration. Who knows what goes on inside the mind of a moth?

Yesterday's Nut-Tree Tussock slipped the net - there he is, fast asleep on the right hand side of the window. Can you see him? He is that tiny little speck about 2/3 of the way down.
Here he is in close-up

5. Get yourself some pooters (plastic boxes) so you can gently place the moth inside giving more opportunity for study and time to ID. If they are particularly lively you can put them in the fridge for a few hours which does not harm them just makes them sleepy. Moths do not have lungs therefore they are fine in a container with no air holes for a couple of hours. Moths breath through 'spiracles' a line of holes along their abdomen through which they take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. ALS sell pooters (if you google them they'll pop up). I've got ten larger square ones and ten smaller tube-shaped ones, which are handy for hornets who have just started turning up in the box and upsetting all the moths who then buzz around in a frenzy waking each other up :-(

Pooters and waitrose menu card!

6. I use a waitrose menu card to gently scoop them into the pooter, and when you have finished looking at them you just turn the pooter upside down over a plant (lid off, obviously) and give it a sharp tap- the moth should drop out safe into the cover of the plant where he/ she can then sleep out the rest of the day safe from predators.

7. Most of the moths will remain asleep on the egg boxes and once you can ID without needing to lift them it's just as easy to leave them in the box in the house and carry it outside at dusk when they take care of themselves. Some folks use a 'moth tent' to open their traps in, which has the benefit that your husband doesn't then have to share his marmalade toast with several small excitable flying people who have flown onto it and got stuck, and also your son doesn't end up taking any stray moths to school in his bag by accident, and letting them out in the classroom to the hysteria of several silly girls (both have been known) :-)

Hope that's clarified a few things but if any of you want to know any more please just shout- you know I am always at my happiest when wittering on about mothy people :-)

FINALLY............BREAKING NEWS..................I AM A MOTHER AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To a Rather Large family of Yellow Tail moths.

Their moth mother laid her eggs in one of the pooters eight days ago and then buggered off, as moth mummies do. I, however, am stricken with a human conscience and felt the full weight of responsibility for their welfare descend on my shoulders, so I ended up putting them in a bucket with some hawthorn which I have been watching nervously ever since, and yesterday the Happy Event Occurred. They have ALL hatched.... 

Moth Mummy and eggs behind her on the side of the pot

Close up of the eggs in their furry nest
Yellow Tail eggs are contained in this sort of hairy fibrous material which I guess offers them some protection from predators. The babies eat hawthorn, birch, oak, hazel, sallow and bilberry and at the moment they are ravenous little blighters who are munching their way through the hawthorn leaves with gusto, despite being so small you can barely see them. Little teeny weeny specks of mothlets they are :-)

Yellow Tail Pillars- can you see them? Small black lines under the leaf
They are more easily spotted by the pattern of holes they are leaving behind in the leaves...

Yellow Tail Pillars are poisonous (great). They have sticky up hairs which, when they get bigger can leave a nasty sting on your skin, so I will be handling them with extreme care (if at all). I rather suspect that, just like last year with the various Whites (you may remember?), this bunch will also be coming on holiday with us. My family now consider this a Perfectly Normal Thing To Do. It's just as well we're not going abroad really isn't it?

I will keep you updated on my Mothy Children's Progress, and just hope we have more success with these than the last (unidentified) batch of moth children whose eggs got laid in the house last year, and who all failed to thrive because I didn't know who they were and therefore what they ate.

I'll leave you with a picture of my Striped Lychnis Helper Extraordinaire (L), perched on the gate waiting for me. He was rewarded for his not inconsiderable patience on an already hot and sticky day with a trip to our favourite Old Fashioned Bookshop in the Ancient City Of Winchester (where once I worked many moons ago). He found a new book for the hols, which I bought for him as a thank you. Knowing him he's probably already read it. Incidentally, the purchase of a new pair of trainers was rendered redundant by the discovery of a perfectly serviceable pair lurking at the bottom of his PE bag, which he had with him yesterday! I am thinking of making a sign to hang around his neck which would read: 'I am not an orphan, I just like scruffy, ill-fitting clothes.' Honestly!

Enjoy the rest of the day,

CT :-)


  1. How great that you are involved in this moth project, the field is indeed a great place to work isn't it! I read quite a few (!) blogs, and no one else that I read becomes a Mummy as often as you and to as wide a diversity of creatures as you either, and never to moth babies before!! I have to say that I am terrified of moths - not sure that I have admitted that before! - so I would have been one of the screaming girls at school, and am also found screaming at home from time to time when one comes in! I am trying very hard to appreciate them more reading your blog, and I do, it isn't the moths that bother me, it is the unpredictability of them and the fact that they just appear and disappear out of nowhere! xx

    1. It's interesting how many people are worried by moths. Is it because they mostly fly at night and we're not used to seeing them? Or because their flight is more purposeful than a butterfly's? or have they got an unfair reputation because people assume they are all small, brown and boring and they seem to dart about? Hmm, something to ponder. I would love it if the mothy elements of this blog gave them a much-needed PR boost and help people to see them in a more positive, less fearful light. I have a spider phobia so I know how it feels to be worried about something that you know you really shouldn't be. I am trying harder to overcome that, but it's quite a basic instinct! Thank you for bearing with the moths, Amy :-) xx

  2. That furry nest is SO sweet. Congratulations. Do you know I have NEVER seen verbascums growing wild and, despite thinking I knew quite a lot about wild flowers, had no idea that they DID grow wild. Amazing - thanks learn something new every day. I've just visited Kim's blog: which, given the stress of following too many blogs, you might not wish to follow have to look at the moth on her latest post.

    Clipped Snippers today. He looks like a different species, never mind a different dog! xx

    1. Wow! That is some moth Kim has had visit. The nearest we've got to that in the UK is an Oleander hawk, which I have yet to see. Thanks for the link Em :-)

      Am now dying to see Snip's new 'do. Was just telling M how OB calls him Ernest Snippleton (still makes me smile to think of that). Poppy gets called Doodles (for some reason that I have now forgotten), and Teddy is Bear, (for more obvious reasons).

      Wild verbascum is a stunning looking plant when in full flower. Some are going over a bit now but they're still immediately recognisable- very tall spikes that usually stand well clear of everything else, even when past their best. Check out verges and you might get lucky xx

  3. Sounds like a great BAP project you're involved in, hope it goes well. I hope your new little ones do well too, it'll be lovely to follow their progress with you!

    1. Thanks Louise, am keeping my fingers crossed for the moth children in the box, and for those out in the fields on the Verbascum! :- )

  4. Its very interesting to read about the Striped Lychnis project - sounds a great thing to be involved in.

    A lovely selection of moths in your last post too :) Have a lovely weekend.

    1. Am hoping it will make a difference. My mullein radar is now firmly on and whenever I spot one I stop and peer at it in case it's playing host to the caterpillars! People must think I'm mad :-)

  5. Congratulations of being Mother to the new project - this was one darn interesting post - thank you so much as we followed you to the field into the moth trapping step by step guide and all the tid bits you threw in between. I love reading your hunt, capture and identify posts - always with some good humour thrown in between. Have a wonderful day :)

    1. Thank you :-) Yes, it certainly is a really interesting project to be part of. I'm looking forward to comparing data next year and seeing how things are progressing. Will keep you updated. Have a lovely weekend :-)

  6. OK I should have read this post first as you've answered the questions I asked on the previous post! :-)
    Great that you are involved in the project for the rare moths and good luck raising your brood - it's great fun, isn't it? I need to branch out from just Swallowtails......

    1. Good-oh :-)

      I think your swallowtails are beautiful- am wildly jealous as have never seen them before. Must factor in a trip to Norfolk where the only breeding GB colony is now....

  7. We have had many large moths flying into the house this afternoon - chased them all out again. Orange/brown, very furry, with ?yellow petticoats. They flew over fast. Am hopeless on moths.....

    1. Large Yellow Underwings and Broad-Bordered Large Yellow Underwings. There are lots of them about this time of the year. There are some photos of them on the last moth post I did (just before this one I think) :-)

  8. Well, the Striped Lychnis may be pretty but I don't want any on my Verbascums..

    1. You're safe Jess- the furthest West they are now is Hampshire.

  9. Hi CT, thanks for the moth post, have been doing it similar to you.. Just have to let them go in the evening as the Sparrows have them if not.
    Saw a Muilein flower for the first time this year, have mine down as Great Muilein it's also known as Aaron's Rod (American), great work you are doing.
    Amanda xx

    1. Ah, interesting, it's Dark Mullein that I'm finding the larvae on here xx


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