Bumbling along

I’ve been mulling over a post on bees for some time now. The Summer is finally here and with it more and more flowers are appearing, bringing out bees in force. Moths are tricky enough, but bees are harder to catch and photograph … and potentially have a sting in the tail. Steven Falk’s fabulous fieldguide (illustrations by Richard Lewington) points out that the male bees can be handled safely because they don’t sting, but I’m not yet confident enough to know the girls from the boys. Trial and error doesn’t appeal too much here!

The easiest group to start with have been the Bumblebees (Bombus). Large and visible, they make for relatively easy targets and I’m finding that, with a relatively limited number of species, I can use the visible markings to work them out in most cases – though I have purchased a transparent pot with a plunger to hold them for close inspection. In this post I’m concentrating exclusively on them, illustrating the ones I’ve found.

As with everything, understanding the cycle and rhythm of the year and how it links to behaviour helps enormously. As I understand it, the Queen appears first, waking from their hibernation and looking for good nesting sites. She has been fertiled the previous year by male bees, carrying the sperm in her abdomen, and once she’s developed a nest she lays fertilised eggs which become workers (females, but not royalty). These emerge to start work on foraging to continue to  support the nest, building nesting cells, stocking them with nectar and pollen and generally getting on with the housework. This is why they carry ‘pollen baskets’ – structures on their hind legs – often with lumps of pollen, mushed with moisture to stick the leg, and clearly visible on this female Hairy-footed Flower Bee (the only non-Bombus in this post), which was conveniently nesting in my in-laws Exmouth garden.

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Males don’t tend to appear until later in the year. These are from eggs that the queen did not fertilise with the sperm stored in her body. Once they have grown they leave the nest and await their task in life, which is to mate with new queens leaving old nests so that the cycle can start again. Because they don’t live in the nest they can apparently be found sheltering under flowers at night – though I’ve not yet seen this.

Whilst interesting, it also means that bees seen up until this time of year are very likely to be workers, the queens being in the nest and the males only just beginning to emerge. The default bee in the early part of the year is B. terrestris (Buff-tailed Bumblebee). They are the only species that can survive all year. Indeed, this queen – and they are enormous – pitched up in our bedroom on Dec 4th, 2015 having climbed in from the wisteria that hangs outside.

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You can clearly see the ‘buff’ tail and also the clean yellow bands which look neat and tidy. The workers, though patterned the same way, tend have a cleaner white tail, only tinged with buff at the point where it joins the black on the rest of the abdomen. I think this is an example … but I have to say at this point that I’m really on the edge of what I know here and so if I’ve got it wrong, someone can help me out.

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These Buff-tailed Bumbles are one of several that have the classic black body with yellow stripes. This also includes the Garden BB (B. hortorum) shown below.

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Note the yellow round the ‘middle’ of the bee is on both thorax and abdomen though, unlike the neat stripe of the Buff-tailed on abdomen only and also the white tail. This is where things get tricky though because despite their name the tails on the Buff-tailed workers are also white. What’s more there are melanic forms which lack the yellow stripes. My wife thinks I’m a changed man because I’ve suddenly become fond of visiting garden centres, but they harbour plenty of bees of course, including this melanic form of B. hortorum which you can compare with the worker above. (Worth noting that it could also be hypnorum, below, which can look similar.)

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After B. hortorum, the next ‘black and yellow’ Bombus is this one:

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It’s like a stocky, furrier version of B. terrestris and is B. pratorum – Early BB. Though is has the yellow stripes, they are less neat than B. Terrestris and, as the next photo shows, it has a lovely orangey tail.

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Early Bumblebee

As the name suggests, they are one of the first to appear and seem to love flowering fruit bushes, such as this raspberry, but also bramble. They are busy little things, hurriedly passing from flower to flower to find pollen and nectar. I spent a lovely hour or so with the camera trying to catch shots of them and spent long enough at a single bush to notice the way they pass over flowers that have been recently visited by other bees – chemical signals having been left behind which decay at the same rate as the flower refills its nectar vessel.

In addition to the ones above that I’ve had so far this year, I’ve had four other Bumblebees. Firstly, B. hypnorum – Tree BB.

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This is interesting because of its rate of spread. Falk and Lewington (2015: 388) report that it was:

added to the Bristish list in 2001 from a site in Wiltshire following a well-documented expansion in Europe. It has shown a remarkable rate of spread since then, appearing in almost every county of England and Wales and becoming fairly common in many suburban areas. It was discovered in Scotland in 2013 and had reached Mull by 2014.

Certainly, it’s appeared regularly in my garden and the surrounding area and is one of the regular visitors. Whilst distinctive, Falk notes that it can be confused with the other set of Bumbles with ginger thorax, the Carder bees. Below, I think, is Common Carder – B. pascuorum – and it shows the similarities.

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Also maintaining the ginger/red theme is the very distinctive Red-tailed Bumblebee – B. lapidarius. Most people will know this one because of the very distinctive jet black body and bright red tail of the queen/worker. Today, Matt and I saw two enormous Queens/workers on Bicton Common and they are quite a sight, but despite their size I couldn’t get a good photo with my iPhone so this one is a photo from 2015, of a male (note the yellow haired face).

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My final Bombus is B. vestalis – Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee.

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I’ve posted about this before, so will not repeat it here, but it’s a parasitic, cuckoo to B. terrestris, penetrating the nest and laying its eggs in place of the host. It’s a cunning trick, and one that is obviously successful.

So, that’s my current gallery of Bombus bees. There are others that I stand a chance of getting locally I think – Brown-banded Carder (B. humilis) and Heath Bumblebee (B. jonellus) are possible. For most of the others I think I’ll need to travel further afield because they are local. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the search.

Micro ID challenge: what’s in a name

The weather has at last warmed up and the moths are starting to appear in numbers. Wednesday night, 24th May, brought 25 different species, including several that were new for the year – Red Twin-spot Carpet, Yellow-barred Brindle and Foxglove Pug – as well as an immigrant, Silver-Y. The star of the macros however was this White Ermine, new for my garden.

I’m not planning to dwell on these here though. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on some micros. None are rare, but they all share a common feature which is that I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making an ID on them, sometimes with the help of the Twitter community, and sometimes on my own.

There is somehow a tremendous pleasure in managing to work out what something ‘is’, but in many ways it is strange – deciding that something ‘is’ some ‘thing’. We tend to focus on objectifying objects by a name – the moth above ‘is’ a White Ermine, as if somehow that is independent of human decision. It is named White Ermine, but it is lots of other things too: beautiful, delicate, a food source, a flying machine etc.

Of course at one level naming is natural. We want to categorise objects and name them so that we can refer back to them in the future. And it’s useful. We wouldn’t get far talking about moths without names to refer to. But it can also be unproductive if we simply get stuck in the name, as if the ID were all that there was to a moth. In my day job I often refer to an educationalist called Etienne Wenger who is interested in the way language helps us to learn, collectively, to do things. Wenger notes the ‘double edged sword’ of what he terms ‘reification’ – the objectification and  naming of ideas and artefacts. On the one hand it allows us to talk about them and to operate with the associated idea; on the other, it fixes the idea so that we can no longer see it differently and generate new, creative imaginations. I was reminded of this same notion this week by a friend of mine, Sue. We share an interest in maths and she Tweeted a quote from a colleague – Alexandre Borovik, at Manchester University – who noted that ‘mathematics is not about facts, it is about connections between facts’. The same, surely, is true of any science, including this one: ‘entomology is not about names of insects, it is about connections between insects (and their environment)’.

I think that works well, reminding me that part of the interest in nature is to understand how it all connects up; and of course naming things is an important part of this since categorisation allows us to compare and contrast, and sometimes to notice new features. We see this in the way in which moths are sometimes moved from one genus to another, or bird species are split – yellow-legged gulls no longer being a herring gull etc. (see here for a great article in British Birds on this by Martin Garner). But perhaps most importantly, there is simply a real pleasure in working out what you’ve found. So, going back to the micros, what is best is the puzzle; the way in which an ID slowly evolves as a process of connecting up current understanding, past experience and not a little graft in terms of searching. But also as a series of questions which look ahead into the, as yet, unknown.

Of this week’s moth, the one below was perhaps the easiest for me …

It is Notocelia cynosbatella. I’ve had it before – 8th June 2016, when I caught 4 in a single night. This time there were two and I knew I recognised it because of the bright orangey-yellow palps. It connects in different ways with other moths though, for example as part of the genus Notocelia, which, in turn, are all moths that mimic bird-droppings as a form of camouflage … and which in their turn are all from the family Torticidae – the Tortrix moths. Interestingly, in most of the guides it is also titled Epiblema cynosbatella indicating a recent clarification of one genus from another.

Next was this one.

This is another moth that I’ve caught, several times and mentioned in a recent post. I’m fairly confident it’s Swammerdamia pyrella. Again, there are several moths in the genus, but S. pyrella has the coppery tip to the wings and a dark mark at about one-third on the dorsum – the trailing edge of the wing which, when folded, becomes the ‘top’ – showing up well on the second photo here in particular. It’s a fairly regular visitor to the garden. I’m intrigued by this group of species though. There appear to be three (British) species in the genus Swammerdamia – S. pyrella, S. caesiella and S. compunctella. A bit of searching online brought me to the Natural History Museum site where you can search records by genus. Swammerdamia brings up a record containing the wonderful,  but rather cryptic, note:

‘Nye & Fletcher (1991) stated:-

S. heroldella was established unnecessarily as an objective replacement name for Tinea caesiella Hübner, 1796, Samml. eur. Schmett 8: 64, pl.25 fig.172.’

‘Unnecessarily’ implies that the species didn’t need to be split, perhaps? In fact, it was only while I as thinking about this that I realised that the word ‘species’ is derived from ‘special’ and ‘specific’. Obvious, of course … but only when you’ve noticed! Was S. heroldella not ‘special’ enough to warrant its ‘species’ name? What’s more, you can link through to the Biodiversity Heritage Library and see digitised copies of the original text, entitled ‘Schmettlinge’ – Schmetterlinge being the modern German noun ‘Butterfly’. (Had they not yet been separated from Moths?) More intriguingly still though, there are two species in a related genus named Paraswammerdamia (P. nebulella and P. albicapitella) and then a further, single, species in a genus named Pseudoswammerdamia (P. combinella). Para? Pseudo? One begins to see naming not as an end-point, but as a moment in time, part of a journey of making sense.

In the trap then, I also had this one …

It is visually distinctive again, but for me, as yet a relative novice, there were no connections to make other than its tiny size (c.5mm) and its upright stance. Still, my visual memory acquired from poring over the field guide brought me quite quickly to the ‘little upright moths’ (it’s a technical term!) and fortunately the bright colour pattern is unique meaning it wasn’t hard to pin down by simply searching the guide – Argyresthia trifasciata. It is part of a fairly large genus, all species of which seem connected by their colourful patterning – but I suspect to an expert by other, physiological, connections too.

Finally, on a walk yesterday, I found this one in the hedgerow:

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Hmmm, tortricidae, clearly … due to the shape. And quite distinctive in terms of the pale cross-stripes at a half and two thirds. It didn’t take me long to ID it as Celypha lacunana – again referenced to Hübner’s text, making me realise that this is a key book in the history of lepidoptera.

Names separate and order. But names also connect and help us make sense. My aim is to pay more attention to the scientific names of the moths – which it is all to easy to skim over when they are hard to articulate … swamm-humph-er-de-wotsit? But they are opening up a new way of making sense of what I’m seeing. It’s worth the effort … but I’m hoping, also, to avoid the temptation of getting stuck in the particular; to name and connect, not just to move on.

 

The slow road to perfection

The nights remain in the 10ºC region, meaning that it’s still pretty cold. The mothing reflects this – bits and pieces each night, but numbers limited to <10 moths in general. But whilst scarce, I’ve still had enough of interest to share here and keep my spirits up. I’ve also had plenty of fun looking at bees – but I’m planning a separate post on that at a later date.

Amongst the routine stuff I’ve had one or two of note as FFY. Though they are common visitors, Setaceous Hebrew Character and the Buff-tip always make for good viewing:

More of a surprise was this Orange Footman, not least since it was well into June when I had it last year; and only four records meant that it was still exciting to see this time.

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Also a surprise, but for a different reason, was this moth. I had just been wondering where my favourite Scoparia/Eudonia family had got to, and noting that I hadn’t trapped one yet, when this was found by the trap, just prior to pressing the ‘publish button. It’s Eudonia angustea.

 

Though all these have been before, I’ve also had some new ‘lifers’. Despite its name, I didn’t manage to trap Common Pug last year, but had it on the 19th May this time round.

It’s a subtle thing, like a lot of the pugs, plain at first sight but then more and more intricately patterned as you look closer. The white dot at the corner of the forewing is, unlike in current pug, simply an extension of the subtle white line of dots around the edge of the wing. The discal spot is small and the costa of the forewing is beautifully patterned.

After these macros, I’ve also had three new micros. Firstly, though it was dead when I found it, this one turned out to be Incurvaria oehlmanniella – though I could only ID it with the help of Barry Henwood, the county moth recorder.

Barry does a fantastic job, always taking the time to come back to me on questions and never minding when I make novice mistakes. His help is much valued.

Next, another that I needed help for – but this time from my fellow Twitter-ers. The fabulous @mothidUK feed run by Portland Nature is a great example of the power, and generosity, of the online community for this kind of things. This moth turned out to be Pammene argyrana, one of the Tortrix moths, though I have to admit it could also be P. albuginana in my book:

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Pammene argyrana

 

But my favourite new micro was this ‘Longhorn’ moth, I think a male given the length of its antennae which I measured to be about 2.5x its winglength. It’s Nemotopogon swammerdamella (I think):

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Nemotopogon swammerdamella

Great things come in small packages.

So even though it remains slim pickings in terms of numbers, there is still plenty to keep the interest up. What’s more, even after 18 months of my mothing career, I still get an amazing thrill in turning over egg boxes and finding moths underneath. It really is like Christmas every day … sort of Slade, made manifest! And, if you are lucky, just occasionally you get a moth that comes close to perfection …

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Muslin moth – simply stunning!

NFY and a Couple of Lifers

After a difficult couple of weeks it has been nice to get back to mothing. I’ve been interested in the different views of those with more experience in relation to the number of moths around. One would expect it to vary of course; each year will bring different patterns of weather and, with it, different moths. We had a very warm April which meant that many of the moths I got last year are a month or more earlier this year … but then a cold snap at the start of May which may have affected moths already hatched and on the wing. A Twitter post I saw this week referred to this period of the year at the ‘post-Orthosia lull’ and this seems appropriate to me. It’s a transition between the hardy moths of the cold end to winter and the more delicate ones that match the oncoming of spring and the fresh leaves and colours. However, this article in the Guardian today offers a less optimistic view, claiming that insect biomass is decreasingly rapidly and alarming in German forests. It brings credibility to the many moth-ers who seem to sense this decline in their trapping.

In my trap things are still quiet, but I’ve had some nice moths, including some lifers and those new to the garden. This Scorched Carpet satisfied both these criteria and is a cracking moth both from above and below.

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Also a new moth was this one.

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On first sight it seemed familiar. I had Lunar Marbled Brown on 9th April, along with Nut-tree Tussock … but this was not quite either of them – no ‘lunar’ crescent on the wing for the former and not so half-and-half brown and pale for the latter. A quick look at the field guide showed it to be Marbled Brown, a common moth in the south of England at least, but one I’d missed last year. The caterpillars feed on oak, so its presence is not unexpected given the large oak tree in the garden – a tree that supplies a good many of the moths in my garden I suspect. Given the antennae, I guess it’s a male.

After these lifers, there were a couple of others that were new for the year. This Green Carpet had me searching through Waring et al for a while. I had it twice last year, but this one was in the hedgerow in the valley below the house and the context meant that I didn’t remember it well. Again, it’s a beautiful moth and, once one sees the pattern in the wing markings, it’s quite distinctive.

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Also NFY was this Pale Tussock

These are mad moths, with front legs making them look like some kind of demented Cossack Dancer! I just love them, and though I had them four times last year these sightings were all in a 13 day period in June (4th – 16th) – illustrating my point about many moths being earlier for me this year.

This is the case too for this new (for year) moth – Small Dusty Wave. It was caught on 11th May, with last year’s first catch not until 25th June. This does indeed seem like an early specimen.

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Lastly, no NFY post would be complete without a show-stopper, which in the moth world must surely include the Hawkmoths. The first Poplar Hawkmoth came as a surprise to me, not least since the first one last year was also the same night as the Dusty Wave, June 25th. They appeared together on cue then, but a full 6 weeks earlier.

Once again, it’s a wonderful moth as the wing-detail shows. Surely, designed to be for anther world?

The only other things of note have been this lovely Lackey caterpillar seen on a walk on the coast path – not rare, but startlingly colourful.

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… and this Diamondback moth – Plutella xylostella – which reminded me of the influx we had last year and raises the question of whether enough stayed to keep the population high this year.

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So, as you can see, new moths are dribbling in with enough interest to keep my hopes up … but the decline, in general terms, seems real enough. I’ll set the trap again though.

New Acquaintances, Old Friends

Twenty-five years ago I was playing cricket for Exeter St James at Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club. We’d been set a massive 268 to win by the hosts … and I was well set, making hay with the bowling, seeing the ball like a melon – well, cricket is designed for slightly overblown metaphors and similes. Nonetheless, at 87 not out, the target was well within sight and I felt a century, and victory, was there for the taking. Then disaster struck, as I was triggered by the home umpire. LBW, well forward, to a left arm bowler? Never!

It was with my teeth gritted therefore that I took my son to Budleigh last night to join the cricket club, determined to forget that day from my own past. Of course, it all panned out well. Sammy had a great time and we were both welcomed with open arms into the club. I even found old friends there, faces that I know I remembered, but couldn’t quite place.

So it was with the moths this morning. As always I looked around the boundaries of the trap, then opened it up, and there were friends I knew from recent days – Common Quaker, eight Hebrew Character and an Early Grey – so familiar I noted them swiftly, then passed on. But there were others I knew, though not so readily, from days gone by – not 25 years, of course, but from last year, where I got to know well over 250 new friends. The one that stood out amongst them was this one.

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I couldn’t make sense of it for a while. Like the people at the cricket club, its face was familiar, but somehow out of context … until I realised that it was a very early Common Marbled Carpet. I say very early because, although I trapped it on 24 occasions in total, my first one last year was not until 19th May, almost a month later. Indeed, I looked on the Moths Counts Recording Scheme pages and the earliest record they seem to have there since 2000 is ‘week 18’, which equates to w/b 8th May. You can see this, and the nice bivoltine (two brood) breeding pattern, in the reporting rate diagrams taken from the species page:

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It’s great to see this old friend again after our time apart. But it wasn’t on its own. I’d found it on the boundary edge, outside the clubhouse which sits under the MV light, and next to it was this wonderful Brimstone.

I trapped nearly 70 of them last year, on 24 separate occasions, with 10+ on some nights, so you wouldn’t expect it to come as a shock. But having sat out the dark nights of winter, it was a pleasant surprise to see it again and to be reminded how intensely bright and patterned it is. A real stunner, and sleepy enough to handle, as you can see.

Also looking great, sat watching from the boundary, was this Brindled Pug, again, a first for the year. All those years ago the umpire committed quickly and with conviction to his LBW id. I’ll be more cautious, and though I’m fairly confident, I’d be grateful for confirmation from any ‘off-field’ umpires looking at this – a kind of moth DRS.

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It’s really smart and, with so many of the pugs looking tatty by the time they are trapped, it was wonderful to get such a fresh one to see the patterns clearly. In a recent post I had Oak-tree Pug and seeing these two almost alongside each other for comparison is helpful – note the zig-zag white lines near the wingtips on this brindled, and the black spot within, rather than on the inner edge, of the pale patch in the middle of the wing. Do I sound confident enough?

Less familiar, but a moth who I have come across recently, was this Small Quaker, more classically marked than my last one. It’s a subtle species, and one that always bears a close look.

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So, old friends, reunited, but the best moth was a newcomer in the clubhouse. This was a moth I’d been hoping to sign up, but not yet managed – Streamer.

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If you were designing moths from scratch, this one would be rejected for being too outlandish, surely? To the naked eye, it appears subtly patterned, but the camera manages to pick out all the shades of purple and grey; with even its hind wings looking stunning.

Perhaps it was the excitement of finding this beauty, trapped LBW (Lepidoptery Before Work), but somehow, the pain of not making my century and securing victory against our rivals has faded into history. In fact, 87 wasn’t such a bad score and, anyway, it’s being eclipsed by my current innings, counted in moths. A garden total of 249 not out … enough to know that I’ll soon knock off that 268.

Two Moths and a Cuckoo …

Though the days have been glorious for some time now here in Devon – the freshly cut lawn has brown patches beneath the green grass – the nights are still cold. Moth numbers are limited, perhaps by this cold combined with the moon which was full on the 11th and is still only half-waned. Nonetheless, it’s been worth setting the trap because each night I’m getting new-for-year moths.

Last night, the usual Quaker-brigade – Common (Orthosia cerasi) and Hebrew Character (O. gothica) – were joined by this one.

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I’m fairly sure this is Clouded Drab (O. incerta), a common enough moth, but one that it’s easy to overlook because it’s most obvious feature is, well, its drabness. This one is a fairly worn individual too. When they are fresh they can look much smarter, like these examples from the Norfolk Moths website.

It set me thinking about a moth I posted about but couldn’t id two days ago. I’m wondering now if this was clouded drab too. Here it is again (left) with today’s moth alongside (right):

The patch of red half-way up with front of the wing look good to me, along with the overall shape. I’ll pencil it in, but no more.

As well as the Drab, I trapped this moth.

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For some reason I just couldn’t place it and yet – thanks to Matt – once I saw it as Knot Grass I couldn’t understand how I’d missed it. This is a moth I’m quite familiar with from last year – I even did a post about the ‘Dagger’ family (Acronictinae) from which it comes. I trapped it three times, starting on 6th May, with four individuals on the night of 26th July, so it’s not exactly a newcomer. The passing of a year or so though means I need to get my eye back for some of these moths, and reminds me of how novice I still am. Great moth though, and really smart, even if it has lost a bit of its wingtip.

Beyond the moths, my interest in bees is growing. Perhaps it’s because I’ve not been able to get out birding at the right times; or maybe that as spring begins, the large female bumblebees are so obvious to see. This morning I took the dog out to Orcombe Point, hoping that a few of the many migrants that Matt saw last night might still be lingering. They had all moved on, but my eye and ear were caught by this Bombus (Bumble) bee which I managed to trap in the jam-jar I now keep in my birding bag.

It is Bombus vestalis¹ – Vestal Cuckoo Bee – and though one of the ‘Bombus’ species, it is another cuckoo, or social parasite. This one is parasitic of B. terrestris – Buff-tailed Bumblebee – and because I’m in danger of making it sound like I know what I’m talking about, I’ll quote directly from Falk and Lewington (2015, p.414) to show I’m merely half a step ahead here:

‘The social parasite of Bombus terrestris and possibly the most successful of the cuckoo bumblebees in the south of England in terms of host-parasite abundance ratios and the number of host populations exploited’

The queen, like this one, having been fertilised at the end of last year, has been hibernating since then, emerging later than the host because, well, there’s no rush to build her own nest! Once ready, she will work her way into the B. terrestris nest and hide there for a while to acquire its scent. She will then lay her own eggs in place of those already there, sometimes also pushing out or killing the queen. Her work done, the eggs are then reared by the workers of the host nest, and emerge as new vestalis bees. It’s a smart way to live – and this video shows some slo-mo of her in close up.

It’s the latest of my attempts to capture these bees using my iPhone – now aided by a couple of bits of new field kit. The home-made video pot and the folding insect net …

Like Blue Peter, all you need is a bit of glue, a few tools and children who like jam and rock-pooling!

Happy mothing …

 

Note:
(1) Though I’m fairly confident about Bombus vestalis, Falk and Lewington (2015, p.414) point out you can’t easily separate it from B. bohemicus, Gypsy cuckoo bee. the size, the brightness of the yellow on tergite 3 and the fact that vestalis is much more common in this area all point to it being highly likely though.

Reference:
Falk, S. J., & Lewington, R. (2015). Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.

The Pugs are coming …

I set the trap last night with some degree of expectancy. The forecast was warm, and overcast for the first time for a few days; but it proved somewhat disappointing in practice. Just 10 moths of 6 species.

However, amongst them there were three moths of interest, if for different reasons. Earlier on yesterday evening I’d walked the dog on Orcombe point, along the coast path, and seen my first ‘proper’ swallows of the year. There had been singles of swallow for the last week, but these birds were coming ‘in off’, low over the fields heading north with a purpose – a sign of migration in earnest. Having witnessed this then, I should have been expecting immigration on the moth front too, yet found still myself surprised to see my first Silver Y of the year.

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As you can see, it’s in cracking condition, freshly emerged and little the worse for wear despite its flight from southern Europe or northern Africa. I still think of this as the the moth that held up a major football final, evidence if ever it were needed that Silver Y migrates in large numbers. How lovely that one drops into my small garden here in Exmouth.

The second moth of interest to me was this Shuttle-shaped Dart, if only because it’s such a subtle shade of light and dark, surrounding its ‘shuttle’ mark on each wing.

Frustratingly, as with last week’s oil beetle, it wasn’t until I let it go that I read that id of the sexes needs other photos, this time of the hind wings. Damn – missed opportunity! UK Moths suggests that the male has ‘brownish variegated forewings and white hindwings’, so I’m going male here … but happy for someone to put me right.

The third moth of interest was this pug.

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Oh, the pugs are here again. How I love ’em … It’s like having a puzzle each day, but one where you are not sure all the pieces are there! They are so smart, but the differences are so subtle, and with their variation, often make it very hard to id them. At this time of year, this is either Brindled or Oak-tree – not Double-striped, which is smaller, more pointed in the wings, and has a clear ‘double-striped’ set of markings. However, I did a post on id of pugs past year and in fact, I’m fairly confident on this one being Oak-tree Pug and here’s why (again, to show how I’m thinking, not to assert any expertise).

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Firstly, size and shape. Its FW is about 9mm, within the Oak-tree range, but small for Brindled. Wing tips are relatively rounded too.

Secondly, markings:

In the LH photo I’ve ringed the black spot, which is fairly oval (rather than then ‘slit’ shaped on Brindled) and there is a pale patch just to the outer side of it. In the RH photo the leading edge of the FW shows reddish colouring (as does the trailing edge too). For comparison, here’s Brindled from last year:

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Brindled Pug

These three formed the major interest for me last night, then, but one more puzzling moth was evident too. It was this, very worn, individual, which I couldn’t do much with, but which intrigued me for its reddish colouring on each wing.

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There is no reason it’s not something very common, but it just didn’t ring bells for me. Any thoughts welcome … but meanwhile I need to get out and set the trap again. After a week off work I’ll need something to slow down the start to the working day tomorrow!