Scary weather … nice moths!

I’m not sure I really like this warm weather – another sign of our warming climate – but one can’t deny it brings good moths. I ran my 125W MV light last night and though numbers were small it pulled in some lifers for me.

Best was this Cosmopolitan (Leucania loreyi) – an immigrant that I’ve not had before and which I misidentified at first as Large Wainscot:

Cosmopolitan
Cosmopolitan

Also new for me, this rather pretty-looking micro, Acleris hyemana, which, other than a couple of Rusty-dot Pearls, was the only other micro in the trap.

Acleris hyemana

All the others I’d had before, but however often I catch it Merveille du Jour is a moth that I never tire of:

Merveille du Jour

Simply stunning: the best lichen mimic of all the moths. But also beautiful was this Feathered Thorn, clearly showing why the males carry the ‘feathered’ moniker:

Feathered Thorn

Finally, the most numerous by far were these November Moth Aggregates – three very similar species that are impossible to separate without at least a hand lens on an inert specimen. I simply chose to aggregate them here:

November Moth Agg.

I’m so conscious of the energy bills at the moment that running the 125W bulb seems like an extravagance, so it’s the 20W ‘dark’ bulb tonight on my portable trap … and we’ll see if I get the same kind of success.

Convolvulus

A quick update to report on a great night for moths last night, 11th Sept. Best by far was my first ever Convolvulus Hawk-moth, a species I’ve never managed to catch up with until today.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth

What a stunner! This one looks pristine to me, and superbly camouflaged for resting on tree bark. But disturb it and it will flash its pink and black abdomen …

Delighted to get this lifer. Also in the trap was this Delicate:

The Delicate

… and a moth that is rare nationally and largely confined to the SW coast, Mecyna asinalis.

Mecyna asinalis

I get this annually here in Budleigh; it’s a subtle moth, one which a photo doesn’t really do justice to.

With more warm air today and tonight I’m hoping for more migrants. Fingers crossed.

Autumn’s arrival?

Some lovely moths in the traps last night. I say ‘traps’ because I ran my new home-made, light-weight actinic trap for the first time alongside the usual MV. Both produced some good results with the moths reflecting the start to the changing colours of Autumn’s arrival.

Best of the bunch in terms of scarcity were the immigrant Scarce Bordered Straw (though could now be a local breeding moth) and Pinion-streaked Snout, the latter a lifer for me.

Scarce Bordered Straw
Pinion-streaked Snout

Also a lifer, though remarkable because it’s not uncommon, was this Small Wainscot, with its beautiful, delicate darker veins and its ‘shaggy’ thorax:

Small Wainscot

The summer seems to have whizzed by, August about to give way to September, and the moths are starting to reflect the Autumn colours. Here: Frosted Orange; Angle Shades; and Dusky Thorn

Frosted Orange
Angle Shades
Dusky Thorn

Whilst I catch the three above at least annually, this Tawny-barred Angle was the first I’ve had since 2019:

Tawny-barred Angle

And in terms of migrants (in addition to the Scare Bordered Straw, above) the actinic attracted this beautiful Dark Sword-grass:

Dark Sword-grass

Numbers are definitely dropping off, but I love this time of the mothing year. Mornings are a bit later, so the cup of tea that accompanies the opening of the trap can also involve a little lie-in. The moths are often interesting too, with species on the move and the chance of some good migrants still. Clifton Nonpareil is already showing up on my Twitter timeline … I sit and wait.

(Ni)ce micros …

The warm days and nights continue, though suddenly broken by thunder and rain at some points today, and although the numbers of moths are falling, with the warmth have been some nice micros … and another cracking macro caught by my friend Matt Knott, for which you’ll need to read to the end, but there’s a clue in the title!

First on the list is perhaps the least interesting visually, but the most interesting from my point of view, which was this micro, trapped on August 7th:

Presumed Caloptilia populetorum

I’ve sent this to the county moth recorder for confirmation, but the concensus from those who should know, online, is that it’s Caloptilia populetorum, and if so would be a first for Devon. The UK Moths website describes it as follows:

A species of moorland and heath, having a wide distribution over much of mainland Britain, though not especially common. The adults resemble several other Caloptilia species and are best identified by the dark spots on the forewing leading edge and darker cilia. Their flight period is from August onwards, overwintering after which they may be seen until April or May. Despite the scientific name, the larvae feed on birch (Betula) leaves, initially in a gallery and later rolling a leaf and feeding within.

Any new moth has to be confirmed by dissecting the genitalia (unique to each species) so it won’t be certain until that happens, but for now I’m optomistic that it will prove to be a new county record.

Other micros that I’ve enjoyed, and new to me, have included the following:

Lyonetia prunifoliella

Lyonetia prunifoliella, a moth whose larvae feed on plants from the prunus group, but are associated with apple, which is where this one probably came from. I often catch the similarly tiny (4mm) cousin Lyonetia clerkella which is common, but prunifoliella is much less so, and a good find. Comparison shots here:

Interestingly, the guide books suggest that prunifoliella was once common in the UK, but from 1900 onwards appears to have been lost entirely, until 2007 when they were found in Guernsey and are now spreading across the South coast. Worth noting here, as at least one moth-colleague on Twitter has suggested, that it could of course have been hiding in plain site, given how small it is!

There is a similarly story with this next one, abundant in mainland Europe, but until recently not known to the UK until discovered in Guernsey and now spreading north. This is Cosmopterix pulchrimella, one of a set of several very similar moths distinguished by the pattern of stripes and orange bars.

Cosmopterix pulchrimella

And then some others which, though common enough were new to me … and also showing how what looks like a small brown speck of dirt at first sight comes alive with colour and pattern under magnification (thanks to the brilliant Olympus TG5 camera!):

Coptotriche marginea
Argolamprotes micella
Elachista maculicerusella

The micros are great. Some moth-ers don’t even bother with them because they can be hard to photograph and ID, but for me that’s part of their beauty. I love seeing something so innocuous, a speck of grey amongst the dust at the bottom of the trap, and then seeing it come alive in a photo. And, of course, with so many different species of micros, one is far more likely to find interesting new species. Bingo!

Edit: another new macro ..

Since writing the text above I’ve had a call from my good friend Matt who has trapped another cracking moth. This is Ni Moth, Trichoplusia ni, a rare immigrant, similar in rarity and form to the Dewick’s Plusia featured in my last post:

Ni Moth

Thanks to Matt for sharing such a great find with me.

Dewick’s Plusia and more

After a couple of weeks away without any mothing it’s been great to get back to it, with plenty of warm air still moving up from mainland Europe and Africa. And with that breeze, last night, a moth that I’ve been hoping to trap ever since I started mothing in 2016.

Dewick’s Plusia

This is Dewick’s Plusia, an immigrant, not super-rare, but unusual enough to be special. Superficially it resembles the much more common Silver-Y, but the body is browny-gold and the ‘dog-leg’ mark is a shiny silver-white, not done justice by the photo. A really exciting moment for me seeing it this morning.

There were lots of micros in the trap too – more than normal despite me not making a particularly early start. The best was this one which I believe is Cosmopterix pulchrimella.

Cosmopterix pulchrimella
Cosmopterix pulchrimella

According to my field guide, this moth was first seen in the UK in the early 2000s in Guernsey but since then seems to have been spreading along the south coast, with 20 or so records in the 2020 Devon moth handbook. The grid on the paper in the photo is 5mm, so you can see that this is a tiny moth, no more that 4mm long, but comes alive under magnification with sparkling silver stripes and an orange band.

Also a lifer for me today is this one, which is think is Neocochylis hybridella, a scarce moth favouring coastal habitat

Neocochylis hybridella

… and amongst the macros, this pug which I believe is Golden-rod Pug (based on the large discal spot, the white tornal spots on each wing and some chequered veining):

Presumed Golden-rod Pug

So those were the best of today’s trapping, but looking back to before my leave there are a few things to catch up on. The nights of 10th and 11th July brought several new moths, including:

a new Caloptilia species, Caloptilia cuculipennella

Caloptilia cuculipennella

This very local micro, Argolamprotes micella, a super little moth under magnification and local to the SW.

Argolamprotes micella

And this macro, though not rare, was a first for me, again tending to favour coastal locations: Bordered Sallow.

Bordered Sallow

So lots of nice moths, with the Dewick’s Plusia being top of the list. Second, though, was not a moth at all, but a beetle … and some beetle at that!

Female Tanner Beetle

This, I have discovered, is a Tanner Beetle, a declining species which sometimes visit light traps … though this is a female, which rarely do, and hence is very special. I’m guessing few people will have seen one, so a real privilege. The photo doesn’t really do justice to how magnificent it is, coming in at around 4cm in length it felt like a small mammal on my hand:

An amazing animal, and one that makes all the early mornings worth it. Moth trapping; it’s a dark art indeed.

Footmen and precious metals

The nights are finally warming up and as June moves on and the days reach their maximum length, the moths are starting to come. Today was a Footman day.

I like the Footmen. They are ‘smart’ moths … and presumably get their names from the ‘piping’ round their wings and the upright appearance that is reminiscent of a domestic footman in a stately home. Today I had my first few Common Footman of the year; the archetypal smartly trimmed moth:

These are indeed common and I’ll be inundated with them soon, but less common was yesterday’s catch – a first for me – of Four-dotted Footman:

Four-dotted Footman

This is a smart little moth and this morning I caught it again, but this time with its close namesake Four-spotted Footman:

Four-spotted Footman

If you’re wondering where the four spots are, they only come on the female, this one being a male.

Four spots … Four dots …

Finally, in the set, another lifer in the shape of this lovely Muslin Footman … almost ghost-like, opaque in the early morning light:

Muslin Footman

If the footmen are dressed in smartly-piped uniform, then around them ought to be various items made from precious metals.

Again, the moths provide the backdrop. Today there was Gold Triangle and Burnished Brass …

And yesterday it was the silverware on show, with Silver Y, Scarce Silver-lines and Brown Silver-line:

And then, finally, the gentleman and lady of the house might be wearing their Ermine coats … but I hope they look better than this Buff Ermine, whose wings appear not to have expanded fully leaving it with a crinkly appearance.

The balding head means it’s been around for a while so clearly the wings still work.

All in all it’s been a stately kind of day.

Migrant action (but not striped!)

For the first time this year there were some migrant moths in the trap when I opened it this morning – though not the Striped Hawkmoth I’d been craving, despite record numbers – everywhere, it seems, other than Budleigh! Nonetheless, this Bordered Straw was the first one ever for me, and a lovely fresh looking moth:

Bordered Straw

Also migratory were two, quite different, examples of The Gem, both males:

On the home front, the excitement came from the micros. Again, new to me, was this Phyllonorychter nicellii, a very pretty looking thing under magnification:

Phyllonorychter nicellii

Similarly good-looking, but previously trapped, were Epinotia bilunana and Callisto denticulella:

One of the things I love about these small micros is the way that they come alive under magnification, like this. What appears in the trap as a grey dot (aren’t all moths grey!) bursts into colour and pattern when viewed close up.

Finally then, some other colourful and intricately patterned moths from the trap this morning, none of which are rare, but all worth spending a bit of attention on – after all, many of ‘our’ common moths would be rare elsewhere …

Warm weather means more moths, and these were the visual highlights from a catch of 86 of 46 species last night – certainly picking up and soon the June/July onslaught will be upon us. I can sense the bats licking their lips as we speak …

New micros

Moth numbers are gradually building as the weather warms up. This morning’s catch was 32 of 19 species, with 66 of 29 at the weekend. There’s been nothing of real note, but a few nice moths, including some micro-lifers for me.

This morning, Callisto denticulella, a nice looking moth viewed close up:

Callisto denticulella

And on the 16th May, this wonderful little micro with the antennae even longer than its name, Nematopogon metaxella:

Nematopogon metaxella
Nematopogon metaxella

I’d love to understand what the antennae do at this length and how this moth has evolved this way – answers please! Either way, having the antennae more than 3x the body length, along with the dark spot on the wing at 2/3, makes this metaxella (I believe – but as ever, happy to be corrected if I’m wrong).

Next, two moths which were not new, but nice to see again – Caloptilia azaleella and Argyresthia cupressella. Neither is more than 5mm long, so both viewed with the help of the macro setting on my Olympus TG5 – surely the best instant digital camera for this kind of thing:

Finally, one new macro from the night of 10th May – Early Tooth-striped. This is a fairly common moth, but the fact it is new to me probably reflects the fact that I have managed to get the trap running earlier in the year than normal!

Early Tooth-striped

As the moths arrive, so too the bats are active. Last night 13 Serotines emerged from the roost in my roof-space, while Pipistrelles and what I think was a Noctule, performed the best of aerial displays in the garden. May darkness reign!

Comparisons

Better numbers of moths last night for the time of year, with 55 of 18 different species. Amongst these were some crowd-pleasers featuring the typical hairy look characteristic of the cool Spring nights.

Also, some moths that are simply beautiful … the stunning Pine Beauty, in fact:

Pine Beauty

And another that is scarce nationally, but which I’m lucky to get annually living, as I do, near heathland in SW England: Horse Chestnut

Horse Chestnut

All these are lovely, but what I enjoyed most this morning was seeing several very similar moths alongside each other from which to make comparisons.

First up, the Swallow Prominents. These come in two species forms: Swallow Prominent and Lesser Swallow Prominent. Here they are in that order left to right:

Swallow Prominent (L) and Lesser Swallow Prominent (R)

The usual distinction is in the size and clarity of the white ‘dagger’ mark on the trailing edge of the forewing – short and bright white in Lesser; longer and less distinct in standard. Whilst these two examples are distinct, it’s not always so easy to tell them apart, especially when you don’t have both alongside each other and when the dagger is ‘sort of shortish’, or ‘kind of white’ as it so often is! So today I took the trouble to read the fieldguide properly and noted that there is also a distinction in the (hidden) hindwing. Here they are alongside each other again in the same order:

The distinguishing mark is the dark blotch in the trailing corner of the wing, which has a white line through it in the standard Swallow Prominent and has no line in the Lesser. Here they are magnified:

I’m sure that for many mothers this is old news, but for me it was an interesting discovery, and one that will help in the future when the difference in forewing is not so clear cut.

Also worth comparing were some of the Quaker moths that are in the trap at this time of year. The Common Quaker – which is common! – is a brownish moth with distinct, pale-ringed kidney markings on the wing. It comes in all different shades though and, at this time of year, in many different sizes too. It’s sometimes hard therefore to be sure it’s not Powdered Quaker or Small Quaker, where colour and size can overlap respectively.

Here then, are a couple of comparisons as I had all three this morning. Firstly, Powdered (top) against a Common (bottom) chosen because its overall colour was similar.

Powdered (top) and Common (bottom)

And here’s the Powdered on its own, a lovely, subtle moth that looks like it’s been showered with talcum powder over a sprinkling of fine black scales:

Powdered Quaker

Then, Small Quaker … which I think of like a Powdered, often looking ‘dusted’, but much smaller, with indistinct kidney markings:

Small Quaker

Though I don’t have a comparison shot for size, it is approximately relative to the image above in the sense that the camera lens was equidistant from both.

It’s great to see these moths alongside each other, especially at this time of year when I’m reminded that I’m still a relative novice with moths, having started trapping in 2016. Each Spring I find myself having to seek reminders of what is what; getting my eye in so to speak. Comparisons like these bring the fieldguides alive and really help. May the good weather continue for a while as the moths build up.

Up and running …

A combination of Covid, poor weather at the wrong time and family events has meant that last night was the first time out with the trap in 2022. It would have been good to have a list of early moths already, but it’s nice to be up and running and 26 moths of 11 species wasn’t a bad start.

No great surprises, but for the record these were the highlights:

Purple Thorn is always a nice moth, both for the beautiful shades of brown and purple and the way it holds its wings in this characteristic semi-open position.

Waved Umber

Waved Umber is another spectacular moth, mimicking the cross-lines on a tree stump, or bark. Indeed, both this and the Purple Thorn illustrate how Spring moths are caught between the colours of last Autumn – bare bark and fallen leaves – and the new growth of the coming summer. If Purple Thorn and Waved Umber fall into the former category, Green Carpet is in the latter, finding its shelter in the hues of fresh leaves:

Green Carpet

Another solution to the vagaries of the British season is to fly in from overseas – a kind of reverse Easter getaway. This Silver Y is likely to be an immigrant visitor – Brexit not holding up its border-crossing. It will be looking for a mate to breed locally before heading back south.

Silver Y

Finally, two moths which are resident and therefore have to brave the possible cold snaps of April. Their solution is to wrap up warm, with extended scaly ‘hairs’ on their legs and bodies: Nut-tree Tussock and Lunar Marbled Brown …

Though they appear to be from the same family, in fact they are from different ones, Nut-tree Tussock being a Noctuid and LMB being from the Notodontidae.

Also present, the ubiquitous Brimstone moths, Brindled Pug, Common Quaker, Hebrew Character, and a 20-plume moth. Not startling, but a good way to start the mothing year.