Box tree moth and more immigrants

I ran the trap last night and emptied it this morning. To my surprise this little beauty was nestled in a corner:

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This is Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) and is an immigrant originally from Asia, and considered a pest because the larvae attack the Box tree (Buxus); it is now established in much of Europe. Records have started to appear since 2007 in the UK, mainly in the South-East. The first Devon record was only in July, but increasing numbers have started to turn up in the South-West this summer. We will have to see how this trend develops, but it looks like it’s going to become a commoner species in the coming years and is likely to establish itself here.

Other immigrants appeared too. Here is the beautiful little ‘Rusty-dot Pearl‘ (Udea ferrugalis), a common catch in traps, but a stunning moth all the same …

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In addition, there were several other really lovely Autumnal moths, including Crescent Dart and Angle Shades:

The former is local along the south and west coast and largely confined to coastal, rocky cliffs, of which East Devon has many of course. I initially confused it with Heart and Club and Turnip moth, both of which it resembles.

But my favourite moth of the catch was this one, Large Ranunculus. Just look at the subtle colours, which blend brilliantly with the flagstone on which I’ve laid it.

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Its close relative, Feathered Ranunculus, was one of the first moths I ever caught and completely bowled me over, so I have a soft spot for them all.

Time will tell if Box Tree Moth establishes itself, but there is no doubt that moths can spread fast once they begin to do so and I fully expect to find this as a regular in the trap in years to come.

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Autumn moths

Autumn is definitely creeping up on us. Leaves are dropping in the garden and the nights and early mornings, though still pleasant, are suddenly cool. With them, the autumn moths are coming. I love this time of year for the feeling of change, and especially the movement of animals, including birds and moths, which are migrating to find wintering sites.

Last night my wife alerted me to a moth that had dared to find its way into our bathroom.

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This was White-spot, once a fairly rare immigrant, but now, like a number of others that are moving north with the changing climate, appears to be more regular and potentially colonising the south. It favours coastal areas, so not too much of a surprise when it appeared, though my first ever self-caught.

A couple of days earlier I’d had another immigrant, a Dark sword grass, unbelievably my first ever despite it being a common enough moth.

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I have a feeling that, it my early days of trapping, I’ve confused this for Heart and Dart – perhaps not surprisingly since they are from the same genus, Agrotis, the darts, and quite similar at first glance.

As well as the immigrants, the resident moths are emerging ready to blend in with the autumnal colours. This Centre-barred sallow would certainly be hard to spot in our magnolia as the leaves turn yellow; a cracking moth …

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Similarly, another of my favourite families, the Wainscotts – this one a Smoky Wainscott, I think, given it’s darkened hindwing:

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I love the patterning on the wings of the Wainscotts, offing incredible camouflage in dried grass and reeds.

Finally, inspired by Matt, I’ve started to take more notice of the dragonflies and damselflies. The best of the season is probably over, but there are still plenty on the wing, especially these Southern Hawkers, which seem to take delight in flying over to take a look at me as I pass by. These two are both beautiful males:

 

 

A great time of year, and still lots to come as migration gets under way properly. As I type, Hurricane Florence is lashing the east coast of the US and, though sorry for those affected, it also promises a plume of air pushed up from the south in a couple of days time … and the possibility of something really rare on the wing.

New beginnings

The lack of posts on this site has not been due to failing enthusiasm, but to having lots on my plate for a month or two. Not least was a house move, from Exmouth, three miles along the coast, to Budleigh Salterton. 15 years of family stuff has been filtered, packed, removed, chucked and unpacked and we are now settled in a new home.

Obviously, the first thing to do was to explore the local environment – though of course, being just a few miles from the old house I know it well in terms of birds. It has taken me two weeks to find the moth trap though – box G4, buried in the garage – and I ran it for the first time on the night of the 2nd September. Numbers were not huge, perhaps because I timed it to go off in the night and lots of moths vanished by morning, but there were two real treats in amongst the normal Setaceous hebrew characters, Double striped pugs and Small dusty waves. The first of these were not one, but two, Portland ribbon wave.

I was delighted to catch this moth as I had it twice in 2016 in Exmouth (30/05 and 05/09). Moreover, Matt had just recently found one on an outside light at the Schools Camp on Orcombe point, indicating that there might be colonies nearby. To have two here suggests that they are establishing themselves in this part of the world – though with just 5 records in 2017 and 2016, and 9 in 2015, it’s still far from common.

Even more exciting though was this one:

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This is Evergestis limbata, a scarce immigrant from Southern Europe and a lifer for me. There were just 7 Devon records of this moth last year, all in VC3. Thanks to Richard Fox of Devon Moths for confirming that he’s had them since 2010 in South Devon, with 5 so far this year, and that they seem to be establishing themselves in the area.

So the new garden moth list is up and running with some good records. Meanwhile, walks along the river have produced lots of bees and other insects. Buff-tailed males are in evidence, but also some new workers too suggesting that nests are still in business. Common carder bees are also enjoying feeding on Indian balsam which has invaded the Otter valley and, though I couldn’t get a photo, Garden bumblebee (B. hortorum) are also about.

Smartest of the hoverflies seen – though common enough – was this male Helophilus pendulus – Tiger Hoverfly. I’ve put it alongside a female that I saw in Topsham earlier in the year:

The River Otter has thrown up some good birds too. There has been a spotted crake on the river for a week or so and, just this evening, news that there seem to be two of them there; see this (scope) shot, from earlier in the week,  of one showing well … for a crake!

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Also nearby are two cattle egret which have been seen regularly with cattle close to the river. And finally, though common as anything, seeing several hundred Canada Geese arriving on the river this morning was a wonderful sight.

All-in-all, it’s been a lovely start to living in our new home and a sign of what’s to come, I hope.

Garden Safari – Part 2: Spiders

Yesterday’s post covered the bees and hoverflies that Matt and I had found in his garden on Friday 1st. In this post I’m looking briefly at the spiders we saw … but first a little addendum on the bees.

We had seen Bombus pratorum – Early bumblebee – workers, but when I popped out into my own garden in the sunshine first thing this morning there were a number of the males on the wing, nectaring on the raspberry plants that are now in flower. I’ve posted comparison shots here to show the differences – top two are the female worker, bottom two the male:

Sizes don’t show well with nothing to scale them against, but both are about the same size. Note the male has the extra yellow stripe across the join between thorax and abdomen, and also yellow hairs on the face – as do several other male bumblebees. The female is also neater; in fact the male is, frankly, a flying fluff-ball and this stands out in the field to me.

So, on to the spiders. I promised myself that I would start to try and get into the arachnids this year, but like all new orders it’s a bewildering world until you find some similarities between species which start to bring them into the genus groups. We photographed four, as follows, though there were more than this about, and thanks to people on Twitter, IDs followed.

This is Pisaura mirabilis, one of the nurseryweb species. Although it would blend beautifully in dry, straw-coloured grass, on the lush green it stood out. It’s swollen abdomen made me wonder if it is about to lay eggs – photos in the field guides tend to show a much slimmer spider.

The second one was Tetragnatha sp., the exact species not clear, though either T. extensa or montana.

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Tetragnatha is one of four genera of the Tetragnathidae – the Long-jawed Orbweb spiders – called the ‘stretch spiders’. It’s not hard to see why, and when they are ‘stretched’ out along the stem of a plant of some sort they must almost disappear.

A second genus of the Tetragnathidae is Metellina – with three, common, orb web spider species – and the spider below comes from here.

Metellina sp

It looks to me like either M. segmentata or M. mengei which are visually very similar. My guess is mengei based on the most usual time of year to see the adults, which Bee, Oxford and Smith (2017) report as being spring and early summer, rather than late summer and autumn for sementata.

The final one is perhaps the most interesting. It’s a tiny spider, but bright red, making it stand out against the pale green of this grass head.

Nigma puella

Thanks to some expert advice from Twitter users, I’ve managed to find out a little and it’s likely to be a male Nigma puella. Until recently, Nigma was a genus with two British species – N. walckenaeri and N. puella. Both are not common, puella described as ‘nationally scarce’ by Bee et al, but showing distribution along the S. Dorset and E. Devon coast. Walckenaeri is yet to be found in Devon and looks like it’s more frequent in late summer. However, a third species – N. flavescens – has recently turned up with two records in Kent, offering the enticing prospect that future sightings might be important records! The males are identical visually, so other than the massive likelihood that it’s puella I can’t be entirely sure … though the females differ and finding one of these would clinch it.

This is one of the things I love about exploring insects, spiders, birds etc. Even as a rank amateur there is the chance of something interesting turning up, especially with creatures that are little researched and studied. Ask my nephew, who, at aged 10 has just turned up the first Grey Birch Moth ever recorded in West Cornwall. Fab!

Reference:

Bee, L., Oxford, G., & Smith, H. (2017). Britain’s Spiders: A Field Guide: Princeton University Press.

Garden Safari – Hoverflies

I popped round to Matt’s house yesterday with the idea that we might head out somewhere to look for birds. In the end we spent a couple of hours simply looking at the wild area at the bottom of his garden – no more than 20 square metres, but packed with wildlife! It shows that you don’t need to spend thousand of pounds, or dump hundreds of kgs of CO2 into the atmosphere, to go on safari. There is more than enough of interest right under our feet.

I’ve split the finds into three parts: bees and hoverflies and various other bits and bobs, which I deal with here; spiders, which I’m planning on doing in another post.

So, to the bees and hoverflies.

Andrena labiata query

I’d been hoping to see this bee – Andrena labiata (Red-girdled Mining Bee) – which Matt had found a few days beforehand (see his blog for details), but whether it needs more sun than we had yesterday or whether we were just unlucky, I don’t know. Either way, it wasn’t there. What we did have though were two nice bumblebees. Tree Bumblebee (B. hypnorum) workers were busy on the flowers round the garden, pollen packed on their hind legs, as the slo-mo video shows, here:

Alongside hypnorum was another smaller worker, B. pratorum – Early Bumblebee. It’s a beautiful little bee, working busily among the blossom:

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Whilst these were large, obvious visitors to the garden, the hoverflies were less easy to see, darting and dashing between patches of sunlight and flowers. We trapped four, all similar in being narrow-bodied and colourful, but quite distinct when one puts them under a microscope lens. The first was the familiar ‘Marmalade’ fly – Episyrphus balteatus:

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The colour, and the ‘moustache’ patterns on the abdomen, make this unmistakable (allows a dangerous thing to say with insects, in my experience, but I’ll stick my neck out). It’s a very common one, seen regularly in the garden and standing out for its colour alone.

Next was Platycheirus albimanus, another common hoverfly, with both male and female trapped. It is one of the varied Bachini tribe, which have black thorax, often shiny, and black faces … and the genus Platycheirus has many different species, though only two common ones with silver/bronze, rather than orange/yellow, abdomenal markings. The female (eyes are separated on female hoverflies, and meet at the top in males) shows silvery spots:

Meanwhile, the male, had more bronze-coloured, faded, spots:

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The male can be distinguished from the similar P. ambiguus by a clump of hairs on the front femur. I’ve tried to capture this under the microscope, though it’s not easy to see:

The final slim hoverfly was like the Bachini, but from the genus Melanostoma: M. scalare:

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The female has the distinctively-shaped orange pattern on the abdomen. The other British Melanostoma, M. mellinum, is similar but females can be told apart by scalare having large ‘dust spots’ between the eyes, above the mouth – the two grey, triangular patches on the photo below:

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Apparently, in mellinum these dust patches are much smaller.

As ever, all this information is new to me and I’m learning as I go, taking it straight from two great books: the photo field guide by Ball and Morris, and the classic text ‘British Hoverflies’ by Stubbs and Falk. Each is wonderful, the former giving lots of information,, clear photos, and great distribution data; the latter being more focused on the key along with Falk’s wonderful hand-painted illustrations in the back. I recommend them both.

The final hoverfly, which was easily visible without the need for trapping, was this mating pair of Merodon equestris – I think!

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The male stayed on top of the female for a good 15 minutes at least, from the time we saw them, vibrating its abdomen, presumably, having mated, to keep other males from mating again (excuse the sideways video!):

Finally, we had a few other bits and bobs, including this wonderful male Oedemera nobilis – the aptly named Swollen Thigh Beetle.

It was an iridescent beauty, and yet well hidden amongst damp grasses.

The only other thing of note was this diurnal micro moth which, up close, had a beautiful orange quarter-moon shape on its dorsum.

It is one of the Dichrorampha Tortrix micros. Sterling, Parsons and Lewington (2012, p.329) note that the ‘at first sight, most of the species in this (Dichrorampha) group appear dull, and they tend to be dismissed as ‘too difficult to identify”. Here, the dorsal mark meant that it was either D. alpinana, D. petiverella or D. vancouverana, and a quick look under the microscope showed that it was the first of these:

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All-in-all a nice couple of hours finding all sorts of stuff to keep us going. And still the spiders to go … I’ll try and get to them when I can!

Warming up …

At last the temperature is rising a little and the sun is starting to shine … and, with it, the moths are finally getting active again. Still not great numbers in the trap here, though I also looked back at last year to remind myself that the sense of missing moths is an annual affair when you are keen to see them!

Despite the low numbers there have been some great moths, new to the garden, so in this post I’ve done a round-up of some of the best.

May 15th – Pale Pinion … a moth completely new to me and localised, largely to the south and west of Britain, though numbers are increasing in the SE:

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No need to point out what superb camouflage it forms, looking for all the world like a old, decaying twig.

25th May – Brown Silver-lines … a bracken feeder at larval stage, so more commonly associated with heath and moorland, but common throughout Britain. Still a first for me, and presumably simply flying over the garden:

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It’s worth noting that it was almost dead when I caught it and hence the wings are not in their usual position – held over the hind-wings in a more triangular shape – something that confused me at first.

25th May – Cream-spot Tiger … perhaps the pick of the bunch from the garden.

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What a beauty! Again, a localised moth, though not uncommon in my area, but even better when it shows its orange hind-wing and red under-wings:

 

These were all new to me and caught in the garden. However, also a lifer – and perhaps the star of the show – was the male Emperor Moth that Matt and Martin caught on Withycombe Common with a pheromone lure:

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I promise you, it really was this colour! Just the most stunning insect I’ve ever seen. Apparently, the lure pulled in up to 10 males in just a few minutes, using their antennae to ‘sniff out’ the female – see this post I did on the same idea for December moth.

The moths above were all the new ones, but others have been of interest too.

This beautiful Silver-Y was the first obvious immigrant of the year, and looking really fresh …

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The colours are subtle, but beautiful, with purple and gold blending into the overall silvery-grey.

Also great to see was Treble Brown Spot

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It’s a fairly scarce moth in this part of the world, but I’ve had it three years running now and so pleased to note that there is almost certainly a stable colony nearby.

And finally, three moths that are not uncommon at all, but of interest for various reasons. First, Vine’s Rustic … caught on 25th May and again on the 26th:

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I’ve got a soft spot for Vine’s, I think because it is so like some other moths – the Quakers, Rustic and Uncertain. Vine’s has a lovely silvery appearance to it though, which can look almost ghost-like is some specimens … including this one above. Smaller than Quaker, with large-ish, fairly round kidney marks and ovals and a straight leading edge, help to identify it (I hope … argh, the uncertainty of the novice!).

Then there was this pug. At first I thought it was Brindled, but with some ID help have it as Common Pug:

The pugs are so hard, and I seem to get different ones each year – Common, not having been that common in previous years. However, I’ve realised that the white, inter-terminal line is a good feature to look for.

Finally, this longhorn moth is one of the Nematopogon species:

I think it’s probably N. schwarziellus going by the size (FL=c.7mm) and the wing shape. N. metaxella has rounded wings and flies later, in June/July, and N. swammerdamella is larger, around 9-11mm FL. I love these ‘Longhorns’, with antennae that are constantly on the go, feeling with world around them, like someone with impaired sight using a long stick.

So, a good few days, even if numbers are still only building up. My garden species list is now at 329, and yet 6 -7 new species already this year show just how diverse moths are – and why it’s always worth setting the trap even when it may not look that promising.

BeeWalk

I do BeeWalk, a survey for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust involving a planned walk each month round a circuit, identifying and recording bumblebees. I thought I’d left it too late yesterday evening, but it was such a beautiful day, the hottest early May Bank Holiday on record, that I walked my route around 6pm, starting in Gore Lane.

The first part of the walk takes you past a hedgerow with gorse, facing south and is often the best spot. Tonight I heard a fairly high pitched bee in there, suggesting that it was something smaller than the B terrestris that has been all I’ve seen so far this year on this route. Sure enough, there were two small bumblebees nectaring in the gorse. At first sight I thought they were B hortorum – garden bumblebee – because of the twin yellow stripes and white tail.

 

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However, the size seemed too small, not much bigger than 10mm or so, and the bands were not quite lemony yellow enough. I managed to pot one up and used the Slo-Mo feature on my iphone to get a slow motion video, which you can see below.

Note the face. It’s relatively short, not the very long face of hortorum and so I’m confident that this is B. jonellus – Heath Bumblebee. [Confirmation, via those more knowledgeable on Twitter later the same day, has reassured me!]

This is a good find as jonellus is not common everywhere, though we seem to do quite well for them in Exmouth. Earlier this year I found a queen struggling to survive in our garden and the post I did then shows the difference in face length. It’s a beautiful little bee, quite fluffy (longer-haired than hortorum) and compact and its clearly been working hard as the pollen baskets are overladen with pollen, mixed with nectar and squashed into orange-yellow balls to take back to the nest.

Let’s hope that these workers help to make that nest a success so that we have more of these lovely insects pollinating all our plants for us. With this in mind, I was delighted to see that the EU has recently banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides; a significant step in helping bees and other pollinating insects. More jonellus would be great in my opinion.