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.



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.


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 …


(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.

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


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Exmouth resident; keen, slightly naive, birder; moth novice.

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