What’s in the Moth Box? June

Welcome to ‘What’s in the box?’, a regular feature that looks at what has been recorded over the previous month.

My moth trap is homemade (albeit not by me!) and contains egg boxes for moths to huddle into and a bright light to attract the moths. I set it up as and when the weather permits and the usual plan is to position it in the garden at Bubble HQ using the mains electric. I then run around like a mad woman with a net and pots catching everything flying to the light (except bats which can be a bit of a problem sometimes!). The neighbours do think I’m a little odd! When bedtime calls, the trap is then left running all night and everything that has fallen into the box is recovered early morning. And when the box is opened….I never know what I’m going to get.

I do take the trap further afield using a generator. I have permission to use the trap in certain local areas and always release the moths back to where they were found.

All records will be from Bubble HQ here in Dalby Forest unless otherwise stated.

 


New horizons

I tried to get out and about with the box this month which was easier said than done. Rain stopped play on a variety of planned nights. I know that moths will fly in rain but hey, standing in torrential rain for several hours is not my idea of fun. When it wasn’t raining, it was really windy so June was a month of being frustrated with the weather. Nevertheless, new locations were trapped with some interesting results.

The foot of Little Dale provided the first new site. Situated in the Dalby valley itself, not far from Bubble HQ, and surrounded by forest conifers, mixed deciduous trees and shrubs, I had high hopes. My walks with the dog had taken me up Little Dale on a number of occasions. I’d seen several Carpet moths (mainly Spruce and Silver Ground) during the day and, as the felled area part way up was covered in foxgloves, I thought, at the very least, a Foxglove Pug would come to the light. With the added bonus of a gate to put a sheet over, and a temperature of 12 degrees Celsius, the trap was set for a two hour session from 10pm.

 

 

Carpets were abundant from the off. Silver-ground and Green Carpets took up much of the first hour as they sprung from nettles like tiny deranged will-o’-the-wisps. In the same way, Clouded Borders flew in to take refuge on the edges of the sheet whilst Brimstones landed on the gate-sheet. And, all the while, the midges gathered.

 

Midges flying around the generator

 

Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria)

 

Then, there it was, the first non-carpet to the light. A Peach Blossom. Such a stunning moth, I always think that the pattern looks like a monkey’s face but I think I’m alone in that thought! The larval foodplant is bramble which surrounded the moth box so it’s not surprising that it was present but I’d have thought that there would be more. Only two in total.

 

Peach Blossom (Thyatira batis)

A Red-necked Footman then came to the light, a pleasant surprise as I have only ever seen them during the day. The wings fold stiffly along the body with the whole look said to resemble the stiff long-coats worn by Victorian footmen. The ‘red-necked’ part describes it perfectly. Even the latter part of the scientific name Atolmis rubricollis means red (rubri) necked (collis). Atolmis means ‘lack of courage’ as the larva hides in tree bark during the day. I can just imagine them peeping out wondering if the coast is clear.

 

Red-necked Footman (Atolmis rubricollis)

Not a bad night with 106 moths of 25 species recorded. I wasn’t disappointed either. One lonely Foxglove Pug made its way to light. Only one and all those foxgloves!

Foxglove Pug (Eupithecia pulchellata pulchellata)

 


A road trip

A slow hour’s trapping session at Bubble HQ had only 11 species come to the light but only 28 moths in total including several Buff and White Ermine, Common and Silver-ground Carpets and a variety of pugs. Hawk moths appeared (Poplar and Elephant) which I can never believe actually reside in this country as they are just so big and colourful.  That said, Bubble HQ seemed a little lacking so a trip further afield was required.

 

Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor)

 

The moth box was set up on Seaton Moor in the North York Moors to test the site. A completely different habitat from the Dalby area, the box was set in an open area surrounded predominantly by heather and cottongrass. It was left overnight and picked up early (very, very early) the following morning.

Last month in ‘What’s in the Moth Box? June’ I talked about one of my favourite moths, Angle Shades. It was first out of the box here and flew to a nearby blade of grass. I was amazed how easily it just blended into the background.

 

 

The first Drinker of the year was quite quiet in the box. They normally come down to the light like bullets and then spin around the sheet like spinning tops. This one was calm. The name ‘Drinker’ comes from the scientific name. Whilst Euthrix means ‘hairy’ (I can see why when I look closely, if it was the size of a cat I’d be stroking it!), potatoria means ‘water’ referring to the larva which likes to drink dew drops or raindrops.

 

Drinker (Euthrix potatoria)

All I all, a total of 37 moths of 16 species. Not bad for an unmanned test site and one we will return to. See next month’s ‘What’s in the Moth Box?’, hopefully I’ll have better results.

 


 

Swift Alley

Another night, another new site. In a track crossing Sutherbruff Rigg in Dalby Forest, the site consisted of mixed woodland, shrubs and herbs. Whilst waiting for darkness I found plants such as yellow rattle, common spotted orchid, bilberry and hedge woundwort.

The site is now known affectionately as ‘Swift Alley’ due to the amount of swifts (moths not birds) that were flying low over the bilberry. I always know whether it’s a swift because as soon as one falls into the net, it plays dead. I would have thought that Common Swifts would be the most common but Gold Swifts were three times the number of both Common Swifts and Map-winged Swifts. These three types of swift are shaped the same but have subtle differences as illustrated below. The common is quite dull in comparison to the other two. The gold is much more golden as the name suggests whilst the map-winged is more patterned like a map.

Swifts mainly fly early dusk to full darkness which is when I caught all of these. There were 20 in total, all caught on the wing mainly over bilberry. Eggs are laid whilst in flight over the larval foodplant. When I checked on the foodplant for swifts, I was surprised that it wasn’t bilberry but mainly bracken. They were certainly sticking to the area of the bilberry and not straying onto bracken at all.

A moth that shone out against the green backdrop was the Clouded Silver. A beautifully delicate moth, I love the scientific name Lomographa temerata because I think that it not only describes the moth but it does so in a lovely descriptive way:

Lomo (a border) grapha  (a drawing)

temerata (to stain)

To me, the wing edges do appear to be stained by pencil smudges. If I could draw, I would try and replicate it.

Clouded Silver (Lomographa temerata)

An uncommon moth came to the light….not just one, but three of them! The Grass Rivulet’s larval foodplant is Yellow Rattle so, as the plant was present, it makes sense that they would be there. Not a particularly spectacular moth but prettily patterned and exciting all the same.

 

Grass Rivulet (Perizoma albulata albulata)


Ghostly goings-on

Swift Alley was such a success it was decided to trap further down the same valley in an old disused quarry. Slightly different, the area is open with grasses, mixed deciduous woodland, Scot’s Pine and a variety of wildflowers such as bee orchid, yellow rattle, aquilegia, mouse-ear hawkweed and viper’s bugloss. It was the latter which held the first moths of the night, two Six-spot Burnets. Then, as dusk really set  in, another species of swift began to float gracefully across the grasses. Male Ghost moths display at dusk by flying, swaying and dropping scent to attract the female. This lekking is both fascinating and slightly spooky to watch. Whilst the white males gathered in numbers over the grasses, a female, which are much more orange in colour, came to the light.

Female Ghost moth (Hepialus humuli humuli)

 

The quarry was very atmospheric with tawny owls calling, roe deer barking and a Common Blue butterfly, highlighted by the box light, asleep under a bowing heavy-headed grass stalk. Then the moths began to come down albeit not in the numbers we had previously at Swift Alley. Initially, the midges almost made me call it a day. They were relentless. The only part of me uncovered (yes, I looked ridiculous!) was my eyes and, even then, they fell on my eyeballs. Eventually, as darkness fell, they seemed to move away.

A Tawny-barred Angle arrived. The larval foodplant is Scot’s Pine and conifer plantations so I am surprised that this moth doesn’t appear in numbers. Only two for the month, one here and one at Swift Alley.

 

 

Tawny-barred Angle (Macaria liturata)

 

The Beauties came down in numbers. Mainly Mottled Beauties, they hugged the sides of the ground sheet and flitted between the grasses. Five actually went into the box but there were more flying above, in and between the grasses.

 

Mottled Beauty (Alcis repandata repandata) x 3

 


Return to Swift Alley 

The last session of month saw a return to Swift Alley. After only 1.5 hours here, a total of 80 moths of 30 species came to the light. It was only 1.5 hours because, due to a rookie mistake, the generator ran out of petrol. Although, in my defence, there is no gauge on the genny to assess fuel levels so I can only go on weight. Ah well, I know now!

Amongst more swifts and beauties, was a moth I find fascinating. The Buff Arches. The larval foodplant is bramble and that is where I found it, flying over brambles. Three in total. I just love the markings which look very flint-like.

 

Buff Arches (Habrosyne pyritoides)

 

Meanwhile, another stunning moth, a Garden Tiger dropped into the box. The scientific name  is Arctia meaning ‘bear’ (the larva is woolly and often called a ‘woolly bear’, caja which is a female Roman name. Linnaeus, when naming them, quite often used female names for highly coloured moths and this is definitely a highly coloured moth showing red when in ‘fright’ stance.

 

Garden Tiger (Arctia caja)

 

Here’s a few from the session….

 

 

A new moth for me was the Small Yellow Wave. Not so numerous in this area it was nice to see it and was a great end to the last session of the month.

 

Small Yellow Wave (Hydrelia flammeolaria)

 

 



What’s in the box? June stats (totally unscientific!)

Number of sessions – 7

Temperatures – ranging from 12 to 23 degrees

Total number of moths – 434

Most common – Silver-ground Carpet

Most willing (or lazy) – Poplar  Hawkmoth (left below) & Elephant Hawkmoth (joint winners)

 

 

Most ethereal and spooky – Ghost Moth

Best scary look – Garden Tiger

Most appropriately namedSnout

 

Most annoying – countless number of midges

Most grumpy – Buff Ermine

 

 

Moth of the month the swifts jointly (Common, Gold, Map-winged, Ghost)

And finally….Most ridiculous looking – Me!

 

The trials & tribulations of a moth-er!

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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