Welcome to ‘What’s in the box? 2018’, a regular feature that looks at what has been recorded over the previous recording period. From April to September inclusive, I will report on the moths I’ve recorded during the month concluding with my own ‘stats report’; a totally unscientific summary of aspects of interest.
I have two moth traps – one is a homemade (albeit not by me!) Skinner-style trap, the other is a Robinson trap. Both have a bright light to attract the moths and contain a pile of egg boxes for them to huddle into and feel safe.
I set them up as and when the weather permits and the usual plan is to position one of them 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’ll also take the trap further afield using a generator. As wildlife partner of the Forestry Commission and North York Moors National Park I have permission to use the trap in certain local areas and always release the moths back to where they were found. No moths are ever harmed. As I use a generator which is noisy, I stay with the trap for a few hours. Moths are potted and identified on site. I bring the box back home at the end of the session.
All records will be from the default site in the garden at Bubble HQ here in Dalby Forest unless otherwise stated.
As the nights grew shorter so the mothing sessions started later and later. There was some highs and lows, mainly lows but this month always feels like the prelude to something more exciting. Nevertheless, each moth is a moth counted and recorded for posterity so it shouldn’t really matter whether I get one or one hundred and one moths in a session.
Here are the highlights for May 2018……
A new trapping site
During the winter months, I’d been out scouting for new sites and one, in particular, caught my eye. Situated right at the southern edge of Dalby Forest, a crossroads of paths provided a mix of broadleaved habitat. One path leads out to an open area of heathland with low shrubs, broadleaved tree margins (hazel, birch, rowan, beech) and grasses providing an interesting corridor between open and canopied habitat. Another path narrowly winds itself back into the woodland. The wider track crossing over them is an old farm track which, from the farm, eventually leads to fields, this year planted with oil seed rape. More excitingly, each path had for itself a mature oak. Therefore this site has become ‘Oak Corner’.
Oak tree at the edge of the farm track, Oak Corner
Looking through the corridor to the heathland area
The moth box was set up for the first time at this site in the middle of the month. It was cold, I could see my breath, but I had high hopes. Whilst the sun dropped down across the heath, I waited for it to get truly dark by wondering up and down the paths. I could see moths flitting in and around the bright yellow oil seed rape flowers but a gate prevented access so I left them unidentified. Cowslips provided a spring-like vibe to the session and, once the light went on, bats began to circle overhead and swoop. Unfortunately, the moths did not come. Well, that’s not entirely true….ten moths of seven species. A Nut-tree Tussock just arrived before I called it a night.
Nut-tree Tussock (Colocasia coryli)
Stocky and furry, the Nut-tree Tussock is the only member of Pantheinae, a noctuid sub-family. Quite common in the south, it becomes more localised towards the north of England and beyond. It lives in woodland, the larvae feeding upon deciduous trees such as hazel and birch so Oak Corner is a perfect site for them however, four had dropped into the moth box a couple of nights before during a session in the garden. All in all, there were six Nut-tree Tussocks in the moth box this month. All male. It is the males that regularly come to light as the females are much less active so don’t appear much.
The moth box light attracted two Barred Umber. Recorded only locally in the north of England, it is not common by any means. Again, like the Nut-tree Tussock, this moth lives in broadleaved woodland, the larvae also using hazel and birch as its foodplant. As most of the hazel was on the heathland area, I was beginning to wonder whether the corridor was providing a funnel towards the light. Most of the moths seemed to come from that direction.
Barred Umber (Plagodis pulveraria)
Although Oak Corner was lacking in moths that night, it was still promising and would be re-visited in the months to come.
Back to the old familiar
Back in familiar territory, the garden was providing mixed results. Starting out well, there was a drop in numbers in the middle of the month which steadily rose again towards June.
There were three moths new to the garden this month. The Currant and White Spotted Pugs and Green Silver-lines. The latter is a cracking moth. The common name describes it exactly and it cannot be mistaken for any other moth. It’s very exotic-looking for North Yorkshire.
Green Silver-lines (Pseudoips prasinana britannica)
The male has pinkish-brown fringing to the wings whereas the female has greenish-white fringing. The female is also a slightly duller green than the male. The ‘prasinana’ part of the scientific name means leek green. This is likely to refer to the caterpillar stage as that too is a vibrant green but, at last, there is a moth that seems to have been named after its most obvious feature! Only one into the moth box but exciting to see.
As bright and unique as the Green Silver-lines is, the two new pugs are a completely different story. They both look very similar. Whilst the Currant Pug visits garden and allotments (anywhere where there are currant bushes), the White-spotted Pug, as well as visiting hedges and verges, tends to favour the wetter habitats such as river banks and fens. The Currant Pug is the more common. The larvae feed on Wild Hop, blackcurrants and redcurrants. We had a fantastic crop of redcurrants this year so the bushes are strong and healthy. Perhaps they attracted this moth into the garden this year. In fact there were four records this month having never had any before. Meanwhile, the White-spotted Pug larvae feed on Elder flowers in July and there are plenty of those in and around the garden. As the summer progresses and the umbellifers come into flower, it favours Wild Angelica.
As with most pugs, telling the them apart is quite difficult. The below photos show the differences but look for three or more white marks along the outer edge of the hindwings on the White-spotted Pug compared to a cream spot (often a double spot) in the corner of the bottom corner of the forewings on the Currant Pug. The scientific name for the White-spotted points the difference out, tripunctaria meaning three (tri-) and a spot (punctum-) so ‘three spots’.
White-spotted Pug (Eupithecia tripunctaria)
Currant Pug (Eupithecia assimilata)
Hunt the hook-tip
A Pebble Hook-tip entered the moth box overnight on the 25th May. When checking the egg boxes, it flew to the floor onto the decking. Beech leaves had recently blown onto the decking (sweeping up had not been priority that week!) and I had great difficulty actually spotting where it had gone. It merged seamlessly alongside the dead beech leaves.
Common throughout Britain, the larvae feed on mainly birches. The adult only comes to the light in low numbers so this was nice to see.
Pebble Hook-tip (Drepana falcataria)
Meanwhile, a Scorched Wing also made a break for freedom and nestled amongst some scaffolding planks. The scientific name Plagodis dolabraria means slanting shape (plagodis) and pickaxe (dolabraria). The pickaxe part puzzled entomologists for many years however; the main consensus is now that the pickaxe refers to the shape of the wings of the moth rather than relating to any pattern. It needs quite a bit of imagination! To me the common name describes it best….scorched. It’s as if someone put a blow-torch on it or it flew too near to a naked flame. It looks just like singed wood.
Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolabraria)
The Scorched Wing is found throughout Britain but is more common in the south. The male comes frequently to light and curls up his abdomen when at rest. The moth can’t be mistaken for any other.
The Pebble Hook-tip and the Scorched Wing were both potted up and released that night at the bottom of the garden.
Poplars and Ys
Poplar Hawk-moths are always exciting to see. Large and chunky, these are spectacular moths even though they’re a little on the dull grey side. I always think that they look a bit dusty. Sometimes they have a pinky violent tinge to them but most of the time they range from a browny grey to grey.
This month saw nineteen enter the moth box. This wasn’t a bad haul considering the first one didn’t appear until 27th May. Two nights later there were seventeen in the box. They usually come after midnight so often slip in unnoticed once I’ve left the box running for the night.
The Poplar Hawk-moth is the commonest of all the hawk-moths. Like the Scorched Wing, it curls up its abdomen when at rest. Unusually for moths, it pulls the forewings back over the hind wings so the hindwings appear at the front. Very confusing! Not surprisingly the larvae feed on poplar. They also have furry ping-pong-ball-like heads.
Beating the Poplar hands down was the Silver Y. It was everywhere this month. An immigrant to Britain, the Silver Y can turn up in their thousands. There were large numbers being reported on the Yorkshire coast and elsewhere throughout Britain. I’m not sure that they beat any records this year but certainly there were more than I have ever seen before. They fly both day and night so not only were they dropping into the moth box at night, they were visiting the garden flowers during the day.
This means that I’ve very much under-recorded them here as I’ve only included the sixty-four that entered the moth box. Here’s a brief video of a Silver Y feeding on nectar during the day. It’s a bit tatty, having lost some of its scales but the silver ‘Y’ marking on the wings can be seen clearly.
What’s in the box? May 2018 stats (totally unscientific!)
Number of sessions – 7
Average length of sessions – All Night (9pm until collection at 4am)
Total number of moths – 354
Most common moth – Silver Y (64)
Second common moth – Hebrew Character (30) down from last month’s number one spot
Best newcomer – Green Silver-lines
Best night – 29th May (so misty it was like standing in a cloud) with 140 moths of 26 species
Moth of the month – Nut-tree Tussock for giving me a cheeky wave