Travel Notes

As we travel widely during the summer looking for insects to photograph, Roger Edmondson and I have decided to put a record of our more interesting finds on this website. New entries are not always entered in date order so please check for changes by clicking on 'What's new' on  the home page.

15th September 2018

On the 13th August when we were on the Mendip Hills in Somerset, Roger found a hawkmoth larva in a patch of Lady's Bedstraw. As it was on this foodplant we guessed that it was a Humming-bird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum larva. 

As I did not have a picture of the moth with its wings spread (other than a low resolution picture of the moth nectaring), I decided to rear it through. I only took a small amount of the bedstraw, partly because I thought the larva was nearly full size and about to pupate at 45mm, and partly because I did not think a larger amount of the bedstraw would still be of use by the time it was needed.

The larva fed faster than I expected. All of the Lady's Bedstraw was gone within 24 hours and the caterpillar was showing no signs of pupating. I searched for other bedstraws in the garden, but unfortunately the Cleavers that was usually present had all shrivelled in the recent hot weather. What I did have was Woodruff growing in the shade of the hedge. I had not heard of this moth accepting it, but I thought it was worth a try as I had nothing else.

The larva took to it straight away and fed on it until it started to pupate about 3 days later.

As can be seen from the picture below the pupa had clearly visible features soon after it was formed. By the 13th September the pupa had become dark brown as the moth inside was fully formed and near emergence. On the 15th September it emerged.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth larva  Copyright Martin Evans

Humming-bird Hawk-moth - larva (45mm)

Hummingbird Hawk-moth pupa  Copyright Martin Evans

Humming-bird Hawk-moth - pupa (32mm)

Hummingbird Hawk-moth  Copyright Martin Evans

Humming-bird Hawk-moth - (forewing length 22mm)

Getting the picture I wanted of the moth with its wings spread was not easy. It would either rest with its wings closed, or do a vertical take off before I could press the camera shutter.

Occasionally it would run up the slate that I was trying to photograph it on, with its wings flapping. I took pictures but only managed one blurred shot per flight.

I noticed that it flew from the slate to roughly the same place at the back of the light tent I was using and then run up the tent with its wings flapping. It would then stop for a fraction of a second before quickly closing its wings again. By focusing on that spot at the back of the tent I got the shot above. Not the nice natural looking slate background that I had hoped for, but still a nice picture. 

1st August 2018

Whenever we visit the Scottish Highlands, we nearly always find a few moths that at first make us feel a bit unsure about our identification. 

It is well known that species such as Oak Eggar and Ruby Tiger have darker northern forms that are also occasionally found in the south, but it can be a surprise to visitors that are unfamiliar with the highland moths just how different some of the species can be.

In this case it was some specimens of Lesser Yellow Underwing Noctua comes that at first challenged our ID skills. Although many of this species in the south may have distinct markings on the pale brown wings and a few are slightly rufous, they are not usually a bright red-brown with dark markings, or the reverse of this with dark wings and rufous markings.

73.345 Lesser Yellow Underwing   Copyright Martin Evans

Lesser Yellow Underwing Noctua comes - Highland form

73.345 Lesser Yellow Underwing   Copyright Martin Evans

Lesser Yellow Underwing Noctua comes - Highland form

Another moth that has many forms even in the south of Britain is Ingrailed Clay Diarsia mendica, but in the Scottish Highlands these variations are taken to the extreme with red, yellow and grey forms.

73.333 Ingrailed Clay   Copyright Martin Evans

Ingrailed Clay Diarsia mendica

73.333 Ingrailed Clay - a Highland form   Copyright Martin Evans

Ingrailed Clay Diarsia mendica - Highland form

11th July 2018

While travelling to Scotland to visit family, my partner Carolyn and I stayed at Windermere in the Lake District. While returning to our hotel in the late afternoon I found the largest horsefly I had ever seen, sitting in the shade on the pavement.

It was quickly potted and taken back to the hotel to photograph. As it happens it was not just the largest fly I had ever seen, but at 25mm in length the largest British fly. 

It was a female Tabanus sudeticus. The females of this species have to feed on blood before they oviposit. Their main hosts are large mammals such as horses, cattle and deer, but they will bite humans. They do not pierce the skin as with insects such as bugs and mosquitoes, but cut an incision to let the blood run. The bite often causes painful swelling a few hours later.

The species can be recognised by the large size, very dark markings, the pale triangles on the abdomen not reaching right across the tergites, and the reddish base to the third part of the antennae. Males (which have no gap between the eyes when viewed from above) have larger facets in the upper part of the compound eye when compared with the lower part.

Tabanus sudeticus female dorsal Copyright Martin Evans

Tabanus sudeticus - Windermere

Tabanus sudeticus female face  Copyright Martin Evans

Tabanus sudeticus - Windermere

The species is most common in the western half of Britain and some southern parts of Ireland, especially the Scottish Highlands, Cumbria, most of Wales and Cornwall. Elsewhere in Britain the records are very scattered except for the New Forest where it is common.

15th June 2018

This was a visit with the Bristol and District Moth Group to Lower Woods NR at Wetmoor in Gloucestershire. With 10 people in attendance we ran 6 MV traps and 2 UV fluorescent traps from 9.30pm.  We packed up at around 1.30am, although the last light was probably turned off about half an hour later than that. 

Despite the temperature not being unusually warm (14C going down to 12C by 1.30am), we recorded 128 species of moth. 

Amongst these species were Incurvaria praeletella, Pseudosciaphila branderiana, Poplar Lutestring, Mocha, Scallop Shell, Maple Pug, Orange Moth, Brindled White-spot, Blotched Emerald, Little Emerald, Muslin Footman, Orange Footman, Rustic Shoulder-knot, Purple Clay, Green Arches and Short Cloaked.

The Notable (Nb) Pseudosciaphila branderiana was of interest as it was the first record in the Bristol area since the 1960's.

The species is commonly an almost uniform brown in colour, although at all of the three sites where I have recorded it (which were widely separated across southern England), the moth has been the banded form.

The larvae feed from within a rolled leaf, or two spun leaves of  Aspen Populus tremula. It is an uncommon moth, but is widely distributed across the southern half of England, although not in the south-west. The moth has a forewing length of 11 to 12mm.

Pseudosciaphila branderiana Copyright Martin Evans

Pseudosciaphila branderiana 

We attracted a large number of male Orange Moth Angerona prunaria of the commoner orange form, but I was interested in the female shown in the picture below, as I had not seen this more uncommon form for many years and did not have a good picture. It was one of the latest moths to arrive (as is normal with females of this species). The males are usually orange with small black dashes all over, or brown with an orange central blotch in each wing, making them reminiscent of a Meadow Brown butterfly. The females are similar, but often a paler orange or cream-yellow. The males have feathered antennae, while females have simple antennae.

The species has a wide distribution across southern English woodlands, the Wye Valley, north-west Wales, and a scattered, but wide distribution across Ireland. The larvae feed from August and again in the spring until May, on a wide variety of broadleaved trees, shrubs and climbers, including Honeysuckle and Old-man's Beard.

The moth in the picture was at the large end of its size range with a forewing length of 24mm.

70.230 Orange Moth - colour form  Copyright Martin Evans

70.230 Orange Moth - colour form 

25th May 2018

This trip was to Kingston Maurward gardens which are situated to the north east of Dorchester. Here Carolyn and I met up with our friend Helen, who on our walk around the garden pointed out a red beetle. I realised it was a tortoise beetle Cassida sp. because of its shape, but I had only ever seen the green species in the past.

The beetle was Cassida murraea. While an immature adult this species is green. It later continues being green or changes to yellow or red. 

Cassida murraea   Copyright Martin Evans

Cassida murraea   Kingston Maurward, Dorchester

The adult has been recorded feeding on Common Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica and Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre, making holes in the leaves.  The larvae feed under the leaves. Its wide, but local distribution is mainly a broad band from central southern England north-west to southern Wales and on the coast in the south-west. There are also a few records from east of the Midlands. The specimen found had a total length of 8mm.

24th May 2018

For the first time in many years of British holidays Carolyn and I chose a week when the forecast was for warm, dry weather. To our relief the forecast was  true. We were based in a very nice cottage north of Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset.

One of the local attractions is the Abbotsbury Sub-tropical Gardens. These are beautiful gardens with lots of exotic trees and shrubs and a large number of ferns. 

I knew the site was home to Pachyrhabda steropodes, a micro-moth in the family Stathmopodidae, discovered by Phil Sterling back in 2010. The species is an Australasian adventive that has naturalised in the garden and was thought to have arrived with imported ferns. It had previously been reported to fly in April, but other naturalised Australasian species such as Epiphyas postvittana and Tachystola acroxantha have a long season with overlapping broods, and as this was a 'late' season anyway, I was hopeful of finding them in late May.

I was not disapponted, as it did not take long to find large numbers of them flying in the sunshine around the many Soft Shield Ferns Polystichum setiferum found throughout the gardens. I probably saw several hundreds throughout the day, all of them around Soft Shield Fern. I did see them resting on other ferns including Broad Buckler Fern Dryopteris dilatata, but the Soft Shield Fern was always adjacent or very close. The larvae feed from tubes on the ferns sporangia on the underside of the leaves.

42.001 Pachyrhabda steropodes   Copyright Martin Evans

Pachyrhabda steropodes  Abbotsbury

We visited several other gardens in the Dorchester area, and each time I searched the ferns for this species, but did not find them. In late April 2014 Chris Manley reported that he had confirmed the presence of the moth in Aberglasney Gardens, Carmarthenshire, on Hard Fern / Deer Fern Blechnum spicant, where they had been rumoured to be present in 2005. As the species seems to be associated with native ferns, it could be present elsewhere in planted gardens or damp woodland in southern Britain or Ireland. The moths at Abbotsbury had a forewing length up to about 5mm.

The only native moth in the family Stathmopodidae is Stathmopoda pedella. This species looks superficially similar, but with more prominent straight, rather than angled bands. The larvae feed on the unripe seeds of Alder Alnus spp. The adults fly in July, and have a forewing length of about 5mm.

 

 

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