As we travel widely during the summer looking for insects to photograph,
Roger and I have decided to put a record of our more interesting finds on this
27th October 2009
As the weather was unusually mild for the time of year, Roger
and I decided to do some moth trapping near Shapwick on the Somerset Levels.
We attracted quite a few moth species, including the November
Red-green Carpet, and micro-moths such as Acleris
emergana and Diurnea lipsiella.
Also in the trap were several male Deer Fly Lipoptena
known as the Deer Ked). These flies
are parasitic on deer. On the Somerset Levels the host would be Roe Deer,
although elsewhere in Britain Red Deer, Fallow Deer and others are also hosts. The flies drop onto the
deer from overhanging trees and shrubs. They then shed
their wings and attach to the deer. As you can
see in the picture below the feet are modified so that they can cling on.
They also have flattened bodies so that they can crawl into narrow spaces.
While they have the wings intact, the females can be
separated from the males by the broader abdomen and the darker colour, but when
the males have joined the females on the deer and shed their wings, they darken
and their abdomens become broader.
There are a number of other native blood sucking flies in the
family Hippoboscidae, including
the bird parasites
Ornithomyia, and the wingless Sheep Ked which is of economic
importance. The females of these flies produce one larva at a time (rather than
an egg) which pupates as soon as it is born.
Deer Fly upper side
Deer Fly under side
This warm, dry September has meant that summer species with
an occasional second brood have appeared. The Eudonia pallida in
the picture below has just turned up in my garden trap in west Bristol*. It
normally flies in June and July, but in suitable years may turn up in August and
It is a wetland species, so not a moth I normally get in the
garden, although I do have a garden pond with lots of marsh vegetation. This
specimen had a forewing length of around 8mm. The larvae are thought to live on
*Unlike in the Bristol area this moth is not unusual along the south coast.
The numbers are possibly reinforced my immigrants.
Eudonia pallida, Bristol
9th September 2009
On a the way to visiting her family in Scotland, Carolyn and
I took a detour through Perthshire and visited the area around Trinafour. In
September there are a lot less insect species flying on the moorland, but we did
find a rather ragged Dark Green Fritillary, some rather fresher Common
Blue and Peacock butterflies, and a small colony of Scotch Argus Erebia
Although in England there are just a couple of colonies in
the Lake District, the Scotch Argus is locally abundant in sheltered
areas of grassland in Scotland. The first larvae hatch in late August and
finally pupate the following year between late June and early August. They feed
on Purple Moor Grass Molinia caerulea in Scotland and Blue Moor Grass Sesleria
caerulea in Cumbria. The adults are on the wing from late July until early
25th August 2009
The Treble-bar Aplocera plagiata and Lesser Treble-bar
Aplocera efformata are often confused because the characteristic used to
identify them is the angle at the costal end of the first bar on the forewing.
Although in many cases there is a 90 degrees or more angle in the Treble-bar, and
less than 90 degrees in the Lesser Treble-bar, there are also a lot of Lesser
Treble-bars which also have a 90 degree angle.
Both species are on the wing in May and June and again in
August and September. The larval food plants of both are St. John's-wort Hypericum
spp. These similarities probably add to the confusion in the identification.
Roger and I went over to Greenham Common near Newbury to look
for treble-bars. There were several reports on the internet of both species
being frequent there, with a higher proportion of Lesser Treble-bars. We were impressed by the good quality of the site, which is
an area of acid grassland and heath on a sandy soil.
We soon saw some
treble-bars fly up from the grass. After about three quarters of an hour we had
found 25 to 30 Lesser Treble-bar, but no Treble-bar. The specimens we
netted had a wing length of between 15 to 17mm, with the smallest being a
Lesser Treble-bar with an acute angle on the first bar
Lesser Treble-bar, with a right angle on the first bar
In Waring and Townsend's Field
Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland the Treble-bar is said to
have a wing
length of 19 to 22mm and the Lesser Treble-bar has a wing length of 16
to 19mm. On size alone this made the Greenham Common moths all Lesser
Two days later (27th August 2009) we went
to a calcareous downland site in North Somerset. We struggled to find any moths at first, but when the sun came out we recorded twenty plus Treble-bar.
These were noticeably larger than the moths we had seen at Greenham Common,
although we would probably not have noticed the size difference if we had not
seen the others so recently.
Treble-bar with a rounded, right angle on first bar
The moths we measured at this site had a wing length of 19 or
20mm. The first bar was angled at 90 degrees or more, and rounded when compared
with the often acute and sharp angle of the Lesser Treble-bar.
A feature that is illustrated in Waring and Townsend, and was
the deciding factor in identification for us, was the tip of the abdomen. This is
long in both sexes of the Treble-bar, but short and blunt in the Lesser
Treble-bar. This is easily seen from below in live specimens, as in the
19th August 2009
While 'sugaring' for moths on the east side of Portland Bill,
Roger and I were surprised to find that we had attracted a number of small
cockroaches. These turned out to be the Tawny Cockroach Ectobius
pallidus. We had attracted several adult specimens.
Most people think of cockroaches as fast moving, insect pests,
inhabiting the kitchens of less than hygienic restaurants. In fact these pest
do not include any of our native cockroaches. The usual species
that become a problem in such places are the German Cockroach Blattella germanica,
Oriental Cockroach Blatta orientalis and American Cockroach Periplaneta
There are other cockroaches that have arrived in Britain with foreign
produce and have established themselves at least temporarily. These include the
Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae, the Brown-banded
Cockroach Supella longipalpa and the Surinam Cockroach
Unlike the aliens the three cockroaches native to southern
Britain (Tawny Cockroach Ectobius
pallidus, Lesser Cockroach Capraiellus panzeri and
the Dusky Cockroach Ectobius lapponicus) live outside and
are never pests. Their life style is more like that of crickets than the aliens mentioned above.
Tawny Cockroach - male, Portland Bill
The Tawny Cockroach is a small species when compared
with the aliens. The specimen in the picture above
had a total length of 8.5mm. The German Cockroach is
twice this size, the Oriental up to 30mm and the American over 40mm.
The Tawny is found in a wide range of habitats, but not
usually too far from the coast. These habitats include heathland, downland,
woodland rides and maritime sites such as sand dunes and in this case, cliffs.
It is distributed throughout the most southerly counties of England, up the
coast as far as Norfolk, and on the Gower in South Wales.
The species is omnivorous, it can fly, is mainly nocturnal
and has a two year lifecycle, over-wintering as larvae.
Also attracted to the same 'sugar' bait
were what I had thought were several larvae of Tawny Cockroach, but an email from
Arp Kruithof pointed out that what I actually had were the short winged females
of the Lesser Cockroach Capraiellus panzeri. The specimen in the
picture at 7.5mm in length was even smaller than the Tawny Cockroach. It is the
most maritime of the native species and sometimes found locally in large numbers
in sand dunes and on shingle beaches, especially along the south coast of
Lesser Cockroach - female, Portland Bill
9th August 2009
The New Forest is well known for scarce insects including
many rare moths, so we decided to try a spot of 'sugaring'. The place we visited
is a site that has been a traditional haunt of lepidopterists for so long, that
the oaks in the area have permanent sugar stains on them.
The food source has not gone unnoticed by local wildlife
other than moths, and during the evening there were visits by Hornets, Violet
Ground Beetles, Oak Bush-crickets and various spiders. On two
occasions we found Common Toads Bufo bufo sitting at the bottom of
trees, waiting for insects to land on the drips from the sugar on the trunk
Common Toad 'sugaring'
Another visitor that we encountered on an early check of the
sugar was a large (16 or 17cm) Leopard Slug Limax maximus. On a
visit later in the evening, Roger called me across to witness a sight that I had
seen on film, but never personally witnessed; two Leopard Slugs hanging from a
thread of mucus while they mated.
At first they just entwined while hanging from the mucus.
They then everted their male organs from behind their heads and entwined them,
forming what looked like a blue flower. At this stage sperm is passed from one
to the other. When they had both been fertilised they separated and slithered
off in different directions.
Leopard Slugs mating
25th July 2009
Pant-y-sais NNR and the adjacent canal are to the east of
Swansea in South Wales. Carolyn and I visited the site because there are a couple of
moths recorded there that I would like to photograph. The reserve consists of a
large area of coastal reed bed which is permanently flooded. As it is so wet, there are board
walks to walk on.
We saw very few insects of interest from the board walks, but
we did see some very interesting species along the adjacent canal.
On two occasions we found a female
Fen Raft Spider Dolomedes
plantarius. The first was sitting under a leaf guarding a large egg sac.
The second was in a dense nursery web with hundreds of young spiders surrounding her.
This is one of two very large species (females up to 20mm body length) that in
other countries are known as 'fishing spiders'. This is because they sit at the
side of a pool with their legs touching the water and when they detect movement
they run out and grab insects, tadpoles and even small fish to eat. They can
walk on the water surface and also remain under water for long periods of time.
The similar looking Dolomedes fimbriatus is local but more widely
distributed throughout Britain, while Dolomedes plantarius is very rare
and only known from a few other sites in Norfolk, Suffolk and Sussex.
Dolomedes plantarius, Canal
The first reaction of most
people to having a horse-fly land on them is to swat it, but if you can resist
doing that, and study them, you may find them an interesting group of insects.
Even the dull, mottled-grey cleggs have beautiful eyes and interesting life
The clegg that is usually found is Haematopota pluvialis,
but at Pant-y-sais a rather slim looking fly landed on me. I noticed that it
looked different, so I captured it so that I could take a photograph. It was Haematopota
grandis, a species that is found locally in coastal saltmarshes along
the southern coasts of England and Wales. The most obvious difference
between this species and H.pluvialis is the first segment of the antennae
which is longer than on other confirmed British species of Haematopota.
This makes the antennae look noticeably longer. The first antennal segment is
also wholly dull grey in colour, rather than a shiny black on the forward half,
as in other species.
Haematopota grandis, Canal
We also found Oxycera rara near the canal
(body length 7mm). This is a beautiful little soldierfly, and although small it
is one of the largest of the eleven species in the genus, which vary from 3 to
7mm in length.
It is one of the commonest of the Oxycera, but despite
this it is a local, but widespread, wetland species found as far north as
Yorkshire. A few of the other Oxycera are of a similar size and as
colourful as Oxycera rara, but this species differs in being
entirely black on the second tergite (second dorsal plate on the abdomen).
Oxycera rara, Canal
Other species found along the canal were Hornet Robberfly
and an Emperor Moth (final instar larva).
16th July 2009
On the way back from Scotland, Roger and I decided to stop
off and explore the hills to the east of Tebay in Cumbria. We found several
interesting species including Crambus ericinella, Muslin
Footman, Beautiful Yellow Underwing and Philedone gerningana.
Philedone gerningana is a totricoid moth that
that looks like a small bright version of the alien species Epiphyas
adults fly in July and August, and as can be seen in the picture, the males have
The moth occurs locally on mountain heaths and limestone
habitats from Cornwall and Kent to as far north as the Shetlands. The larvae
feed on a wide variety of low plants including Rock-rose, Bilberry and Thrift.
14th July 2009 - afternoon
As the weather stayed fine, we decided to go east to the
Braemar area in the afternoon, to search for Black Mountain Moth. This
species is found locally in Scotland, but only above the heather line where the
ground becomes more eroded and Crowberry becomes more abundant.
On the way up the mountain at about 600 metres height, we saw
several moths fly over the heather and across the path. In flight they looked as
if they would be white with black markings, but when we finally got close enough
to see one, we found that that it had very dark forewings as it was a Grey Mountain Carpet
Entephria caesiata. This moth can be found locally in South Wales,
but is more common in North Wales, northern England and Scotland. Although it is
a high moorland and mountain species, it is found in the valleys of mountainous
areas and unlike the Black Mountain Moth is not restricted to the mountain tops.
It flies from late June to August in the south of its range, but as late as
early October in the north of Scotland. The larvae feed on Heather and Bilberry.
Grey Mountain Carpet - dark form, Braemar
The Black Mountain Moth Glacies coracina flies
in June and July, and although it can be found as low as 600 metres, we did not
find any until we were at about 800 metres. Here the ground was very stony and
Crowberry, its larval foodplant, was abundant. We found a total of three. The
first flew about a metre off the ground and disappeared out of sight when it
landed only a couple of metres away. The second was the female in the photograph
below, which did not fly, but just 'hopped' along the ground with its wings
open. It had a wing length of about 11mm. The final moth was a very worn, almost
Black Mountain Moth, Braemar
Amongst other species found at around 750 to 800 metres (the
heather line) were the micro-moth Pleurota bicostella, the large
tortricoid moth Olethreutes schulziana and a Common Frog.
14th July 2009 -
The morning started off with rain, but we decided to go out
with the hope that it would clear. We visited a local area of marshy grassland
where the rain stopped. We were surprised by the variety of insect species at
the site, especially lepidoptera.
As we walked through the long (and wet) grass, dozens of
grass moths flew up ahead of us. These were mainly Agriphila straminella,
but Catoptria margaritella were also abundant. Catoptria
often referred to in books and websites as only being nocturnal, but this is not
the case, as at this site they were flying in the day as willingly as Agriphila straminella.
The larvae are thought to feed on mosses. In captivity they have been reared on Campylopus
flexuosus and Eriophorum angustifolium.
Catoptria margaritella, Granton-on-Spey.
We also found Rannoch Looper, Chimney Sweeper, Smoky
Wave and a large number of other moths in this marshy area. Two of the nine
butterflies that we found were species that are typically Scottish. These were Large Heath Coenonympha tullia
scotica and the Scottish form of the Northern or Scotch
Brown Argus Aricia artaxerxes.
We only saw one Large Heath, but found at least fifteen of
Brown Argus. The larvae of this butterfly feed on Common Rock-rose. Like many other 'blue' butterflies the larvae have an association
Brown Argus, Granton-on-Spey.
The Large Heath is much larger than a Small Heath and nearer the size
of a Meadow Brown. There are two main British forms and a subspecies. The
darkest and most brightly marked is f.davus which is found from the
Midlands northwards in England. The largely orange f.polydama is found in
the far north of England, southern Scotland, north-west Wales and Ireland. The
one we found was the subspecies scotica. This has paler colours
and is found in northern Scotland. The larvae feed on Hare's-tail grass Eriophorum
vaginatum and sometimes White-beaked Sedge Rhynochospora alba. Like
the Grayling butterfly, this species does not open its wings to bask, but turns
to capture the sunlight on the outside of its wings.
Large Heath subspecies scotica, Granton-on-Spey.
13th July 2009
For the second time this year, Roger and I visited Scotland
together. We had been waiting for the
weather to improve, but eventually we decided to just go and hope the weather
was not as bad as the forecast. We first took a trip to the Argyll coast
where we were rewarded with some fine weather and saw Sea Eagle, Golden
Eagle, Otter and briefly a Pine Marten.
We then went across to Speyside where the weather was not
quite so good.
8th July 2009
This trip was to Portland. We spent the afternoon walking the
cliff tops and quarries looking for lepidoptera. One of the commonest species
that we saw was the Lulworth Skipper Thymelicus acteon. This
butterfly is found mainly along the coast from Lulworth Cove to Weymouth and can
be abundant within the colonies.
They are smaller than Small Skippers, but have dark markings
on the upper side of the wings which are a similar colour to those of the Large
Skipper. The females are distinctive in that they have a semi-circle of
orange-gold marks which stand out against the dark forewing. The larvae feed on
Lulworth Skipper, Portland.
In at least one of the quarries there is a colony of Wall
Lizards. The colour form in the quarry looks like a slim, long-tailed Common
or Viviparous Lizard, but has different habits. Whereas Common Lizards spend
most of their time amongst the grass or heather, Wall Lizards prefer to climb
about and bask on the sides of rocks.
In the evening we moth trapped using a 125W Mercury Vapour.
Unfortunately even though in the day we had chosen a well sheltered quarry on
the side of the cliffs, the wind direction changed and we spent the evening
feeling very cold with some moths being blown off the sheet. Despite this we had
a good selection of species including Crescent Dart, Rosy Veneer, Lobesia
abscisana, Bordered Sallow and Cypress Carpet Thera
The latter is a species that has recently naturalised along
the south coast and in the last three or four years extended its range
northwards to at least as far as Gloucestershire. The larvae feed on Monterey
Cypress and Lawson's Cypress.
Cypress Carpet, Portland.
1st July 2009
Although a long journey for us from Bristol, we usually find
something unusual on the Kent coast. On this visit we managed to photograph Sub-angled
Wave Scopula nigropunctata. We only found one, but it was a good
specimen as you can see from the picture.
This species is very rare and is only known as a resident
from Kent and possibly Sussex. It also turns up occasionally as a migrant. It is
similar to the Cream Wave and Dwarf Cream Wave, but these have a less distinct dot on
the forewing, a less sharp angle on the outer edge of the
hind wing and the central bar across the wings is not usually so broad..
The larvae probably feed on Travellers-joy and low plants
such as tares and others in the pea family.
Sub-angled Wave, Kent.
Other species found along the coast were Orange-tailed
Clearwing, Dew Moth and the pale form of the female Clouded Yellow
19th June 2009
This was a very wet day, but we decided to take a
trip south from Salen where were staying to the Ross of Mull. On the way we
stopped for a while in a brief period of sunshine and discovered a colony of Transparent Burnet Zygaena
purpuralis caledonensis on a south facing, grassy bank, facing the sea. There were at
least fifty in the colony. They were feeding mainly at the flowers of Fragrant
Orchid, Thyme and Marsh Thistle. The larvae of this species feed on Thyme Thymus
This Scottish subspecies is found on the inner Hebridean
isIands and a few sites on the coasts of Argyll and Kintyre. There is an Irish
race ssp. sabulosa which is also rare, and an extinct race from Wales ssp.
segontii that has not been recorded since 1962.
On the same bank as we found the burnets, we also found Chimney
Sweeper, Pyrausta nigrata and Small Pearl-bordered
Transparent Burnet, Mull
Two of the species that many visitors want to see on Mull are
Sea Eagle and Otter. We were fortunate to have seen a Sea Eagle quite low
and directly overhead the previous day, and another from our bedroom window that
morning, but the Otters had not been seen despite careful searching of the
shoreline of every loch we had been near. Our luck changed on this, our last
evening on Mull. At about 9.20pm, while passing Loch Na Keal on our way home, we
saw an Otter swimming at the surface of the water near the shore, and to
our surprise about a mile further on we saw what we think was a female with two
full grown young. The last three spent most of their time surfacing and diving,
but always staying close together.
This unpromising wet day had turned out to be a gem and was
polished off with a sighting of a Barn Owl sitting on a roadside post
about ten feet from the car just outside Salen where we were staying.
14th June 2009
Carolyn and I chose the Isle of Mull, just off the west coast
of Scotland as our holiday destination, as I wanted to photograph several of the
local moths and she wanted to paint some of the beautiful landscape. We
travelled there by car and went across to Mull on the ferry from Oban.
Much of the week turned out to consist of rain with sunny
periods, but we still managed to achieve most of our objectives for the week.
Our first visit was to a site for Slender Scotch Burnet Zygaena loti
a beautiful sunny day.
This species has five spots, the two basal spots consisting
of streaks while the outer spot is large and usually kidney shaped. The moth
also has yellow legs.
Many of the moths we found were of an aberration where the
dorsal spots are joined, sometimes only by a thin red line along a vein in the
wing, but on others the spots were joined by a thick red bar.
The species is now only found on Mull and the adjacent island
of Ulva. The larvae feed on Bird's-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus usually
growing on south facing, dry grassland slopes.
Slender Scotch Burnet aberration, Mull.
There were several Golden-ringed Dragonflies Cordulegaster
boltonii flying along the gully at the bottom of the bank where
the burnets were found. This is a large distinctive species which breeds in
small, shallow, acid streams. The adults can be found from May until September.
Golden-ringed Dragonfly - male, Mull
In the same area we also found Pyrausta nigrata,
Grey Scalloped Bar, Cream Wave, Smoky Wave, Green
Hairstreak, Dark Green Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary,
Four-spotted Chaser and Green Tiger Beetle.
I also found more ticks than I had ever encountered before!
After leaning against the bank to photograph the burnets I removed over
fifty from my clothes and skin. They varied from larvae to quite large
Checking for ticks each night became a habit during this
trip. Apart from not wanting ticks on us anyway, the threat of Lymes Disease is
supposed to be lowered if you remove them within twenty-four hours.
2nd June 2009
Another hot day tempted us to travel to the Surrey heaths. Here we recorded an abundance of
Common Heath and Grass Wave and also a male Silver-studded
Blue. Grass Wave is a species that is fairly common in that habitat, but hardly known to us in the
Bristol area where the moths
food plants are scarce (Heather, Broom and Petty Whin) as it is
mainly an area of neutral to calcareous grasslands.
A rare species that we found was the bee-fly Thyridanthrax fenestratus. This striking fly is usually seen
resting on bare sand on the southern heaths. Its larvae live in the burrows of the sand wasp
Ammophila pubescens, which were common along the sandy tracks of
The sand wasp fills a burrow with caterpillars then lays an egg on them. The
young larva feeds on the caterpillars. After hatching in the sand the
Thyridanthrax fenestratus larva crawls into the burrow (or clings on to
caterpillars being taken in). It will then parasitize the sand wasp larva.
Thyridanthrax fenestratus - female. Surrey heaths.