Travel Notes

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 website. 

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 Moths, Red-green Carpet, and micro-moths such as Acleris emergana and Diurnea lipsiella.

Also in the trap were several male Deer Fly Lipoptena cervi (sometimes 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

30th September 2009

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 September.

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 mosses.

*Unlike in the Bristol area this moth is not unusual along the south coast. The numbers are possibly reinforced my immigrants.

Eudonia pallida   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 aethiops

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 September.

Scotch Argus  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Scotch Argus

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 female. 

Lesser Treble-bar   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Lesser Treble-bar with an acute angle on the first bar

Lesser Treble-bar   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 Treble-bar.

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   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 pictures below.

treble-bar abdomens  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK


Lesser Treble-bar





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 species 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 americana.

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 Pycnoscelus surinamensis.

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 Ectobius pallidus  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 England.

Lesser Cockroach Capraiellus panzeri female  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 above.

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.

Fen Raft Spider Dolomedes plantarius   Copyright Carolyn Lamb@WGUK

Dolomedes plantarius,  Canal at Pant-y-sais

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 cycles.

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.

Haemapotopa grandis  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Haematopota grandis, Canal at Pant-y-sais

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  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Oxycera rara, Canal at Pant-y-sais

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 postvittana. The adults fly in July and August, and as can be seen in the picture, the males have feathered antennae. 

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.

Philedone gerningana  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Philedone gerningana

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  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 transparent specimen. 

Black Mountain Moth  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 - morning

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 margaritella is 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  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 the Scotch Brown Argus. The larvae of this butterfly feed on Common Rock-rose. Like many other 'blue' butterflies the larvae have an association with ants.

Scotch Brown Argus  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Scotch 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    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 Tor Grass.

Lulworth Skipper  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 cupressata.

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   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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 f.helice.

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 polytrichus. 

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 Fritillary.

Transparent Burnet  Copyright Carolyn Lamb@WGUK

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 on 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  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

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  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Golden-ringed Dragonfly - male, Mull

In the same area we also found Pyrausta nigrata, Grey Scalloped Bar, Cream Wave, Smoky WaveGreen 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 specimens.

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 heath. 

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  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Thyridanthrax fenestratus - female. Surrey heaths.






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