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.

17th November 2011

Early in November Roger visited woodland in central Gloucestershire in search of the Plumed Prominent, a moth that flies from late October and on through November into December. On his first attempt he did not find it despite catching plenty of moths. These included several Red-green Carpet, a Dark Chestnut and a Northern Winter Moth.

On his second trip on 17th November he caught several Northern Winter Moth, a Chestnut, a Satellite (the form with a white stigma and satellites), Acleris hastiana (the streaked form) and a male Plumed Prominent.

Plumed Prominent  Ptilophora plumigera    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Plumed Prominent  Ptilophora plumigera

The Plumed Prominent Ptilophora plumigera is a species that is found locally in the central south and south-east of England. The only northern records seem to be three late 19th Century larva records for Northumberland.

The moth has a national status of Na, but may be more widespread as it is likely to be under recorded. This is because it flies at a time when few moth traps are being run other than in gardens. This means a concerted effort would be needed to find it.

The larvae of this species feed mainly on Field Maple, but also on Sycamore. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 17mm.

Longhorn Beetle

Although not really a 'travel note' as the title at the top of the page says, the following beetle had obviously travelled, even if I had not.

Stenygrinum quadrinotatum   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Stenygrinum quadrinotatum

On 26th June this year I was about to leave our garage through a door which leads into the house when I noticed a beetle standing up on its hind legs and leaning against the bottom of the window pane, obviously attracted to the light of the kitchen.

I put the beetle in a glass pot and took it into the light of the kitchen so that I could have a look at it. It was about 9mm total length (jaws to tip of abdomen) and orange brown in colour with two cream coloured spots on each elytra (wing cases). I recognised it as a longhorn beetle, but I had never seen a similar species. I checked the books I have, but still had no clue to what it was except that it might well be an alien species introduced accidentally into the house.

This was a mystery in itself as the wood that I had stored in the garage had been there for six or seven years and although the lifecycle of longhorn beetles may take a while, I thought that this was too long a period for the wood to be the likely source.

After taking a few pictures I decided to give it to Ray Barnett who is the collections manager for Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives. He checked it against the Museum coleoptera collection, but did not find anything similar. Ray decided to send one of my pictures to the Natural History Museum in London, so that they could identify it.

This message came back from Max Barclay the Collections Manager and Senior Curator of Beetles (Coleoptera) and True Bugs (Hemiptera) at the Department of Entomology.

"Your beast is

Stenygrinum quadrinotatum Bates 1873: Cerambycinae: Callidiopini

It is from the Russian Far East, China, Korea and Japan; I have not heard of invasive populations though it has been listed a pest in Japan I think; probably like Agrilus planipennis and Anoplophora glabripennis (both now serious pests in USA). It was imported with wood products as larvae.

I don't suppose you have a spare specimen?"

It is likely that the species is new to Britain and that is why there was an identification problem.

I have given further thought to its source and have decided that it may be from a wooden shelter that my partner Carolyn uses for her Guinea Pigs when they are in their run in the garden.

The shelter forms an arc and is made from sticks (of several species) wired together. On inspection a few of the sticks (which looked similar in colour and texture) had exit holes in them. The shelters are imported into the UK by a company based in Germany, but I do not know from where.

3rd October 2011

As the weather forecast stated that this was to be the last night of warm southerly winds and a lot of migrant activity had been reported, Roger and I decided that we would take the moth traps down to Portland Bill on the south coast of Dorset.

As we neared Dorchester on the trip down we encountered a thick fog and a breeze. We began to wonder whether we would be trapping at all, as wet traps are not good for moth trapping. The moths will arrive, but are damaged by the water that condenses on the plastic and metal surfaces of the trap.

Fortunately although still foggy on Portland, in the shelter of the cliffs and quarries it was much drier with less breeze. We turned on the lights at 7.15 pm, as it was already quite dark with the overcast sky. Within three quarters of an hour we had fourteen species of moth and several of them were migrants.

By the end of the night we had caught thirty-two species including nine migrants which consisted of 3x Udea ferrugalis, 6x Nomophila noctuella, 1x Small Mottled Willow, 1x Bordered Straw, 1x Diasemiopsis ramburialis, 2x Small Marbled, 1x Ni Moth, 1x Vestal and 2x Silver Y.

Bordered Straw Heliothis peltigera is a regular migrant (although not found every year) often reaching as far north as Yorkshire and Lancashire and occasionally as far north as the Shetland Isles and Northern Ireland. They usually arrive between June and September, but may be earlier or later. In years of high migrant activity, larvae are sometimes found, especially in the southern coastal counties. They feed on a wide variety of low growing plants. The moth in the picture below had a forewing length of 16mm.

Bordered Straw Heliothis peltigera   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Bordered Straw Heliothis peltigera - Portland

The Ni Moth Trichoplusia ni has also become a regular, but not common migrant over the last decade. It looks similar to the Silver Y, but has a more ornate outer forewing and often has the 'y' broken into two separate parts. It occasionally breeds in Britain, but does not survive the winter. The larvae feed on herbaceous plants such as Mouse-eared Hawkweed and Sea Rocket, as well as cultivated species such as Cabbage, Cucumber, Tomato and marigolds. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 16.5mm.

Ni Moth Trichoplusia ni   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Ni Moth - Portland.

Diasemiopsis ramburialis is an occasional migrant in Britain, arriving mainly from July to October from southern Europe. It is widespread and is found in the tropics as far away as Fiji and Australia. It is not known to have bred in Britain. The lifecycle is unclear although the larvae may feed on plants in the Brassica family. It is a micro-moth in the family Crambidae, with this moth having a forewing length of 9mm.

Diasemiopsis ramburialis     Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Diasemiopsis ramburialis  - Portland.

Two Small Marbled Eublemma parva came to the light during the evening, one of them was the light form and the other had dark contrasting markings. The larvae feed on plants such as Common Fleabane and Ploughman's-spikenard. They have been known to breed in previous years of high immigration, but 2011 seems to have produced quite a number of breeding reports. Many of the moths produced from this breeding have been of the dark form.

There have been reports of the moth being found in the day resting on the flower heads of Fleabane. The paler moth that we caught had a forewing length of 6.5mm, the darker moth was larger at 8mm.

Small Marbled Eublemma parva - light form    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Small Marbled Eublemma parva - pale form, Portland

Small Marbled Eublemma parva - dark form    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Small Marbled Eublemma parva - dark form, Portland

15th September 2011

The Mendip Hills in Somerset. We had intended to visit some moorland on the Mendips, but as we got near to the site, the sky got clearer and the air got cooler. Instead of staying at the 15C that it was when we left Bristol, it was already down to 10.5C when we reached the site. The speed that the temperature was dropping persuaded us that a more sheltered place was appropriate, and for that reason we moved to a sloping area of limestone grassland sheltered by some adjacent woodland. Here the temperature was warmer at around 13.5C.

We only set up one trap, which had a 125W MV bulb. Due to our change of site we started late, so the light went on at 8.30 pm, about half an hour after it was dark. Moths arrived almost immediately.

During the evening we attracted 18 macro-moth species, but no micros. Not a large number even for this time of year, but with a clear sky and a large moon appearing over the horizon at around 10.00 pm conditions were not ideal. By 10.30 pm the moths had stopped coming to the light and it was getting cooler, so we decided to pack up.

We did get some typical grassland species such as Hedge Rustic Tholera cespitis and Feathered Gothic Tholera decimalis, so we were not disappointed. The Feathered Gothic appears to have been very common in the West Country this year. The moth is widely distributed in England and Wales, but is found more sparsely in southern Scotland and across Ireland. It flies in late August and September on downland and other grassy sites. The species overwinters as an egg, with the larvae emerging to feed on grasses in the spring. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 19mm.

Feathered Gothic Tholera decimalis   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Feathered Gothic Tholera decimalis

Another beautiful species that came to the light was Autumnal Rustic Eugnorisma glareosa. This moth is widespread but local throughout most of Britain and Ireland. Northern moths are mainly grey and black, while those in the south often have a rosy hue like the one in the picture. The moth is on the wing in late August and September and as the larvae feed on a wide variety of plants including heather, birches, bluebells and grasses, it can be found in a variety of habitats from woodland edge to moorland. It overwinters as a small larva. The moth in the picture had a forewing length of 16mm.

Autumnal Rustic Eugnorisma glareosa   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Autumnal Rustic Eugnorisma glareosa

10th August 2011

Nearly twenty years ago, the late Ken Poole told me of a wetland site in the Mendips area of Somerset where Fen Wainscot Arenstola phragmitidis could be found. Those living in Lancashire, Cumbria, the east of England south of southern Yorkshire, or along the southern coast east of south Devon may say, "So what, this is a common species", but in most of the west country and Wales this moth is scarce.

So for the last twenty years I have been meaning to go and check it out. The problem was that July and August (when it is flying) are the busiest months for those interested in moths, so I never quite got around to it. I either forgot it altogether, or remembered it in mid-August and thought I would leave it until the following year and catch one early in its flight period when I could get a good specimen to photograph.

This year Roger and I trapped for it and were surprised how quickly we attracted one. We turned the light on at dusk (which was about 9.25pm) and had one within ten minutes. In fact it was the third moth to be attracted to the light. Another surprise was that the half dozen we caught during the evening were nearly perfect. We expected at least some of them to be damaged, as they were supposed to have been flying for several weeks.

The Fen Wainscot larva feeds in the stems of Common Reed Phragmites australis from April until June, then pupates on the ground. The moth in the picture had a forewing length of 14mm.

Fen Wainscot Arenostola phragmitidis    Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

  Fen Wainscot  Mendips, Somerset

Amongst the other fifty species we saw that night were several Straw Underwing, the orange form of Tawny Pug, Merrifieldia leucodactyla (a plume moth), Chilo phragmatella, Catoptria pinella, Acleris emargana, Acompsia cinerella and Depressaria pulcherrimella.

Depressaria pulcherrimella is widespread, but local in England, Scotland and Wales, but apparently very rare in  Ireland, with what appears to be a single record from Co.Clare.

The larvae feed on umbellifers such as Burnet Saxifrage, Wild Carrot and Pignut. The adult moth has been recorded from June until September. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 8mm.

Depressaria pulcherrimella  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Depressaria pulcherrimella  Mendips, Somerset

4th August 2011

Most people that get interested in moths start off with the larger species known as macro-moths and many are quite happy to stay with them. After all there are plenty of them and there are several good books which allow a definite identification of all but a few which need to have their genitalia checked. Why get involved with micro-moths that require several more expensive books and because of the sheer number and variety of forms are more difficult to identify?

Looking at it from a different view point, perhaps it is this very difficulty and variety that keeps those that are interested, 'hooked' on the subject.

While trapping in South Wales we attracted a large number of Epinotia species. The variety of colours gave the impression that there were several species involved. The similar size and shape (7 to 8mm forewing length) gave us a clue that they were perhaps all the same species.

Taking photographs of them in the same pose and placing these photographs next to each other certainly helped, as this showed the similarity in the markings despite their different colours and shades.

The moths were Epinotia nisella one of the more variable species. Four of the more pronounced forms we found are shown in the pictures below.

Epinotia nisella  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Epinotia nisella

Epinotia nisella  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Epinotia nisella

Epinotia nisella  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Epinotia nisella

Epinotia nisella  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Epinotia nisella

The larvae of this moth feed from April until June on Salix and Populus species, including Grey Willow, Goat Willow, Aspen and other poplars. The habitat is therefore often wetland, but they are also found in damp woodland, parks and gardens.

The moth flies during July and August. It is found throughout Britain apart from much of the Highlands of Scotland.

14th July 2011

South Wales near Abertillery. The large hills that form the valleys of South Wales are in many cases clothed in Heather and Bilberry forming large areas of moorland. Often the only shelter from the wind is in the gullies formed by the water running off of these hills. It was high up in one of these gullies that Roger and I decided to moth trap. As we do not have a four wheel drive vehicle, the only way to get up there was to walk, so we decided to use a portable trap that runs a 26W high UV bulb.

This was successful, as we saw hundreds of moths during what was not a particularly warm night, although there were only a couple of dozen species at the trap. This is not surprising as moorland does not support as many species as other habitats such as woodland and botanically rich grassland.

By far the commonest moths were Twin-spot Carpet and Northern Spinach, both of which can be found commonly even in the day. They were resting on the heather in their hundreds  when we finished trapping at nearly 3.00 am in the morning.

One of the rarest moths that came to the light was the Double Line Mythimna turca. This species has a national status of Notable B, but appears to be declining. South Wales does seem to be one of its strongholds, although elsewhere it is found mainly in west Wales, Devon and North Cornwall with a more scattered distribution across the Midlands and southern England.

The larvae feed on coarse grasses such as Cock's-foot, and also Wood-rush. This is probably why we trapped it where we did,  as many species of grasses grow alongside the stream in the gully. The moth is typically found in June and July in open woodland or parkland in the south-east of England, or coarse, wet grassland in Wales. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 21mm.

Double Line Mythimna turca   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Double Line Mythimna turca

Easily the most spectacular moths of the night were the seven Garden Tigers Arctia caja that came in at exactly 12.30am and flew around the light at intervals until it went out.

When moth trapping in the summer, if you are not going to trap all night, then it is always worth keeping the light on until about 1.00am, as many species do not fly until after midnight and the majority of these seem to arrive at about 12.30am. If there are Garden Tigers around, they tend to be quite punctual.

Garden Tiger Arctia caja  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Garden Tiger Arctia caja

The moths are variable in colour and pattern. The one in the picture has slightly broader white markings on the forewings than 'normal' and no two moths have exactly the same pattern. In captivity it is possible to produce even more forms by keeping them warm and continuously breeding and selecting what you breed. Dark specimens with brown rather than white forewings can be produced like this.

The moth flies in July and August. It usually rests with its wings closed, but if disturbed opens its wings and bends its head forward to show the red collar. It can also produce a fluid from openings behind the head. The moth in the picture had a forewing length of 27mm.

Like the Double Line this moth is declining in numbers. When I was a child in the early 1960s the larvae (known as 'woolly bears') were a common sight in warm weather, rapidly crawling across the garden path or pavement. Nowadays, although they are said to be found commonly in some coastal sites, on our trips we have found them only occasionally. The moth is still considered a common species, as it is widely distributed over most of Britain and Ireland, but it has suffered a massive decline in numbers.

The larvae feed on a variety of low growing plants including dandelions, nettles and docks.

 Garden Tiger larva  Arctia caja  Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

 Garden Tiger Arctia caja - last instar larva (length 45mm)

7th July 2011

While visiting the Gordano Valley National Nature Reserve in North Somerset, Roger and I searched the Grey Willows for signs of Lunar Hornet Clearwing moth. On one of these trees we found signs that a bird of prey was regularly using the tree as a place to rest while plucking its prey. The branches were covered in rabbit fur and feathers.

I climbed onto the lower branches of the tree to get a better look and to see if there were any clearwings that had climbed up from the holes lower in the trunk.

Not long after that the rain came in quite heavily, so we returned home. On the way back, I thought I felt something inside the collar of my shirt and a bit later near my waist. I could not find anything and dismissed it, although it did cause a conversation about moths that had got inside our clothes while moth trapping, but then I forgot about it.

When I was at home I sat down to have something to eat and felt something on my shoulder, then  near my waist, and then my side, all within a few seconds. A slight panic  came over me and I ripped of my tee shirt and shook it out on the floor, but found nothing.

I then looked down and an insect dashed rapidly across my stomach which I caught in my hand and managed to get into a pot. A more than slightly creepy experience. Although it creeped extremely fast.

The insect was a small 5mm long fly called Ornithomyia avicularia which is a parasite of birds. I had probably attached itself to me when I had climbed the tree. As a small child I can remember my mother telling me not to climb trees. I had thought it was because I might fall!

The fly had lost a wing. Whether this had happened while down my shirt I don't know, but I found it hard to feel sorry for it.

As can be seen in the pictures below, the fly has a squat form and specially adapted feet with large claws so that it can crawl between it's hosts feathers while gripping tightly to avoid being shaken off. The mouth parts that are used to suck it's victims blood can also be seen. These adaptions are similar to those of the Deer Fly that was shown on this site in October 2009.

Of the three British species of Ornithomyia, this is the commonest. The slightly smaller Ornithomyia lagopodis is usually found on Red Grouse, other game birds and waders, while Ornithomyia fringillina (which is slightly smaller again and thought to be rare in Britain) has been found on smaller birds such as Robin and Dunnock.

Ornithomyia avicularia has been recorded from several birds of prey including Sparrowhawk and various owls, plus a variety of other birds from Pheasants, to Starlings and Blackbirds.

Ornithomyia avicularia - dorsal   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Ornithomyia avicularia - dorsal

Ornithomyia avicularia - underside   Copyright Martin Evans@WGUK

Ornithomyia avicularia - underside






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