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.
Most of the migrant moth species that arrive
at the southern coast of England die when the British winter sets in. This is
possibly because of the combination of damp as well as cold conditions that we
get during our winters. Some of the earlier arrivals such as Silver Y and
Hummingbird Hawk-moth may breed and produce a true British generation, but these
are also usually killed off by our winter.
Despite this being the general fate of
most migrants, some do manage to survive and set up temporary or even
occasionally permanent populations. Recent examples of these are Oak Rustic,
Sombre Brocade and possibly Clifden Nonpariel, and the Flame Brocade mentioned
in the previous post on Portland.
Roger and I decided to visit Durlston
Country Park, near Swanage to photograph the Oak Rustic and the Sombre Brocade,
as both of them have colonised the Holm Oak in this area. We arranged permission
earlier in the day to trap there, and were told that this was OK as long as we
photographed the two moths on site and did not take any away.
We arrived more than an hour before
sunset so that we could look around and find a sheltered place close to the Holm
that was suitable for trapping. It was a breezy afternoon and fairly dull, so
apart from a few Fox Moth larvae, several of the migrant Rush Veneer and a
Clouded Yellow butterfly asleep in the grass, we did not find any
interesting lepidoptera before we started light trapping.
We decided to trap in the
fields at the edge of the woodland to the east of the visitors centre and
bungalow. There was a slight breeze, but we were sheltered from the worst of it
by the slope of the ground and the trees on the west side of the fields. As at
Portland a few days before, we used a 125w MV trap and a twin 20w UV compact
fluorescent trap. This allowed us to use the lithium battery pack from our other
twin 20w when the first ran out, which gave us about 8 hours of light. The
lights were turned on at 7.10pm.
After 2 hours of trapping we were
feeling rather disappointed as we had only managed to catch 7 species, although
3 of these were common migrants (Plutella xylostella, Udea
ferrugalis and a few Dark Swordgrass). After a short discussion
with Roger, he decided to check out how sheltered it was on the wooded path that
ran along the top of the slope to the south and on his return we decided to move
both of the traps. This was a good decision, as in about twenty minutes we had
doubled the number of recorded species.
The first of the 'better' migrants that
we recorded was a Delicate. This was followed by the reddish form of
Pearly Underwing and at about 10.30pm by the one and only Oak Rustic
of the evening. Luckily the Oak Rustic was in good condition and we had our
photographs. The moth was first recorded on Jersey in 1991, was later found on
the Isle of Wight in 1999, then finally reaching Hampshire and Dorset in 2005. The
specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 15mm.
Oak Rustic Dryobota labecula - Durlston
Just after 11.00pm the generator (which
is a very small and portable model that does not hold a lot of fuel) had to be
refilled. While filling it with petrol, I held the cap from the fuel can in one
hand, the fuel in the other, and my torch in my mouth. It was then that a moth
decided to land on the rim of the open generator fuel tank in the light of my
I was worried that it was going to
enter the tank and die so moved the torch beam, it was then that I saw that the
moth was a possible Sombre Brocade. Unfortunately with no hands free I
could not do much, and I could not even shout to Roger as I had a mouth full of
The outcome was that the moth flew
behind me into my shadow. By the time I had put everything down and turned
around, it had gone, and we never saw another all night. Not long after that a
few Green-brindled Crescent came to the lights and I began to doubt that
what I had seen (mostly head on) had even been a Sombre Brocade, but I will
Despite missing our second target
species the night was not a disappointment as we ended up with 45 species,
including a Caloptilia cuculipennella and two Palpita
vitrealis which caused much confusion as they came in together, but
neither went into the trap. I was saying "it's here" and Roger was saying "no,
it's here". Both were very beautiful as they were in excellent condition.
We also had some rather worn
Mecyna asinalis, a Convolvolus Hawk-moth, a Gem, a really
fresh Red-green Carpet and a Pinion-streaked Snout.
Moths were not the only insects
attracted to the lights. We also had 3 Tawny Cockroach Ectobius
pallidus including a female
with her oothecae (egg capsule) still attached to her abdomen.
This small cockroach (around 10mm) is
not a household pest like the alien species in Britain, but one of three native
cockroaches that live in the countryside in the same harmless way as the native crickets.
Tawny Cockroach Ectobius
pallidus - female
with egg capsule
The last light ran out of power at
3.05am after which we decided to take the scenic route home via Portland, so
that we could see how well Martin Cade had done with his traps. On the way we
managed to shift all of our mothing gear towards the front of the camper van
when a Roe Deer ran out in front of us while only about twenty or thirty
feet away. Luckily Roger was quick with the brakes and the deer veered back onto
the verge and we all survived to tell the tale.
We managed to get a couple of hours
sleep, despite what seemed like the whole population of Portland driving past
making as much noise as possible.
When we arrived at the Bird Observatory,
Martin had already gone through the 8 traps he now runs and there were several
more exciting arrivals since our last visit only three days before. I was able to
photograph Blair's Mocha, Old World Webworm and Dewick's Plusia.
On the way out of the Observatory we noticed a Southern
Oak Bush-cricket Meconema meridionale on the wall by the entrance,
this has been a regular spot for them to be recorded since we first found one
there in 2010.
Blair's Mocha Cyclophora
puppillaria - Portland Bird
Living in Bristol we do get a few
migrants travel far enough north for us to record them, but these are usually
the more common species such as Dark Swordgrass, Vestal, Rush Veneer and of
course Silver Y. The recording of species such as Ni Moth, Egyptian Bollworm and
the migrant hawkmoths have been a much rarer occurrence. The moths are also less
likely to be in good condition by the time they have travelled that much further
Roger and I had already recorded a few
Diamond-backed, Vestal and Dark Swordgrass from as far back as August, but
nothing rarer, so when we heard that the migrants had started to arrive in
numbers on the south coast we decided to do some trapping at Portland.
As the wind was forecasted to be about
11mph from the west we decided to trap in one of the many disused quarries on
the east side of Portland, but first we visited Martin Cade, the warden at the
Bird Observatory, to see what he had been catching.
In the previous few days he had caught
a large number of migrants including the 8th Egyptian Bollworm Earias
insulana for Britain. This was the 3rd Egyptian Bollworm caught
at the Observatory by Martin. Having had the 4th record in my Bristol
garden in 2001, I was very interested to see the latest specimen.
Egyptian Bollworm Earias
insulana - Portland Bird
A few days later the 9th Egyptian Bollworm
was recorded in Cornwall. This is obviously a good season for migrants.
Among the other migrant species that
Martin had recently trapped were the pyralids Antigastra catalaunalis
and Uresphita gilvata, and the noctuids White Speck,
Brocade and Dusky-lemon Sallow.
As already mentioned, we were going to
trap on the east side to shelter from the forecasted west wind, but for much of
the evening the wind appeared to be from the south. We used a 125w MV and a twin
20w compact fluorescent trap. The lights were turned on at around 7.15pm. It was
part overcast and the temperaure was 15C.
For the first few hours the only
migrants were Silver Y, Rush Veneer, Pearly Underwing and
Udea ferrugalis, but around 10.30pm we started to get others such
as a couple of Turnip, several Vestal and about a dozen Dark
With the exception of the pink specimen
of Vestal Rhodometra
sacraria that we recorded in Sandbay near Weston-super-Mare, most of those
seen by us this year were of the straw coloured form with a brown diagonal bar,
but one of the three recorded during this session was a beautiful pink striped
form. It is possibly a coincidence, but all three Vestal were caught in the twin
20w compact fluorescent trap placed amongst scrub, and none with the 125w MV
which was situated more out in the open.
sacraria - Portland
Throughout the evening we also recorded
many resident moths including several worn Mecyna asinalis, 4
L-album Wainscot, about 40 Black Rustics, 40 Large Ranunculus,
4 Feathered Ranunculus, 2 Feathered Brindle, 3 Pale Mottled
Willow and many more common species.
Moths were not the only insects of
interest. Roger found a specimen of Dicranocephalus agilis, a
large (11mm in length) bug that feeds on Portland Spurge which was
abundant in the quarry where we were trapping.
Dicranocephalus agilis -
Martin Cade had asked us to let him
know whether we caught any Flame Brocade, as he is getting them so regularly
compared with a few years ago that there is a chance that they are breeding on
Surprisingly it seems that relatively few
visitors actually bother to trap on Portland. Most seem content to just look at
what is caught in the Bird Observatory traps. This is a shame as there are a
wide variety of habitats on Portland, and the area surrounding the observatory is
very windswept and perhaps not the best place to trap unless you are after the
newly arrived migrants when there is a gentle southerly wind. Apart from those migrant moths, that area probably only supports a
small proportion of what could be found elsewhere.
Towards 11.00pm we trapped our first Flame
Brocade Trigonophora flammea (and later 2 more), and since that night
several more have been recorded
by local moth recorders in their garden traps on Portland. So either there has
been a massive increase in the number of immigrant moths or perhaps they
are now breeding.
The moth was a former resident, which died out in the 19th Century. Until recently it was a rare immigrant along
the south coast. The larvae feed on a variety of plants including Meadow
Buttercup, Lesser Celandine, and later Privet, Ash, Blackthorn and Broom. It is
quite a large moth. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 22mm.
Flame Brocade Trigonophora
flammea - Portland
Strangely the most abundant moth of the night was
the rare Beautiful Gothic Leucochlaena oditis with at least 50 arriving at the two traps. The picture
of the female below
was taken on a previous visit to Portland. To see that account and more details
of Beautiful Gothic
please click here.
Beautiful Gothic Leucochlaena
oditis - Portland
After midnight we were still getting
new species including a very worn Annulet, a Mallow, and more
migrants including a Plutella xylostella, 2 White Point, a
Scarce Bordered Straw, 2 Delicate and a Convolvolus Hawk-moth.
We turned off the last light at 1.55am
having recorded about 280 moths of 39 species. At this time the temperature was
still 15C, with the sky only part overcast. The wind was now blowing from the
After a couple of hours sleep Roger and
I visited the Observatory to see what Martin Cade had recorded. As expected with
four times the number of traps and first point of entry to Portland for the
migrants, Martin had a really large number of species, including most of what we
had recorded, plus others such as Palpita vitrealis, Gem and
Clancy's Rustic. He also had larger numbers of each species, including 12
The weather in September has been a
disappointment after the beautiful sunny conditions we had in July and August.
The numbers of moth species entering our traps in July and early August was
usually over a 100 and often 120 plus per evening. During September the number
has dropped to 25 or 30 species and sometimes less.
We were pleased to have a warm,
overcast evening on this visit to Sandbay in North Somerset. The
temperature stayed steady at between 16 and 17o C. This was from when
the lights were turned on at a rather late start of 8.15pm, to lights off
We placed our traps on the edge of the
saltmarsh. We did not have large numbers of individual moths, but we did get 37
species and a wide variety, including Eudonia pallida,
Acleris rhombana, Gold Spot, Red Underwing, Black Rustic, Lunar Underwing, Beaded Chestnut, Large
Wainscot, Bulrush Wainscot, L-album Wainscot and a male
The migrant species were all common
including several Silver Y and Dark Swordgrass, a single
Rush Veneer and a beautiful pink Vestal Rhodometra sacraria.
This was the first really pink
Vestal I had seen, as although I have recorded quite a few over the years,
they have all been yellow, apart from a slightly orange specimen that I had in
my garden at the beginning of August.
The species appears to have arrived in
Britain in large numbers this year, as there have been many records and these
were often far away from the south coast. The species is from southern Europe
and North Africa where the larvae feed on a variety of low growing plants such
as docks. The specimen in the picture had a forewing length of 14mm.
Vestal Rhodometra sacraria
The male Vapourer Orgyia antiqua was
in very good condition for a moth that flies mainly between late July and
September, with a few in the south occasionally surviving into early October.
The species appears to have done well this year, as we have had them in the
traps on several occasions and they have often been seen during their daytime
flight while searching out females. The male in the picture had a forewing
length of 16mm.
The female is without wings, and usually travels no
further than the outside of the cocoon in which she pupated. It is here that she
lays her eggs after a male has found her and she has mated. The female below is
one that I found when following a male around our back garden. It eventually
mated with her and she produced the eggs shown in the picture. It was on
Jasmine. I do not know whether the larva fed on this plant, but the species does
feed on a very wide variety of deciduous shrubs and trees. The eggs overwinter
and the hairy caterpillars disperse in the spring.
Vapourer Orgyia antiqua
Vapourer - female with her eggs
attached to the outside of her cocoon
Several moths have been notably more common this year
than previous years. Last year Roger and I visited South Wales on a couple of
occasions in search of the Hemp Agrimony feeding Scarce Burnished Brass,
but without any luck. This year there have been many reports of this moth along
the South Wales coast, and we found it on our first visit (19th
Another more common moth that I have only come across
occasionally in the past is Euspilapteryx auroguttella. We have
recorded several of these tiny moths this month in South Wales (19th
July) and Gloucestershire (31st July). They usually have two flights,
one in May and the other in August.
Although small, it does attract attention in the trap,
because it constantly gyrates its white-tipped antennae. The larva feeds at
first in a winding mine on the underside of a leaf of Hypericum perforatum
or other Hypericum species, later forming a blotch. It then spins a
downward fold or pointed cone at the tip of the leaf (often twice). In the
second it spins a white, silken
chamber along the leaf in which it pupates. The forewing lengths of the
specimens that we recorded were from 4 to 4.5mm.
Due to the amount of moth trapping and
photography I have done during July, I have not had time to work on this web
site. I have taken a couple of thousand moth pictures in this month alone.
July 2013 saw a massive increase in the
numbers of insects flying when compared with earlier months or July 2012.
In 2012 Roger and I rarely recorded more than 50 species in our light traps,
even on the sites with the most diverse range of plants and habitats, wheras in
July this year we were regularly trapping 120 species per night on the
better sites, and I was recording around 90 species a night in my garden.
It is obvious that the unusually hot weather has caused this upsurge in numbers,
but where did they all come from?
Has the hot weather caused them to breed more successfully? Was it because the
2012 to 2013 winter was a 'proper' cold British winter, instead of the mild, wet
winters we have been having that probably caused many eggs, larvae and pupae to
go mouldy or emerge prematurely?
Or perhaps the insects were there all the time and the warm weather has allowed
them to disperse back into the areas where they had died out.
I think it is probably a combination of all of these factors. The number of
moths coming to light traps was probably lower in the colder weather because
insects were not dispersing, so that only those in the immediate area were being
Insects in some areas may have been hit by the constant damp and flooding that
has been so common over the last few years, while many larvae may have emerged
prematurely before the foodplants were available.
We will probably never know the truth, but let us hope we have more 'normal'
weather over the next few years.