Moth Diaries ep.2

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With the weather warming up gently over the last few days there has been a marked improvement on the number of moths being drawn to the actinic trap, though, as is usual at this time of year, the variation of species is small especially in a suburban setting. There was however several visits to the trap by one of my all-time favourite moths but we will get to that a little later.

First in over the last week was a notable increase in Common Quaker moths; small to medium-sized moths ranging in colour from light beige to dark brown with noticeable light outlined oval and kidney spots which are a reference point for identifying the species. Common Quaker are common throughout much of the British Isles and are often one of the first species to arrive in the trap in early Spring, their flight period being from late February to April.

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Common Quaker – Note the oval and kidney spots

Another moth to arrive this week was the Clouded Drab; a moth similar in appearance to the Common Quaker but identifiable by their more characteristically dull colour variations ranging from grey to dark, muddy brown. They are generally more poorly marked but of course there are exceptions to the rule with individuals turning up on occasion with superior markings and a nice reddish tint. Clouded Drabs do tend to be slightly larger than the Common Quaker and have a slightly more angular appearance when in resting position which often helps with identification.

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Clouded Drab – Note the slightly more angular appearance, almost ‘tent’ shaped. This particular one has a nice hint of chestnut red.

Next in was one of the notoriously ‘difficult’ species; a Double-striped Pug. The Pugs (and there are plenty of them!) are all extremely similar in both size and appearance and so naturally present Moth’ers with a bit of a challenge when it comes to identification. Lucky for me then that at this time of year, there are only a small number of Pugs on the wing and in this case the Double-striped is quite easily distinguishable. Despite most Pugs being very diminutive in size, they are in fact classed as a Macros rather than Micros.

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The tiny Double-Striped Pug

Talking of Micro moths, there was a rather surprising catch this week: Eudonia angustea, sometimes referred to as Narrow-winged Grey appeared in my trap last night. It is, for all intents and purposes, a rather nondescript little grey moth but two things set this individual apart. The usual flight period for Eudonia angustea is from late May or early June and so this little critter is on the wing incredibly early

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Eudonia angustea

this year. Recent records have suggested that they are taking flight significantly earlier and this seems to coincide, as usual, with the effects of global warming. The other notable thing is that this is often referred to as a coastal species (though they are common in certain inland areas) and in Leicestershire is defined by the Leicestershire and Rutland Moth group as ‘very scarce resident’. I suspect, as is often the case with Micro moths, that this species is widely under-recorded and is probably more common than suggested. 

Despite the collection above, there was one moth that has been the jewel in the crown this week. One of my favourite moths, the spectacularly coloured large-bodied Oak Beauty has started arriving nightly. This fantastic, bulky moth is a real feast for the eyes with intricate, striking patterning and is an incredible moth to introduce to beginners too; by nature they are very sedate once trapped and can be handled with relative ease, often sitting or crawling around the hand nonchalantly, ever patient. Being such a large bodied species means that the facial features are very visible and the soft covering of fur -like hair makes the ‘woolly’ Oak Beauty very endearing. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, the male Oak Beauty has stunning feather-like antenna and if you look very closely the central band is intricately striped brindle, white and black. The female has thinner, thread-like antenna and this obvious difference is a great way to sex the catch. Oak Beauty’s are most partial to ancient or well-aged deciduous woodland but can often be found in leafy suburbs (thankfully for me!) however they are considered ‘frequent’ in Leicestershire but not ‘common’ so I have been delighted to catch some of these nightly over the last couple of days, especially because as far as I can tell the nearest Oak is some distance away; on the edgeland in fact. having said that, the Oak Beauty is not purely restricted to Oak; the larvae will feed on Birch, Hazel, Hawthorn and Sallows which may explain their suburban populations.

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A double Oak Beauty catch of my own on Monday night, both males (note the feathered antenna)

I have added the pictures below as a good size comparison against my wedding ring! This one is a male from Sunday night, if you look closely you can just make out the striped central band on the feathered antenna. Also note the fine, fur-like hair on the head and thorax which give this moth such character. On occasion the Oak Beauty has a quite striking yellow abdomen, though I do not advise turning them upside-down to check!

Unfortunately the weather forecast looks to be taking a bit of a dip over the weekend and into next week with some wet and chilly nights; catch numbers might be down for the foreseeable but come April and May I suspect these Moth Diary posts might just be a little lengthier and come the summer…well, I dread to think! I have also added a new link on the homepage where you can find an ongoing Species List for my garden moths, it’s looking pretty slender at the moment but it is only March after all. You can access the list here: Moth Species List

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Oak Beauty, calm and collected. Check out the size against my wedding ring.
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A closer look – you can just make out the feathered antenna and central band.
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