Moth Diaries ep.4

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Whilst we have had some mild days throughout April, so far the cold nights have continued right the way through the month with lows of two degrees not uncommon and the temperatures overnight are set to fall below freezing again this week. This has, to an extent, affected the moth catch this month; the daytime temperatures are bringing about the emergence of some new species, but come the cool nights they have been reluctant to take to the wing. Having said all that, whilst numbers might be down, the variety of species has continued on at a steady page. Since the last Diary post, I have recorded a further 9 species in the garden, taking this years total (from 1st of March) to 26 so far which doesn’t sound insignificant; that is until I compare it to some of my fellow mothing friends down south, one of which based in Kent has recorded a whopping 131 species for the year so far…

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Brindled Beauty

The first new arrival was the gorgeous Brindled Beauty; similar in shape, size and appearance to the Oak Beauties I recorded in March, they lack some of the sharp detailing and colour that makes the Oak Beauty a real stand-out moth. Still, as you can see from the photograph below, they are pretty special. A large bodied moth, they possess the same bulk and woolliness of the Oaks and the stunning feathered antennae  which make them so kind on the eye and a treat to handle (with care). Occurring locally through much of Great Britain they are most common in the South, especially in the home counties and can be seen on the wing throughout March and April. The larvae feed on a variety of deciduous trees and as a result, the Brindled Beauty can be found widely in suburban habitats as well as woodland.

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Twenty-plume Moth

The Twenty-plume Moth was the next arrival and a welcome addition to the Micro list (which isn’t fairing as well as the Macro list this year). Despite the name, this moth is no relation whatsoever to the Plume moths (such as the Common Plume I featured in episode 3) and is actually the only species of it’s family in the British isles; that family being the Alucitidae or ‘Many-plumed’ family. The name Twenty-plume is slightly misleading in another context too as each wing is actually separated into 6 ‘plumes’. The scientific name Alucita hexadactyla is more accurate, meaning ‘six-fingered’. The larvae of the Twenty-plume feed mainly on the leaves and buds of of Honeysuckle making our parks and gardens a welcome habitat.

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My Pale Tussock – Look at those legs!

Next to join the Macro list was the Pale Tussock, a peculiar looking moth owing to its unusual resting position with forelegs stretched out in front of the thorax. A large moth (the female considerably larger than the male) the Pale Tussock is perhaps one of our furriest; those long outstretched forelegs are particularly woolly, enough so to give my wife the willies (she says they are too spider-like!). The Tussock in my Garden arrived on 12th April and this is slightly earlier than usual; the main flight period is from May to June but as I have reported in the previous Diaries, early seems to be the norm this year. Fairly common in England and Wales the Pale Tussock is only local in Ireland and appears to be absent from most of Scotland. The larvae feed on a variety of deciduous trees and shrubs though in the past when growing Hop was common place they were considered somewhat of a pest. Any Moth that likes a Beer is a top Moth in my book!

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My Streamer – fresh and still lilac

The Streamer was the next newcomer; a small, flighty member of the Geometridae family that takes its name from the black markings ‘streaming’ from the leading edge. When fresh (like the one I trapped, luckily), the Streamer has a lovely lilac or violet dusting but this rapidly fades to the more commonly seen beige-grey. The various black markings make this a distinctive moth but it can be confused with other ‘carpet’ moths when worn, especially the Barberry Carpet. A common moth throughout Britain in woodland edges and hedgerows they are not always widely seen in gardens mainly due to Dog-rose being almost exclusively the larval food-plant.

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Shuttle-shaped Dart

The Shuttle-shaped Dart has found it’s way into the trap numerous times over the last week or so and is likely to become a mainstay for the foreseeable future. Flying from May right through to October (again, as it’s April this is another species a little early this year) with as many as three generations in a single year this is a fairly common moth and has begun to fill the gap left behind by the common Orthosia which are now winding down (Hebrew Character, Common Quaker, Clouded Drab). Despite being common in areas it inhabits, distribution is another matter with the bulk of the population in the south and an overall range extending no further north than the Midlands. The larvae feed on a number of different plants in low vegetation.

Finally, I have saved the best ’till last (as usual). Not for spectacular colour or alien shape but for sheer finesse the Muslin Moth is a real beauty. Simple, delicate and with just the right amount of fur to make this one of the ‘cutest’ moths going (if cute should ever be used as a word in Natural History) and an absolute favourite of mine. Distinctly sexually dimorphic the female is white with dark spots and the male grey-brown or sooty grey with dark spots (though in Ireland, the female is light cream with the male a dark cream-brown). It is the male that you are likely to come across whilst trapping as the female is diurnal, flying in sunshine and usually close to the ground. Only the male Muslin moth is nocturnal. The incredibly fine hair on the thorax could well be the softest thing known to mankind (OK, I’m stretching it) whilst the dark markings around the eyes and gorgeous feather antennae contrast beautifully with citrus-yellow-orange bib and forelegs that add just the right amount of subtle panache to the simplicity of silky-satin wings (See opening image). As mini-beasts go, this one is pretty, well, pretty. They are fairly common across the UK in woodland, downland and suburban habitats and fly from May to June (yes, the male I trapped was early again) with larvae feeding on a variety of low vegetation, most notably Dock and Chickweed.

Just as a reminder: If you regularly read this blog via mobile or tablet you may not be familiar with the ‘species’ pages on this website as to find them you have to use the menu function.

To see a full list of all of the Moth Species I have trapped in the garden so far you can click here: Garden Moth Species List

To see a full list of all of the flora and fauna species that I have recorded in the Edgeland so far you can click here: Edgeland Species List (Though I haven’t really got to work in recording the huge amount of trees yet!)

Thanks, as always, for reading the blog!

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My Pale Tussock, wings opened.
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A female Muslin Moth, for contrast
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