Saturday, 3 October 2015


We have builders in again, but this provided a bit of an impromptu opportunity for moth recording yesterday. On my afternoon coffee break I noticed a plume moth high on the side of the house, but within reach of the scaffolding. So I clambered up, feeling a little shaky with my morbid fear of any height that inolves my feet leaving the ground, and managed to pot it.

New moth observation platform

The moth proved to be a Beautiful Plume Amblyptillia acanthadactyla, only the scond I have recorded here in Batch Valley. Remarkably, this small moth hibernates and reappears in the late spring. It was very atcive, so I had to settle for this in-the-pot photograph.

Beautiful Plume Amblyptillia acanthadactyla

I took a stroll around the garden to recover from the excitement, and was delighted to find this Grey Dagger Acronicta psi larva in a hawthorn (Crataegus). I regularly catch Dagger moths in the summer, but it is impossible to identify whether these are Grey or Dark Dagger A. tridens without resorting to dissection. Fortunately, the caterpillars are completely distinctive. This is the second Grey Dagger larva I have found in the garden, so I am still not sure whether Dark Dagger occurs.

Grey Dagger larva Acronticta psi

Friday, 2 October 2015

A Hitchhikers Guide

On Wednesday I arrived home from a long day working in Birmingham to a plastic box by the back door. Being known as the village entomologist (or possibly the village weirdo) means I get given a wide variety of interesting invertebrates by neighbours (and sometimes inanimate objects that resemble something living), so this in itself was not a surprise.

Jo also collects anything interesting she sees in the garden, and I soon discovered this was in fact a welcome home present from her. She had found a beetle in an old plant pot whilst gardening and thought that I would want to see it. The beetle in question was this Dor Beetle Geotrupes stercorarius

Dor Beetle Geotrupes stercorarius

This species looks almost identical to the Common Dumble Dor G. spiniger, although Dor Beetles tend to have more distinct ridges on the wing cases. To check the identification you really need to look at the ventral surface of the abdominal tergites, or in laymans terms you turn it on its back and look at its bottom. G. stercorarius has hairs and punctures across the width of the tergites, as can be seen in the picture below, whilst these are much less extensive in G. spiniger.

Dor Beetle Geotrupes stercorarius with a species of phoretic mite

Dor Beetles are alternatively known as dung beetles. They will dig a tunnel under a suitable piece of dung and line this tunnel with the dung for the larvae to feed on. The horse field opposite my house is a potential breeding ground for Dor Beetles, though the horse dung tends to be collected up religiously every morning to rot down into horse manure! Apparently Dor Beetles have also been recorded using decaying fungi and rotting plants in woodland habitats in a similar manner.

The other noticeable feature of Dor Beetles, as the pictures show, is that they are often infested with mites. This individual was no exception, and was living up to one the best colloquial names of all insects, the Lousy Watchman. It would be easy to assume that these mites are parasites that cause the beetle harm, perhaps they are eating it alive? In fact the truth is far more interesting and remarkable.

These are a species of phoretic mite, and so belong to the same class as ticks, spiders and harvestmen - in other words they are Arachnids. Phoretic mites use the strategy of hitching a lift on the bodies of beetles and bumblebees to travel between food sources. They do not harm their host, this would not be a sensible evolutionary strategy, unless perhaps they are so numerous that they weight it down. This seemed to only be a mild infestation, so are probably not causing this beetle too much of an inconvenience.

Dor Beetle Geotrupes stercorarius with a species of phoretic mite

These mites belong to the Acari taxon, a large group comprising mites and ticks. The Acari are comparatively little studied. In fact, according to the Natural History Museum, there are at least 54,000 species worldwide, with many hundreds surely yet to be classified. They have roles in agroecosystems and potential uses as archaeological indicators of change. There are no easily available resources for identification, but NHM are currently producing these, which will surely make this group more accessible.

Given this, getting an identification for the Dor Beetle's travelling companions is a bit of a challenge. However, after a bit of research these mites appear likely to be Peocilochirus carabi. A check on the NBN gateway shows just how under recorded this group is. For this species, which is surely widespread and common, there are only records from two adjacent 10km squares in East Anglia, and no others at all in the UK. This makes these mites a potential VC40 first. I have contacted those working on the NHM project to see if they can confirm identification, and will provide an update if they can help.

This goes to show that sometimes a closer look at one insect, can reveal something else unexpected, but often quite fascinating.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Autumn colours

Moths often seem to match the seasons. Moths in the summer can be colourful and bold, those flying in the winter are typically dingy grey and those in autumn are often muted shades of orange, brown, yellow and green. It was much an orange and brown feel in the moth trap this morning. Again the Lunar Underwings Omphaloscelis lunosa dominated, but there were a few other subtle surprises.

Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunata

This Beaded Chestnut Agrochola lychnidis is the first record for my Batch Valley garden. It is apparently particularly attracted to mercury vapour light traps, and as my first autumn with an MV perhaps I can expect this be become a regular autumnal feature.

Beaded Chestnut Agrochola lychnidis

The closely related Brown-spot Pinion Agrochola litura was also present. I catch small numbers of this lovely moth each autumn and it is typically found in woodland, scrubland and mature gardens.

Brown-spot Pinion Agrochola litura

I also had a coople of interesting insects in the by-catch. There was this attractive Mirid bug Pantilius tunicatus, which is a late season species found on the lower branches of a variety of trees. A shame that my camera refused to focus on it!

Pantilius tunicatus

There was also this small Empididae fly, which I have been seeing around the garden. It is one of the Rhamphomyia species but the specimen will need detailed examination to get to species level.

Rhamphomyia species

Monday, 28 September 2015

On the rampage

A regular sight resting on the walls of the house at the moment are these craneflies, with distinctively patterned wings held closed over the body. There are a few species flying at this time of year, but this species is Tipula confusa.

Tipula confusa

This is a late flying species, typically found from September to November. The larvae live in moss across a variety of habitats, which I suspect are not in short supply around the Shropshire Hills. There has been a lot of talk in the press in recent weeks about 'rampaging' craneflies. Not sure that I am too worried.

Friday, 25 September 2015


One of the typical autumn moths is the Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa. For a few weeks in September and October this species will dominate the moth trap, sometimes being the only species.

A trap for the unwary or inexperienced, this moth comes in a wide variety of flavours, with colours ranging from yellowish-orange to dark brown, as this mornings catch demonstrates.

Lunar Underwings Omphaloscelis lunosa

This species is one of those that overwinters as a larvae, feeding on various grasses. This may be somewhat surprising, given the late appearance of this species in the year.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015


A couple of days ago Jo found a Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta caterpillar embarking on its pupation. This transformation was remarkably rapid. I photographed the caterpillar in the evening and the following day the chrysalis had formed, and by today it has hardened.

Inside that chrysalis the caterpillar will be breaking down and then reforming into a butterfly, in what is surely one of the most remarkable processes in the natural world. I think that it will take a couple of weeks for the adult butterfly to emerge. Whether I will be lucky enough to see it is another matter, but I will provide an update whatever the outcome.

Monday, 21 September 2015

In the pink

This Pink-barred Sallow Xanthia togata was new for the garden this evening. Now that I have started studying for my Entomology MSc, finding time to trap in the week is becoming more difficult. As a compromise I left on the front porch light, and just before turning in I checked and found this beautiful moth. It is typically a species of damp habitats.

Pink-barred Sallow Xanthia togata

Saturday, 19 September 2015


I had Frosties for breakfast this morning, or to be more accurate a Frosted Orange Gortyna flavago. This long-awaited first for the garden was part of a very productive trapping session, yielding 84 moths of 25 species.

Frosted Orange Gortyna flavago

The more surprising garden first was this Dark Sword-grass Agrotis ipsilon. This is a migrant, which appears in varying numbers between years. Unlike some of our other migrants, it has never been reliably proven to breed in the UK. The black 'sword' mark through the kidney marking helps to give the species it's name.

Dark Sword-grass Agrotis ipsilon

Other welcome moths included the first Black Rustic Aporophyla nigra of the year. This stunning moth is a species of heathland and downland, the larva feeding on plants including heather (Caluna) and dock (Rumex).

Black Rustic Aporphyla nigra

After a couple of years absence, I was also reacquainted with The Anomalous Stilbia anomala. This moorland species is one the specialities I have caught in the garden, with the moth being enticed down from the slopes of the Long Mynd.

The Anomalous Stilbia anomala

A much more familiar species is the Silver Y Autographa gamma. Another migrant species, it has been a very productive year for Silver Ys in the garden, with this year heading for the highest annual total I have recorded.

Silver Y Autographa gamma

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Old Pine

I held the annual All Stretton quiz night last night. A combination of asking quiz questions in a noisy room, drinking a few bottles Old Speckled Hen and a late night meant I was not at my best this morning. Consequently I was a bit late turning off the moth trap, and not quite awake when I went through the contents.

There were mercifully few moths, and amongst the catch there were no tricky identifications and lots of nice colourful moths to ease my hangover. The best moth was, as it so often is, outside the trap rather than inside it. In this case it was resting on the outside of the trap and a took a photograph and potted it for later identification as it was an unfamiliar species. It did not take long to identify it as a Pine Carpet Pennithera firmata, a new species for my Batch Valley garden. This moth occurs wherever there is Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris, which is a bit of a mystery as there is no Scots Pine I know of locally. I have already come across this conundrum, when I caught the gelechid Exoteleia dodecella back in July. There must be some Scots Pine trees lurking unknown in nearby gardens.

Pine Carpet Pennithera firmata

One of our finest autumn carpets is the Red-green Carpet Chloroclysta siterata, and it was very pleasing to find this individual on the inside of the moth trap lid. This is a species associated with deciduous trees, and is only a very occasional visitor to my trap.

Red-green Carpet Chloroclysta siterata

Amongst the noctuid moths, the various 'sallow' moths are a real treat. I was pleased to find this beautiful Sallow Cirrhia icteritia outside the trap. Again, this is a species I have caught on very few occasions. As the name might suggest, the larvae feed on the catkins of Salix species.

The Sallow Cirrhia icteritia

A typical micro moth of the late summer and early autumn is the Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana. This is a really common moth in much of the UK, but in Batch valley it is a rarity. I think this is a species I have only caught once before, and two of these last night was therefore a bit of a surprise.

Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana

Finally, I do not usually need much encouragement to post a picture of an Angle Shades Phlogophora meticulosa.

Angle Shades Phlogophora meticulosa

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Game of Thorns

If there was previously any doubt that autumn was now in full swing, it arrived last night in the moth trap. The first Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa of the year always appears when the nights begin to draw in, the leaves begin to turn and the temperatures drop. This species will not be with me for a few weeks, and should become the commonest species in the moth trap. In previous years I have had double figure hauls of this moth with nothing else amongst them.

Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa

There was also a 'Game of Thorns', with two well marked individuals of the Ennomos species. These were a Canary-shouldered Thorn E. alniaria, the Minion of the moth world, and a September Thorn E. erosaria. It has been a good year so far for September Thorn, I have recorded more so far than in the previous three years put together. There is plenty of birch Betula and oak Quercus close to me, two of the caterpillars food plants, suggesting a healthy population in Batch Valley.

Canary-shouldered Thorn Ennomos alniaria

September Thorn Ennomos erosaria

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Beat It

I had a walk around the garden with some non-technical entomological kit today - a stick and a cardboard tray. A quick and easy way to find some fantastic species is to do some beating of tree and bushes, and i was not disappointed with the results.

This Pale Tussock Calliteara pudibunda larva was a great find in the front hedge. This is the first time I have seen the larvae of this species in the garden, whilst the adults are a regular feature of spring moth traps.

Pale Tussock Calliteara pudibunda

From the birch tree in next door garden was this Parent Bug Elasmucha grisea.

Parent Bug Elasmucha grisea

From the same tree was this harvest man Dicranopalpus ramosus.

Dicranopalpus ramosus

Sunday, 6 September 2015


The September Shropshire Invertebrate Group meeting took us to Prees Heath, the fantastic Butterfly Conservation reserve close to Whitchurch in the North of the county. Whilst we were too late in the season for the famous invertebrate attraction of the site, the Silver Studded Blue Plebejus argus, this was a site where we were bound to find plenty of late season interest.

It ended up to be a very enjoyable day. The weather was markedly better than it had been for several days, and as the sun shone the sweep nets and beating trays were deployed to good effect. I recorded several good species, including five species of ladybird, four species of bug, several moths and caterpillars and some nice diptera species.

The commonest shieldbug was the Gorse Shieldbug Piezodorus lituratus, though this individual was found on a Common Broom Cytisus scoparius, which seems to be preferred by the species. In fact, I am not sure I have ever seen seem on gorse (Ulex). This is an adult, though there were also some late stage instars to be seen.

Gorse Shieldbug Cytisus scoparius

A new species of bug for me was swept from some long grass on the site, these Myrmus miriformis. This is one of the Rhopalidae and is found in two colour forms, though I only found the green form on the site.

Myrmus miriformis

It was not just insects that were in evidence. There is also a large population of the spider Araneus quadratus. This adults of this spider appear in late August and early September, and it is often found in well scrubbed grassland habitats with plenty of gorse, which are robust enough for the webs to hold. This is an attractively patterned spider, and though colours can vary the basic pattern is always the same.

Araneus quadratus

Some of the more interesting finds was a good selection of moth caterpillars, with the larva of an impressive six moth species found on the site. The crowd-pleasers were these showy Poplar Hawk-moth Laothoe populi caterpillars, found on sallow (Salix). Though they were quite obvious and easy to find, I suspect that potential predators think twice before tackling them.

Poplar Hawk-moth larva Laothoe populi

Poplar Hawk-moth Laothoe populi

This mystery caterpillar required a bit of help from county moth recorder Tony Jacques to identify. It is in fact the larva of a Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica, and it becomes one of a small number of species that I have seen in larval bu not adult form. The larvae feed on clover (Trifolium) and trefoil (Lotus).

Burnet Companion larva Euclidia glyphica

A more expected caterpillar to find on a heathland site was the heather (Caluna) feeder Beautiful Yellow Underwing Anarta myrtilla. This is a very distinctive caterpillar, beeing a deep green with distinct white and yellow markings.

Beautiful Yellow Underwing Anarta myrtilla

We also found these young Buff-tip Phalera bucephala larvae. These caterpillars live gregariously and, as with this group, can quickly defoliate entire branches of a range of deciduous trees.

Buff-tip Phalera bucephala

This pretty pink and white caterpillar was one that I recognised, and a quick check revealed this to be the larva of the 'Ling' Pug Eupithecia absinthiata f. goossensiata. Once a distinct species, this is now thought to be the heathland race of the Wormwood Pug. The adults of the two forms look different, and the larvae look even more different.

'Ling' Pug Eupithecia absinthiata f. goossensiata

Finally, with some more identification help from Tony, I found this True Lover's Knot Lycophotia porphyrea larva. Unsurprisingly, this is another feeder on Caluna.

True Lover's Knot Lycophotia porphyrea

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Sweet like Chocolate

A decent haul of moths, with over three hundred in an around the trap. There were three new species for the garden, and several new for the year.

On the outside of the house was this Red Underwing Catocala nupta, necessitating a ladder to climb up and check it. This giant moth has been recorded twice before in my garden, both times resting on the frame of the living room window in the day.

Red Underwing Catocala nupta

Red Underwing Catocala nupta

The first new species was this first Chocolate-tip Clostera curtula for the garden. This is a species I have been hoping to catch, and I was delighted to find it resting on the sheet by the trap.

Chocolate-tip Clostera curtula

The second new species was this attractive Oak Hook-tip Watsonalla binaria. It is fair to say that this species has not really been on my radar, so it was a nice surprise to find this moth resting in the grass by the trap.

Oak Hook-tip Watsonalla binaria

The third new species was one that was definitely on my radar, the Small Square-spot Diarsia rubi. I have been looking out for this specied for some, and scratching my head to work out why I was not recording it. Was I overlooking it? Having caught a couple last night I don't think so, it just took its time to appear.

Small Square-spot Diarsia rubi

The new species for the year where the expected selection of autumn moths. These were Dusky Thorn Ennomos fuscantariaHedge Rustic Tholera cespitis and Rosy Rustic Hydraecia micacea.

Dusky Thorn Ennomos fuscantaria

Hedge Rustic Tholera cespitis

Rosy Rustic Hydraecia micacea