WE WERE busy over the bank holiday weekend. Going through the process of shovelling and sieving again and again I thought that it would be good practice for me to make a little step by step YouTube video.
It took about ten goes for me to record a commentary that sounded reasonably coherent!
Summer warmth and a few heavy showers have triggered the growth of some small fungi on our dewy back lawn this morning. They’re going to get trimmed off when I get around to cutting the lawn so I pick them to draw and to take some close-ups using my USB microscope.
The cap which is about a centimetre across is smooth with no trace of ridges. It has dark brown gills, which I’d describe as distant as opposed to close or crowded.
In this photograph the gills are emarginate, meaning that there is a notch where they attach to the stem. But the notch isn’t as clear in this cross section of the cap;
The circular stem is hollow and there’s no swelling at its base.
The pattern of growth, as far as I can judge by this little group, is trooping. I couldn’t see any trace of a fairy ring starting to form.
I’m taking spore prints which might help narrow down what kind of fungus it is.
My thanks to Steve Clements for this suggestion;
Most likely a Mottlegill (Panaeolus or Panaeolina) – the commonest one on mown grass round my part of Sheffield is Brown Hay Cap – Panaeolina foenesecii – which is supposed to be slightly hallucinogenic. The spores are blackish, and warted (under the microscope). The gills look mottled under a hand lens.
The Collins Guide calls this species Brown Mottlegill and adds that the ‘dark brown-black’ spores are ‘ellip to lemon-shaped’ which is how they look in 200x photograph that I took with my microscope.
The Garden Snail, Helix aspersa, has a thin, lightweight shell but that still looks cumbersome as it explores a fern-filled crevice in an old wall (see previous posts). As I drew it from a photograph that I’d taken this morning I noticed traces of damage to the shell with what appears to be a healed break in the rim and hairline fracture on the ‘back’ of its shell.
I imagine it being surprised, perhaps by a bird, retracting into its shell then falling from the wall onto the pavement below.
A second snail clung precariously to the base of the stems of Common Ragwort, growing from a crevice near the top of the six foot high wall amongst the fronds of Rusty-back Fern and Wall Rue.
Featherlike antennae help the male track down the larger female.
When disturbed the Yellow-tail Moth, Euproctis similis, sticks the end of its abdomen up between its wings. Both male and female have the yellow tip although it is larger in the female.
Some female moths spread pheromones by raising their tails and the males use their feathery antennae to home in on them.
So why does this male raise his ‘tail’ when disturbed? Is it a way to surprise a predator?
The male has dark spots on his wings.
It’s the first time that this species has turned up in the moth trap.
The male seen from below.
Yellow-tail moth caterpillars have been found on Japanese Knotweed, an invasive garden escape which very few native insects feed on, but they’re more likely to feed on sallow, blackthorn and hawthorn.
THERE WERE at least half a dozen Large Yellow Underwings in the moth trap this morning plus some of their smaller relatives but this is the first time that I’ve seen the Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Notcua fimbriata. This is a male; the female is paler.
It’s more typical of wooded areas than gardens but as the foodplants of its larvae include docks, nettles, brambles, sallows and willows it’s not surprising that it has turned up here.
Although it’s years since I last saw a Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma, I didn’t have any difficulty in putting a name to it, thanks to the conspicuous calligraphic Y on its wing. This is the first time that it has turned up in the moth trap and that could be because, as an immigrant each year to Britain, it has taken until now to reach Yorkshire.
There are so many brownish, streaked little moths, both micro and macro, that I find drawing them gives me my best chance of picking out the pattern as I look through the field guide. Taking a close look at this, I noticed that the two bands and the inconspicuous dot made a pattern like a carnival mask, enabling me to identify it as the Dun-bar, Cosmia trapezina, a common moth from lowland Scotland southwards, wherever there are trees.
While I sketched these moths Barbara went through the book and came up with a name for this obscure-looking delta-winged little moth. It’s the Fan-foot, Zanclognatha tarsipennalis, a common moth of woods, hedges and gardens.
The the three lines on its wing are;
- like a question mark
- almost straight
with a row of fine dashes along the edge of the wing.
Lets have an easier moth; the male of the Orange Swift, Hepialus sylvina, has a bright orange-brown forewing. It’s larvae feed on herbceous plants including dock, dandelion and bracken.
These two underwings are so regular in the moth trap that I tend to ignore them so that I thought it was about time that I made a quick sketch of them.
Drawn from my own photograph, which can be easier than peering into a bug box.
AT FIRST GLANCE you might think ‘butterfly’ as the Early Thorn, Selenia dentaria, is the only Thorn moth to hold its wings up in butterfly fashion.
You might be thinking that late July doesn’t qualify as ‘Early’ but this is a female of the second generation, which usually has a larger tawny orange patch on its underwing than the February to May generation.
As the name suggests, she might well be looking for a blackthorn or hawthorn to lay her eggs on, there are plenty in the immediate vicinity, but the larvae will also feed on birch, alder, honeysuckle, sallow or bog-myrtle. They’re common in a wide variety of habitats including gardens, hedges and woods so they should feel at home here.
THIS IS the moth trap that I’ve been using. It’s built from a design that you can find in the Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies Beginners Guide to Moth Trapping, which is available as a PDF from the Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies website. It slots together so it’s easy to dismantle for storage.
I bought the black light UV bulb in September, intending to have the trap ready for the moths of early autumn but by Christmas I still hadn’t made a start on it so I’m grateful to my friend David Stubbs of Solway Dory who made this for me in his workshop.
He made one modification to the design which isn’t essential but which I’ve found helpful; the original design is apparently open to the ground so he added a plywood base that rests on batons of 1×1 inch timber glued around the bottom edges of the trap. This is useful on a summer morning when I need to move the trap into the shade to deal with later.
A further improvement that I have in mind: I’m checking in charity shops to see if I can find a suitable heatproof glass container, such as a large cafetière, to cover the bulb so that if there’s a shower during the night it will be protected.
I didn’t want to run the cable out of a window so I had an outdoor electrical socket with a circuit breaker fitted on the back wall of the house, which is a useful thing to have anyway.
Mercury Vapour or UV?
A couple of friends who’ve had experience of moth-trapping recommended that I start with a UV lamp rather than the more powerful mercury vapour. Apart from potentially annoying the neighbours in a back garden location like mine, the mercury vapour brings in so many moths from such a wide area that it can be daunting for the beginner to deal with quantity and variety of species caught.
My friend Tim Freed who does moth surveys sometimes runs three traps simultaneously but he stops up all night going from one to the other logging the catch.
I’m happier to be dealing with much smaller samples of the local moth population but I hope that I’ll be able to keep this up through the seasons and gradually get an impression of the bigger picture.
I’ve got a number of moth books but I think the essentials are Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend and Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Phil Sterling and Mark Parsons. Both are illustrated by Richard Lewington.
Moths are so variable that its helpful to check out other books and to Google the species and conjure up dozens of images of it.
AMONGST THE usual suspects – peppered, ‘clay’, footman, heart and dart – rounded up in the moth trap this morning there’s a new and, as a change from all those little brown jobs, a suitably distinctive looking moth. I sketch it several times to take in the appearance of it.
Those swirls at the ends of its forewings remind me of knots in wood. It’s the pebble prominent, Notodonta ziczac, the ‘pebble’ being the light brown area rather than the swirl. It’s a common and widespread moth of mature woodland, hedges and gardens; habitats that Coxley Valley has a plentiful supply of.
The burnished brass, Diachhrysia chrysitis, is a moth found ‘almost everywhere’ but typically in gardens and in hedges and on rough ground. One of its foodplants is nettle, so it should feel at home in our garden.
I’d describe its background colour as pale straw with perhaps the slightest tint of lime. The front of the head is ginger in contrast to the mottled brown of its other markings. By breaking up the colour like this and breaking up its shape with tufts and a small cockscomb this moth could pass itself off as a broken off piece of plant debris.
Playing dead, as it helpfully remained while I drew this, it would be perfectly disguised amongst summer leaf litter.
Like the burnished brass, the small magpie, Eurrhypara hortulata, a micro-moth that is 12mm long with a 2cm wingspan, is found in hedges and in gardens. Its larvae will also feed on nettles.
As usual there were a couple of less distinctive moths in the moth-trap that I’ve been unable to identify. Knowing how variable moths can be in size and colour left me struggling to match this moth with any particular species in the book. It’s tempting to lump puzzlers this as all being variations of that most typical of little brown moths, the uncertain.
But having said that it could in fact be the architypical little grey moth, the imaginatively named grey.
Just because I think I won’t be able to identify a moth doesn’t mean that I have to ignore it. This dark little moth with a thin white crescent was about 1cm long.