Friday 29 July 2022

When Moths Are Not Moths

This post is basically a load of moth pics from the last few days. The variety in size, shape, colour, form and texture continues to blow my little mind...

Iron Prominent, new for the garden.

Clouded Silver - not our first, but I don't think I've got any earlier pics.

Maiden's Blush, another first for the garden. I doubt it's vernacular name would make a short-list of options in 2022! A delicate and beautiful little moth.

Yponomeuta evonymella (Bird-cherry Ermine). With its five rows of dots, one of the more easily-identifiable ermines, and another garden first.

Bryotropha terrella - roughly 8mm of dowdy dullness

Bryoptropha affinis - approx 6mm. Another one that got a rough deal in the looks department.

A 5mm enigma, this one remains unidentified. My efforts led me to Ocnerostoma friesei, a species which mines the needles of Scots Pine. Dorset records appear thin on the ground, and I don't know if there any at all locally. I'm not surprised. Scots Pine is hardly abundant around here. Of course, it could be something else entirely, something I've overlooked. But to progress the ID any further I would probably need to put it in the hands of an expert, and frankly I lose interest at that point...

Canary-shouldered Thorn. The first of four over the past few days. Wild yellow fluff-ball. And those antennae...!

Sallow Kitten, another garden first. An object lesson in how to enhance a monochrome pattern with a magical sprinkling of bright orange speckles. Gorgeous.

The Gothic. Our second, but the first was extremely worn. This one is much better.

The Engrailed. Subtle and lovely.

The highlight of this morning's catch. A female Oak Eggar. Just awesome!

What a moth!

And this one's not bad either! Dusky Thorn, another garden first.

The preceding photos illustrate a typical spectrum of moth types that might be encountered in an average night's catch. Some are easy to identify, some are really not. Small, dowdy little micros fall into the latter category. But I have been surprised at how useful the Obsidentify app can be, if it's given a decent photo to work with. So when I extracted a feathery 5mm speck from this morning's egg box array, I took the following photo...

...and ran it through Obsidentify.

As per usual it gave me an identification very quickly, and I was chuffed to see a confidence rating of 80-odd percent. Hydroptila sparsa, it said. Not a name that rang any bells, and to my surprise I couldn't find it in the moth books. Still, scientific names do change from time to time, so I googled it. Yep, the internet photos matched. There was no doubt about the ID of my moth. Trouble is, my 'moth' was a micro-caddis!

I still have so much to learn.

Monday 25 July 2022

Another Scarce Moth

A significant mothy milestone was passed today: 250 species from the garden trap. Three new ones this morning brought the total to 252 in fact. Perhaps it's no big deal in this location, but I am nevertheless pretty gobsmacked to have clocked up such a tally in less than two months. Many have become familiar friends, but a high proportion have been one-offs. A few have even been quite scarce, and another in that category features later in the post. But first, some hairy beasts...

Swallow Prominent, from yesterday's catch...

...and a Pebble Prominent this morning.

It was great that both the above were in pristine condition, and behaved impeccably in the studio. I am getting a huge buzz from photographing some of these spectacular insects, and this pair illustrate why. There is only so much you can take in at the time, but perusing a photo at leisure really brings home how intricately constructed they are. And beautiful, of course.

A fortuitous capture this morning was both spectacles. By which I mean Spectacle and Dark Spectacle. We've had Spectacle a couple of times before, but Dark Spectacle was new. I found the differences quite subtle...

Dark Spectacle


Side by side - Spectacle on the left.

The Spectacle's spectacles.

And so, to this mornings scarce moth...

This was a whole different experience to the double-Orache epic related in the previous post. Admittedly, the protagonist was a tad less eye-popping (and less rare) but still...

Actually, the whole thing demonstrates how a complete novice goes about discovering that he's caught  something better than average in the completely flukey, ham-fisted way that novices do.

First, I potted this tiny blip of a thing that was clinging to one of the egg trays. Just 5mm or so in length, but I realised it was something I hadn't seen before. It held its wings in an odd, arms-akimbo kind of fashion. In fact I wasn't even sure it was a moth. The hand lens revealed feathery fringes to the wings, but even some caddis fly types have that. I took a rubbish photo and ran it through the Obsidentify app, which gave me Tebenna micalis, at a 50-something percent confidence rating. I googled Tebenna micalis, expecting it to come back as some kind of fly. To my astonishment it was a moth. And not just any moth. According to UK Moths:

...a scarce migrant to the southern counties, and transitory resident.

And it would seem there are not that many Dorset records. I took some better photos and sent them through to a very experienced moth chap. His opinion was positive, but it awaits 'official' verification. In the meantime, I give you Tebenna micalis...

Tebenna micalis. It is a bit worn, and therefore not at its best. If it were, I can assure you that you would be suitably blown away.

Stunner, eh?

In all seriousness, you need to click on this link on the Dorset Moths website to see Tebenna micalis at its glorious best, which ain't half bad actually.

The studio session did not go well, and there was a calamitous disaster which I shan't go into. Suffice to say, the above pics are the best I have.

As an aside, I will briefly mention what a drag it is to learn and remember a load of scientific names. Which is why I have typed Tebenna micalis several times through this post, in the vain hope that the name of this scarce little moth might actually stick.

Friday 22 July 2022


Scanning the plates in a moth field guide is like sifting a massive tin of sweeties. So many delicious temptations. One which has appealed since I first noticed it is Scallop Shell. Scallop Shell isn't one of those ludicrous pink and purple jobs from overseas, but nothing in the book has more zig-zag stripes. It looks gorgeous. And on Wednesday night I caught one. Not in the trap, but on the cabin wall, during a 'trap monitoring' session...

Scallop Shell, reluctantly posing on the moth plank...

...and on the deck, after storming out of the studio like a prima donna.

I am learning that some moths are very relaxed about photography (especially after a spell in the fridge) whereas others are very much not, and leg it at the slightest provocation. Scallop Shell falls into the second category.

A few more from Wednesday night...

I think I have the measure of Currant and Wormwood Pugs now. At least I hope so.

Another beautiful little Mocha. Like the two above, escaped from the studio with rapid ease.

Couldn't resist a few snaps of our second Rosy Minor.

A striking line of 'stitching' along the wing edges.

We seem to do well for pugs. I'm pleased about that, because I like them a lot.

Also known as Willow Ermine, there are several species which look very similar, but I am going to stick my neck out. That isn't shadow on the wing, but a smoky grey wash. Subtle, but along with the relatively large size of this one, a useful ID feature.

As alluded to in the last caption, there are many moth species which basically cannot be told apart by eye from one or more look-alikes. I find this quite frustrating, but can't do much about it. The glossy little micro in the next pic is a good example. It has a twin. However, on balance it is far more likely to be one than the other, so I'm having it. I expect this is not the purist's way, but hey-ho...

So Wednesday night was great. Some classy moths (including four new species) and a lot of excellent ID challenges. However, by now I was pretty knackered. Thankfully I was going to get Thursday night off. Sandra and I were babysitting our granddaughters over in Lyme Regis, so hopefully I was in for a proper night's sleep at last.

About an hour before we headed over, I thought to myself: 'Why not take the trap with us? It will be interesting to see what Baz and Abi might get in their garden. I can just switch it on and forget it until whenever the girls wake...'

Ah, so naive.

I switched it on, yes. But how could I just forget it? Of course I must trot out there and have a look occasionally. And a good thing too, because I caught another Scallop Shell! This one on the outside of the trap. Even so, just a handful of quick checks and I was in bed before midnight. But I couldn't resist setting the alarm for 6am...

The pre-bed checks hadn't been that promising. Very little activity generally and, apart from the Scallop Shell, no notable moths. But you never know...

Because I am a beginner, there are very few rare moths that I would instantly recognise for what they were. Death's Head Hawk-moth is one of course, but it is on a very, very short list. In by far the majority of cases I would probably know that I was looking at something I had not seen before, so would simply pot it up anyway. If it turned out to be a rarity, well, great, but any rarity buzz would very much be after the fact. However, about three egg trays in to this morning's catch, my blurry eyes alighted upon a moth that actually was on that very, very short list...

'Strewth! Is that what I think it is? Surely not?!'

At this point I enjoyed what can only be described as a mild dose of the shakes. I recognised it from those few and far-between moments when birding is good enough to provide one. Trouble is, the shakes are not helpful when it comes to potting a moth. On Tuesday morning I witnessed a very experienced and expert moth-er totally fumble the potting of a rarity, and then watched a Splendid Brocade disappear over the horizon. Thankfully though, no such disaster, and the moth was mine. I shut the trap, got the book out and checked my hunch, half expecting to be wrong. But I was not wrong.

Okay then, let's see what else we have.

Another couple of trays, and then...

'What?!! Another one??!!'

More shaking, more hairy moments with a plastic tube. Then, at 6.30am, this photo...

Orache Moth x2. A pukka mothy rarity.

Later, in more leisurely, and less fraught, fashion...

The brighter and fresher of the two

It is more than likely that this will never happen to me again, so forgive the mild self-indulgence, photo-wise. In real life, up close, this moth is even better than the photos suggest. All green moths are amazing, but Orache Moth is on a different level. Stunning is an over-used word, but exactly the right one here.

I'm not sure how many Dorset records of Orache Moth there have been, but I am probably right in thinking less than 20. Which gives a bit of context to two in the same trap.

Dwarf Cream Wave (new, but it wasn't my garden, so, er...)

Scallop Shell. I simply could not coax it any further on to the Hazel leaf. Next time I touched it...gone.

Clay (new, above)

Wormwood Pug. Always look at pugs.

Cydia splendana. About 8mm of beautifully intricate markings.

Shuttle-shaped Dart (new, but..etc...)

Two Orache Moths in one night, for a rank beginner, is just ridiculous. I fully appreciate that this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, but cannot avoid the feeling that the moths are doing a number on me...

Further, Gavin. Further. Onwards down the dark path...

Wednesday 20 July 2022


Three days of fierce heat have finally relented, leaving a trail of carnage and concern in their wake. In West Dorset it was unpleasant, but elsewhere I expect stronger adjectives were used. Other people will go on about it far more articulately than I ever could, so I'll talk about moths instead.

With the furnace of North Africa and Southern Europe spilling hot air this way, moth folk were talking up the prospects. I am not really moth folk, but I am an interested party, so I listened. Compared with Saturday night (48 moths of 29 species), Sunday was very busy - 170 moths of 63 species, including 11 new ones...

Crassa unitella - becoming a familar face now.

Small Wainscot (new)

Marbled Green (new)

Maple Pug (new). Great to get a new pug, and another one which doesn't seem to be recorded that much in the Bridport area.

Pebble Hook-tip (new) - three of these

Box-tree Moth (new) - much bigger than I imagined.

Dingy Shell (new) - apparently never rests with its wings open.

As far as I can tell, there were no migrants in Sunday night's catch. Monday perhaps?

Monday afternoon was baking. I knew that sleep might be elusive, and had no intention of working on Tuesday, so decided to spend the night in the garden. With the moths.

I had not anticipated what happens to the local invertebrate population when the overnight temperature remains above 20 degrees Centigrade. It descends upon the nearest moth trap, en masse. All night long, our little trap was rattling like a set of maracas, and my face, hair, legs and arms all an interesting diversion for a million insects bent on suicide. The final moth tally was 179 of 82 species. Notably, the first Jersey Tigers made an appearance, three in all. Compared to average moths, they look huge in flight! They were one of 16 new species...

Ostrinia nubilalis (European Corn Borer). There were five of this migrant species.

Sandy Carpet (new)

Just a single Udea ferrugalis (Rusty-dot Pearl) - another migrant.

One of two Plutella xylostella (Diamond-back) - as far as I know, the only other migrants in Monday night's catch.

Rosy Minor (new)

Four-spotted Footman (new) - four of these.

Yellow-tail (you don't say?) - also new.

Phyllonorychter platani

I wish I had managed better photos of that last one. Through a hand lens it is just outrageous. Black-edged, silvery stripes on a grey-and-apricot body with a tufty, bright orange fringe, all packed into about 4mm.

I didn't have time to finish off and identify everything, because I had once again been invited to witness the emptying of half-a-dozen or so traps at Mapperton, and needed to be there by 7am. Unfortunately I couldn't stay to the end, but suffice to say it was fascinating. Among the many moths whose names were as-yet unfamiliar to me, two Splendid Brocades caused a bit of excitement. A pretty moth, and a pretty rare migrant too. I felt like the beginner birder whose experienced companion finds a Lesser Yellowlegs or something. It was great seeing the others enjoy the rarity buzz, but the value of those smart moths was, in a sense, wasted on me.

However, I had no difficulty appreciating the contents of the Lunar Hornet pheremone trap...

Lunar Hornet Moth - two of these beauties.

And so, to last night...

A rather excellent 140 moths of 75 species. More than I expected, especially as the night was far from hot. Another 12 were new! Including this one...

Definitely past its best, but something about it rang alarm bells...

As soon as I saw this one in the trap, I was rapidly on it with a pot. It reminded me of the three Bordered Straws I caught in June. Bordered Straw is a quality migrant, and of course I had learned a few things as a result of catching them. Like the fact that there are two, rarer, look-alikes.

Although very worn, this moth still didn't look quite right for Bordered Straw, and sure enough, it was one of the other two. Not the rarest, but I really didn't care. My first Scarce Bordered Straw added a nice bit of zing to the morning's proceedings!

Dark Umber (new). Not ten-a-penny locally.

White-spotted Pug (new). Chuffed to add another pug to the growing list.

Dun Bar (new) - far more attractive than its name.

Gothic (new). Very battered, but another one that is not common locally, as far as I can tell.

Phoenix (new) - three of these.

Sharp-angled Peacock (new) - not quite pristine.

Finally, a couple of micros which illustrate why they are worth the effort. Just stunning little things...

Acleris forsskaleana - just 7mm long.

This ridiculously loud little speck is the 3.5mm Cameraria ohridella.


I've just had a quick read through the above, and I think it is fair to say that Not Quite Scilly is not quite what it was.