Back seat driver! Two Mute swans flying over the Messingham reserve in close formation.
Proving once again that not all moths are dingy brown things that eat your clothes. The Beautiful China Mark Nymphula stagnata seen at the Messingham reserve. Its larvae are aquatic, living on Bur Reeds and Yellow Water Lilies etc.
Found resting on a leaf at the Messingham reserve. This sawfly know as Tenthredo livida canbe quite numerous and easily identified by its white tipped antennae.
What else can you find?
An unusual view of a Water Measurer on the surface above lots of Common Frog tadpoles. Taken on 26th March 2017.
This fly known as Tachina ursina was spotted on the Messingham reserve on the 26th March. It only seems to appear around March to April so it is not seen very often. Seen anything thing you would like to tell us about? John Davison, our area recorder would be pleased to receive any reports from you.
If possible take a photo or means of identifying it along with the date and where found. That way he can maintain our excellent record system. You never know what may turn up!
In recent years the floral
richness at the Messingham reserve has declined somewhat. Having said that, one plant species has increased. It may possibly
have been overlooked by most visitors to the reserve due to the fact that it
cannot be found beside the tracks or in the flower meadows, in fact this is not
a terrestrial plant.
Ponds and lakes are the
habitat of this unusual rootless plant with its horizontal stems and finely
divided leaves bearing many small sac-like bladders that trap and digest small
water creatures such as water fleas.
This is the nationally
scarce Greater Bladderwort ( Utricularia vulgaris ) a carnivorous plant that
has occurred in small pools on the reserve in very low numbers for many years.
It now flourishes in huge numbers in the large lakes displaying its golden
flowers above the water surface on short stems. The numerous bladders are about
four mm in diameter and have an internal negative pressure and trigger
mechanism which, when tripped, sucks in a prey item at the speed of one ten
thousandth of a second. Within hours the prey item is dissolved, water is then
pumped out of the bladder and the trap reset.
The plant overwinters by a
hibernaculum, a detachable swollen bud that forms at the tip of its leaves, sinking
to the bed of the lake in winter.
A new record for our Messingham Sand Quarry Nature Reserve the very striking Red-necked Footman Atolmis rubricollis. It has a strong preference for Lichens and green algae found on varoius trees.
The name comes from the wings resembling the long coats worn by servants in the Victorian era. JP.
A Female Nursery Web spider, Pisaura mirabilis, photographed by John Petyt showing the egg sac or cocoon which she carries around until the young are ready to hatch.
At this stage she spins a tent-like web in which the young will remain until ready to disperse.
A very striking moth, once found, but the Coxcomb Prominent can normally be very well camouflaged.
Photo. John Davison.
These striking Dragonflies can be found throughout most of Britain but are always worth a look at. They frequently return to the same 'perch' keeping their eyes open for passing prey.
Photo. John Davison.
A Male Banded Demoiselle Damselfly seen at MSQ. These are more often found along slow-flowing lowland streams and rivers.
Photo. John Davison.
Fasciated Spear Thistle.
A Spear Thistle near the dipping ponds at the Messingham Reserve showing an unusual deformity known as 'Fasciation'. The reason for this is not fully understood but could be a hormonal imbalance in the plant.
This one shows the stem(s) joined together over a span of around 100mm with the normal size at the edge. EG.
Mass irruption of Chafers
On 5th June 2015 we came across countless numbers of Garden Chafers Phyllopertha horticola, in the central meadow area at the Messingham reserve. These beetles feed on the roots of grasses as larvae and can be a nuisance in lawns but provide quite a spectacle in the wild. E.G.
Another insect new to Messingham Sand Quarry in 2014, this is the striking Corizus hyoscami bug which is a member of the Rhoplidae family.
Once again found and photographed by John Davison.
A nice shot of a Blue Shieldbug, Zicrona caerulea, taken at the Messingham reserve.
As we say there's always something new out there.
Photo. John Davison.
Another striking insect, this time an Asparagus Beetle, Crioceris asparagi, this time taken outside on a window.
Photo. E Gaunt
In mid June of 2013 John Davison and I were checking out a site in Scunthorpe to record the wildlife interest there.
We came across this beetle on Rosebay Willowherb and not being able to identify it we sent a copy to the Lincolnshire Beetle recorder, Charlie Barnes.
The next day he made a visit and was able to confirm it as Bromius Obscurus which is normally found in the middle of Europe.
This seems to be only the second 'colony' in Britain, the first being in Cheshire where it is still to be found. On subsequent visits it has been found, albeit in smaller numbers' in Atkinson's Warren and on the old abandoned railway alongside Gunness Straight. It seems it it likes the Coversands soil i.e. free draining sandy acid grassland. Further sites are to be visited to find out the extent of its coverage. EG.
A very close look at some Green Shieldbug eggs and nymphs photographed by Mark Johnson.
It's a jungle out there!
A new record for the Messingham Reserve is the fungus Cordyceps militaris which has the 'common' name of Scarlet Caterpillar Fungus. It feeds on the dead larvae and pupae of butterflies and moths buried in the soil with the mycelium replacing the insides of the insect. EG.
Seen on the Messingham reserve, a small fly with the name of Sicus ferrugineus. This rather unusually shaped fly is an endoparasite of bumble bees such as Bombus Lapidarus, terrestris, hortorum and pascuorum where the larvae pupates over winter in their victims. EG.
A lovely photo of a Pygmy Shrew taken on the Messingham Reserve by Maria Rhoades on the 24th February 2012. These are very fast moving and obviously very small rodents continuously on the move so the photograph is quite an achievement.
Now You See Them
The wings of butterflies and moths consist of colourless membranes covered in tiny scales, often brightly coloured, forming beautiful patterns. Each scale has its own single colour produced either by pigment or by light refraction and is found on both upper and lower sides of the wing. These coloured scales produce extraordinary beautiful patterns and designs that we enjoy, particularly on the day flying butterflies. Many moths are also very colourful but only a small number can be enjoyed on the wing during daytime. Despite their flamboyance, butterflies seem to present a difficult target to most predatory birds, but when disturbed moths are a much easier target.
Fortunately most moth species are nocturnal and will only fall prey to a small number of bird species but are much loved by bats!
Waved Umber Chimney Sweeper Larvae
It is when butterflies and moths are at rest that they become vulnerable to predation and need concealment by camouflage. Butterflies rest with wings folded over their backs exposing a cryptically patterned underside rendering the insect almost invisible when blended against its background. Most moths rest with the wing upper surface exposed, often in open situations resembling their background extremely well.
Probably more vulnerable to predation is the larval stage especially during bird nesting season and to increase survival rates some species have achieved incredible cryptic shapes and colouration making them almost invisible to detection even to the human eye. As impressive as this concealment may be, the majority of larvae do perish, if not from bird predation then from disease.
Feathered Thorn Herald Marbled Beauty
Mottled Beauty Light Arches John Petyt
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Green is Good
The colour green is commonly found in caterpillars of lepidoptera in Britain, but not so in the adult stage. Our only green butterfly is the Green Hairsteak and then only so on the underside – the upper-side being brown. The green colouration is produced structurally by refraction of light. Green pigment does not exist in any British butterflies and the apparent green on the underside of the Orange-tip is an illusion produced by an intermingling of black and yellow scales.
Merveille du Jour Green Arches
Green pigment however, does occur in our moths, and Emerald moths are obvious examples. Others include the Green and Scarce Silver-lines, Green Carpet , Burren Green, and of course, the magnificent Oleander Hawk-moth. Freshly emerged from their pupae the colour green is very vibrant in these moths and never fail to delight all who chance upon them.
Green Silver-lines Male Green Silver-lines Female
Large Emerald Large Emerald
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As well as their scientific classification, larger moths are given descriptive vernacular group names based on appearance or behaviour. Examples are Hawks, Swifts, Carpets, Tigers, Owlets, Pugs, Thorns and Sharks, the list goes on. Cat lovers might like to know that there is a group called "Kittens" and as you might expect they are also soft and furry and very pleasing to the eye.
In the UK there are four species, the smaller ones are named Alder, Sallow and Poplar, after their foodplant . They are whitish moths with a dark grey band on the centre of the forewing and similar in size, about 45mm.
The largest by far is the rather dramatic Puss Moth, again whitish in colour, decorated with black spots on thorax and wing bases and dark curling lines on the wings. A very impressive furry moth with a wingspan of up to 80mm. Its scientific name is Cerurer vinula and describes the rather dramatic larval stage - Cerurer "Horned", Vinula "Wine-coloured"
Puss Moth Ovae
The adults emerge in May and June when females seek out Poplar and Willow trees on which to lay their eggs. These are rusty-red in colour and laid in pairs - sometimes more, on the upper side of a leaf and are said to resemble leaf Galls perhaps affording some degree of camouflage.
The young larvae have two ear-like projections just behind the head making them appear cat-like from behind. Mature larvae reach 65mm in lenght and are as fat as a finger sporting a bright green body with wine coloured saddle trimmed with white with the effect of resembling a damaged leaf. The facial plate is large armed with heavy-duty mandibles and above this are two large red false eyes giving a very fierce appearance. At the rear are a pair of horns developed from its rear claspers which, when alarmed, extrude red flagelae used as whips to discourage predators. It is also capable of spitting an acidic substance 15cm to ward off attackers. Four pairs of dramatic claspers fringed with bristles give the heavy larva a firm grip on its foodplant.
Puss Moth Larva
On maturity, in late summer, larvae take on a purple tinge and seek a place to pass the winter months. A crevice in the bark of the foodplant is usually chosen in which to construct a cement hard pupa chamber. This is dome shaped and constructed from silk and chewed bark fragments giving it perfect camouflage. The pupa is deep brown and ‘Mummy’-like and is secure from predator save, perhaps, a hungry Woodpecker. In order to escape from its concrete chamber the emerging moth excretes potassium peroxide to soften the wall. Once free the emergent moth crawls to a suitable place to expand and dry its folded wings, find a mate, and start a fresh cycle of life.
Puss moth coccoon Puss moth coccoon with larva inside
Article and photographs - John Petyt. For more photographs, see the Links page.
To many people, the general perception of a moth is of a drab brown insect fluttering around a lamp and being most unwelcome. The truth is that moths are very diverse in form and some are as colourful as the gaudiest butterfly.
One group of moths stand out from the rest in that they closely resemble wasps in appearance and behaviour. The two larger members of the group are the Hornet Clearwings, stout rather plump moths, with a wingspan 15-20mm, and striking wasp-like bodies of a size similar to that of a Hornet but deeper yellow in colour.
The majority of the group numbering no more than a mere twelve are much smaller and daintier resembling solitary wasps. As the name suggests, Clearwing moths have transparent narrow wings, the hind pair being broadest, and are held away from the body at rest. The few wing scales they have on emergence are mostly lost during their first flight, but have dark bands or blotches near their wing tips, sometimes reddish in colour. Prominent dark veins radiate the full length of the wing and the trailing edge is decorated with a fringe of hairs.
The abdomen is narrow and black and may have bands of white, yellow or red, similar to a resistor used in electronic circuits. The tip of the abdomen is brush-like dipped in yellow or red.
When trying to distinguish Clearwings from wasps there are several pointers to look for. In social wasp species the waist is very narrow and pinched at the union between thorax and abdomen, also, wings are folded longitudinally when at rest – not so in moths, head and eyes are also much larger in wasps.
Like wasps and flies, clearwings are very active during daytime and are dependant on sunshine. They are rarely seen as adults, flying mostly high up amongst branches of trees in order to attract a mate. Occasionally you may encounter one sunning itself or nectaring at low levels, but they are easily disturbed and soon buzz off.
The larval stage is as curious as the adult, being maggot-like and almost white. They feed internally in stems, trunks and upper roots of trees and shrubs. Poplar, Oak, Willow, Birch, Alder and a variety of fruit trees are colonised, inflicting serious damage to infected plants as the tunnelling larvae eat their way through conducting tissue for two years before emerging as adults. A few species prefer to feed inside stems of low plants like Thrift, Birds-foot-trefoil and Dock.
Freshly cut stumps of Oak or Birch attract egg-laying females and present an opportunity to search for signs of habitation. Ejected frass, or empty pupae cases sometimes stand proud, in numbers, indicating that the adults have flown. Moth enthusiasts attract and record moth species after dark using a special lamp that emits ultra violet light, a form of light many moths can’t resist. Clearwings are not attracted this way as they are day flying and rarely seen, being under-recorded as a result. Science has come to aid of the recorder in the form of a man made pheromone, which is suspended in proximity of the food-plants during the flight period of May to August. This has proved very successful in increasing the records of clearwing moths as males arrive in hope of finding a mate.
There are at best fourteen species in Britain and as many as one thousand worldwide, most in the tropics.
When we think of butterflies we recall hot sunny weather, flower filled meadows and gardens alive with these charming colourful insects. Similarly, lovers of moths will remember those balmy warm evenings scented with the fragrance of honeysuckle.
Each species has its own flight season, some only a few short weeks and others perhaps a few months. But sadly summer does not last forever and all species of Lepidoptera have to find a means of surviving the winter months.
How do they achieve this? Well for some they don’t!Migrant species such as the Silver Y Moth, Deaths-Head Hawk-moth and Clouded Yellow Butterfly find our climate too wet and cold preferring a more Mediterranean climate. One exception is the Humming-bird Hawk-moth, which in recent years has managed to survive as an adult in unheated out-houses.
There are also several native species of butterfly capable of over-wintering as adults, and to do so have to seek suitable places such as amongst ivy foliage, under fallen leaves or in buildings, and when resting with closed wings are very well camouflaged. Typical butterfly species achieving this are Brimstone, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, and Peacock and are capable of living for as long as ten months.
Some moths also over-winter as adults finding similar places as butterflies, as well as behind loose bark. The Herald is a beautiful moth with cryptic colouring and several can be found together spending the winter in some cold outbuilding. The Grey Shoulder-knot hides behind loose bark whilst the Dark Chestnut remains active in mild weather, to mate, and lay eggs in December and January. The Satellite Moth adopts a similar tactic, but with the Red Green Carpet moth only the females attempt to pass the winter in hibernation, to emerge and lay eggs in spring. You would think that the aptly named Winter Moth would be active throughout winter; but only survives until January when the wingless female lays her eggs.
The second option for surviving the winter is in the egg stage. Being extremely small, an egg laid singly or in small batches can be concealed in bark crevices or on terminal buds. The moths Mervelle du Jeur, Red Underwing and the Purple Hair-streak butterfly, adopt this strategy.The Bulrush Wainscot moth cuts a slit in the stem of the food-plant before laying her eggs inside the plant tissues. The wingless female Vapourer Moth lays her complete batch of eggs on the outside of her pupal cocoon that she emerged from, attached to vegetation, walls or fences. In the case of the Lackey Moth, the egg batch is laid as a collar around a twig of the food-plant and is covered with a layer of gum to protect them. The Gypsy Moth conceals her eggs by covering them with a coating of hairs from her abdomen. Species over-wintering this way may be in this dormant state for as long as eight months.
The next strategy for over-wintering common to very many species of Lepidoptera is the larval stage. Of course this stage is at greater risk of predation then the egg, and so has to be well concealed or camouflaged to match the surrounding background. Larvae over-winter at various stages of development. In August, the Small Skipper butterfly larva eats the eggshell on emergence and then spins a small dense cocoon at the base of the grass food-plant and then settles down for the winter when it emerges the following April to feed. The Marsh Fritillary butterfly larvae feed communally inside a web until half grown during August when they construct a more substantial web in which to hibernate until early spring when they emerge to sun themselves before commencing feeding. The Speckled Wood butterfly over-winters as a small larva concealed at the base of its grass food-plant, but also as a pupa. This habit is unique amongst British butterflies. Some species over-winter as fully-grown larvae, the Chequered Skipper being an example, and after hibernation no feeding takes place before pupation in April.
The Short-Cloaked moth larva, after feeding for a few weeks, hibernates in a bark crevice protected with a silken thread until the following April when feeding recommences: this species is in the larval stage for about ten months. The Ruby Tiger moth and Fox Moth spend the winter as fully-grown larvae concealed in leaf litter, to emerge in spring, not to feed but only to sun themselves before pupating. The Northern Eggar moth prefers to pass two winters resting, the first as small larva larva, and the second as a pupa.
The wood boring species such as the Goat and Clearwing moths spend up to five years feeding to maturity as larvae inside the stems of their food-plants. The larvae of the Fiery Clearwing also feed internally, in this case inside thick roots of herbaceous plants such as Dock, whilst species such as the Turnip Moth, known to gardeners as ‘Cut Worms’, and members of the Swift family feed throughout winter, underground on the roots of grasses and herbaceous plants and inflict serious damage to crops.
Probably the most common form of over-wintering used by moths and some Butterflies is in the pupal stage. When fully fed, the larva seeks a suitable place to pupate, hopefully out of the reach of hungry predators. The Orange-tip butterfly pupa is usually brown, occasionally green, and very angular in shape, and when attached to a dry stem by a girdle of silk is very difficult to detect. The Green Hairstreak pupa is brown and Slug-like and is held by silk to a dead leaf, then spends the winter amongst general litter under its food-plant. Cabbage White pupae can often be found resting on fences, sheds or walls of houses and often emerge quite early in spring when the chosen pupation site happens to face south and warms up rapidly on sunny days.
Moths choose a variety of places to hide their pupae. Most seek low herbage, under moss, or at various depths beneath the soil surface, and you have no doubt unearthed a few when turning over garden soil. Some moths prefer to pupate well above ground level fixing their cocoons to tree bark or stems. The Puss Moth when fully fed is a very dramatic creature, and prepares to pupate by chewing fragments of bark, which it mixes with silk resulting in a rock-hard elongated dome shaped case in which it over-winters. Both the Alder and Miller moths prefer to chew into soft wood before pupating.
As you can see, there are several ways that Butterflies and Moths at various stages of development choose to spend the winter months. Not all survive; many larvae and pupae are dug up by birds such as Starlings and Crows or chiselled from their hiding places by Woodpeckers. Carnivores such as beetles often predate larvae, and if the winter is mild and damp then many succumb to diseases. Whatever strategy a species has chosen for its survival, its active stages can be very brief especially as an adult.
When searching for the larvae of Butterflies and Moths you need to know the feeding season and what the favoured food source is of your target species. Of course you need to be aware of the life cycle of the species you are searching for and what part of the plant you are likely to find it. You may need a torch to search for many species as they feed only at night to avoid predation, and hide deep in low vegetation or rest amongst the twigs of their foodplant during daylight hours. The stick caterpillars are good at this, and the larva of the Swallow-tailed Moth become invisible when resting on the twigs of garden Privet. The larva of the Merveille du Jour feed on the foliage of Oak during the night but hides during the day in deep bark furrows and can be found quite low down on the trunk of the tree during daytime.
95% of species feed on plant material, the majority on the foliage, either by chewing or feeding internally, tunnelling between the upper and lower layers of the leaf, some prefer to eat dead or decaying leaves. To a lesser degree, other parts of the plant are consumed. Flowers are often eaten as well as the foliage as with the Cinnabar Moth. The Foxglove Pug eats only the flower and so has to time its emergence with that of its foodplant. Fruits are attacked by species such as the Codlin Moth and the Lychnis and Netted Pug moths take ripening seeds of the Campion family. Not forgetting, of course, the damage done by the Pea moth. Moth larvae also eat stored grain, the Pale Mottled Willow being a culprit. The larvae of the Wainscot moths tunnel into the stems of the common reed whilst Leopard and Goat Moth larvae feed inside the trunks, branches and upper roots of trees and shrubs.Roots of grasses and herbaceous plants are not safe from the attention of the Ghost and Swift moths. On emergence from an over wintering egg, the larva of the Purple Hairstreak butterfly chews into the terminal bud of the Oak tree. Footman larvae prefer to eat lichens and algae. Other food sources include fungi, mosses, and even cone wax in beehives. Unlikely foods taken are fur and feather of dead animals and also household furnishings! The most bizarre, perhaps, are the cannibals of the caterpillar kingdom- the Satellite and Dunbar moth larvae when not chewing foliage will readily consume each other!
Some larvae feed on a single species of plant, others on a particular family, grasses being preferred by many butterflies. I have found several winter pupae of the Speckled Wood on my garden ornamental grasses even the giant Miscanthus used as a bio fuel. Then there are the numerous species that feed on plants belonging to different families. Observations of the feeding habits of lepidopteron larvae have been made over many years and quite a comprehensive list of foodplants have been made with new discoveries being added occasionally. Recently I observed a Holly Blue butterfly laying eggs on the foliage of Dyer’s Greenweed (Genista tinctoria) in full flower- a later search revealed a single larva. Another find this year was of a well-grown larva of the Copper Underwing feeding on Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), which I reared, to an adult moth. Another interesting find was of Eyed Hawkmoth larvae on Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). If you fancy testing this yourself, remember that as the larvae chew the foliage they release cyanide gas so you must use a well-ventilated rearing cage.
In the 1980’s I worked in a local authority glasshouse nursery. One of the potted plants grown at that time was the Spider Flower (Cleome spinosa) family Capparidaceae and on this plant successfully fed Large, Small and Green-veined White Butterfly larvae previously only found on Cruciferous plants. It was at this time that my interest in moths really took off with the acquisition of my first moth trap. Moths were far more plentiful than they are now as were their larvae- it is a treat to find a single larva nowadays.
One very successful method I used then to attract females of Poplar Hawkmoth and Puss Moth was to plant a row of poplars. For Poplar Hawkmoth choose the hybrid Black Poplar and also a few White Poplars, which between them produce some interesting larval colour variations. The inclusion of Grey Sallow will encourage additional species of moth. For the Puss Moth I used Populus x candicans “Aurora” a conspicuously variegated form with spring foliage of white and pink later turning green. I have seen as many as three eggs laid on the upper surface of a single leaf, these look very conspicuous against the variegated background.
The length of the row will depend upon space available. Simply push well into the ground hard wood cuttings up to 1cm thick and 60 cm long in early winter. These will root quickly in spring and grow to 2m in a couple of years when they are pruned down to 30cm from ground level every winter, the resulting new growth being very attractive to Poplar Hawkmoths. Because the Puss Moth emerges early it is best not to prune the Variety “Aurora” hard down but to leave a 1.5m stem and cut back all the branches.
And finally a tale of a Grey Dagger larva I collected to rear a few years ago only to be disappointed when a single parasitic wasp emerged – but the larva managed to pupate. The following June a perfect moth emerged. How’s that for economy!