(Photos © Gordon Redford. Above: Gold-spot)
October, 2020 was a very poor month indeed for moths at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) with just 136 moths of 28 species visiting the traps there. In recent years, when similar traps have been in use, there have been on average 450 moths of 40 species for the October counts. The wet and windy weather will have played a part not least because they caused the level in the lake to rise and make the electricity supply to one trap inoperative. On another trap, the 125W Mercury vapour bulb blew presumably because of contact with rain as the bulb was covered. It was a particularly windy night so rain may have been blown onto the bulb, causing it to blow.
These things notwithstanding, 4 of the 28 species recorded were new to the October moths list for LLNR which has been compiled over the past 8 years and which now stands at 84. None though were new to the site.
The ‘new to the month’ moths were 2 micro moths and 2 macro moths although the micro moths were far from small in size. The micros were Palpita vitrealis and the Boxworm Moth. P.vitrealis featured in the previous report for September where there is a photograph and some information. The Boxworm Moth has a forewing length of 18mm!
The Boxworm moth is an interesting one because it is a native of East Asia and is thought to have been introduced to this country on imported Box plants which the caterpillars feed on. The moth was first recorded in Kent in 2007 and is now increasing in frequency. I have 8 records on my data base with 4 from my garden in Newport Pagnell (2018, 2019 and 2020), 1 from Westbury Farm (2020) and 3 from LLNR (all 2020). It is a pest species on Box.
The Macro moths new to the October list were Gold Spot and December Moth and one was making a late appearance and the other an early one. The Gold Spot is the one turning up later than usual and was recorded on 20th October. I do have another October record for this moth, in my garden in 2018 on 2nd October.
The Gold Spot is a moth of the wetlands and has 2 broods in the south of England with the moth on the wing late May-June and late July-September. There are a scattering of records in the new Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths for October. The caterpillars also feed on sedges, Yellow Iris, Branched Bur-reed and Water-plantain. It will be interesting to see if these occasional October records continue.
The December Moth which was recorded on 29th October. All other records for this moth for me have been in November or December.
The name December Moth was hinted at 300 years ago when Eleazar Albin, a painter engraver of moths and butterflies, wrote that it “came at the latter end of December”. Perhaps then it only made appearances in December. It is a chunky moth that does not feed in the winged state. The caterpillars feed on a number of broadleaved trees including oak, birches, elms, hawthorns, blackthorns, poplars and sallows. It overwinters as an egg.
Another moth that does not feed in the winged adult state and made some appearances in October is the Sprawler.
Although it does not feed as an adult, the pupa has a full-size proboscis case which remains empty during development. The proboscis is used to sup nectar. This indicates that the loss is possibly recent in evolutionary terms. It is things like this that make moths so intriguing for me. The caterpillars feed on a number of broadleaved trees and the winter is spent as an egg.
Another immigrant that paid a visit to the trap in October was the Dark Sword-grass. (I find I want to write Dark Sward-grass and not Dark Sword-grass).
As an immigrant, it has been recorded every month of the year but most numerous July-October. Individuals that arrive in the Spring are thought to give rise to summer larvae with the resulting adults supplementing the autumn immigrants. The caterpillars feed on the leaves and roots of low growing plants and have taken dandelion when reared in captivity.
The Red-green Carpet was recorded on 22nd October and also on 12th and 17th April. The April records will have been females who hibernate as adults through the winter.
The Red-green Carpet is one of three British species (Brindled Ochre and Autumn Green Carpet are the others) in which mating takes place in the Autumn after which all the males die. No sexual equality here. The caterpillars feed on various broadleaved trees including Oak, Blackthorn, Cherries and birches.
Another often showing some green is the Green-brindled Crescent. 16 were recorded in the month.
This species, unlike the Sprawler, does feed in the adult state and sometimes can be found on Ivy blossom and blackberries this time of year. It overwinters as an egg laid singly on twigs of the food plants which include Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Crab Apple and Dog-rose.
My final moth for October is one resplendent in Autumn colour which is the Feathered Thorn.
There were 8 records for the month. The Thorns are a group of moths who owe the thorn part of their name to their caterpillars because they sport a sharp projection on their backs. The spike improves the camouflage of the stick-like caterpillars allowing them to merge better into the undergrowth. The caterpillars feed on a range of broadleaved trees. The males, who come more frequently to light than the females, have feathery antennae as in the photograph. The feathery antennae offer a wide surface area to trap the pheromones of the female.
5 November 2020