Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Day-flying moths (2012)

An article by Heather Martin

Now some warm, sunny weather has finally arrived, Speckled Yellow moths Pseudopanthera macularia can be seen fluttering along the tracks in our wood. The way they fly and their preference for bright sunshine can sometimes get them mistaken for butterflies at a distance. Their foodplant is wood sage.

After walking amongst numerous distinctively patterned Speckled Yellow moths, identifying the day-flying micro moths I then spotted on Sunday became much more difficult for a variety of reasons.

This 'Bird -dropping' Tortrix moth - Hysterophora maculosana camouflages itself rather effectively. From a distance it does resemble a bird-dropping on the leaf! To identify the moth to species level you really need to pot it and use a hand lens. Fortunately this one has a distinctive colouration with a rich brown spot at the apex of the wing - other Tortrix moths can require dissection.

Some tiny micro moths look as if they should be quite easy to identify because despite the fact they are less than a centimetre in length, they have a very well-defined pattern. However I can only put this strikingly marked little moth down on my list as Phyllonorycter sp. because there are several that superficially identical - another dissection job if you need to know the species! The larvae of these tiny insects mine the leaves of various trees and identifying the leaf-mines is a much easier way of determining the presence of individual species.

Dog's Mercury, Blubells and Yellow Archangel plants have had minute (no more than 5mm long) plain, metallic brown winged moths crawling all over them for a few weeks now. From a distance they can easily be mistaken for tiny flies but through a hand lens Micropterix calthella have a shock of golden hair on their heads and a beautiful sheen to their wings. They feed on pollen.

Other small moths are difficult to name because they have a very similar colouring and shape to others that are not even closely related. It's surprising how many very slight variations there can be on a 'chocolate-brown with golden highlights' theme! They need to potted and examined with a hand lens carefully. There can also be variations in the patterning of individual species so they don't exactly match the illustrations in reference works but this Esperia sulphurella has a little white band on its antenna about 2/3 of the way along.

Perhaps instead of driving myself to the point of feeling cross-eyed, I should have taken a hint from the dormice I found earlier in the day on our monthly nestbox check - chill out and let it all fly by! A lazy Sunday morning ...zzzzzzzzzz

All picutres by Heather Martin 22/05/2012

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