Tag Archive: moths


Common Quaker

Hebrew Character

Two wee beauties from Sunday night’s and last night’s trappings respectively, my first two successful trappings of the year.

The WB100 is earning its stripes! Click on the photos to view them in high-res on Flickr.

More about them on the Log.

Common Quaker and Hebrew Character bring the year list to…
2013 MOTHS: 10


Angle Shades larva "Angie", 29 March 2013

And hopefully I’ll be a good steward as I feed her up to mothhood!

Mompha subbistrigella (Garden Cosmet), at home, 20 Feb 2013

The Garden Cosmet (Mompha subbistrigella) – only 6mm long, a very welcome harbringer of spring, in our upstairs loo!

Omitting details of my activity when I discovered it (in the upstairs toilet), I will say that I was very, very pleased to see this little chap.

A Garden Cosmet, Mompha subbistrigella, my first adult moth of 2013!

Hey, it is the year of release (relief?)! (Wee inside joke for the DP team :))

Mompha subbistrigella (Garden Cosmet), at home, 20 Feb 2013

Blending in with the sparkling reflections from the obscured-glass

After a tricky (but successful) photo shoot involving a torch – and a magnifying glass blu-tacked to my camera lens – I released him in the back yard.

Going to a talk by Don Hodgers on the insect life of County Louth and further afield, tomorrow night on the Malone Road, Belfast, at 7:15 pm. For anyone interested, check out the Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland facebook page or their website – anyone is welcome to come along!

Mompha subbistrigella makes the year list…
2013 MOTHS: 1, 1e, 1t 

(that’s 1 as adult [M. subbistrigella], 1 in early stage [S. aurella], 1 as trace [S. anomalella])

Glencairn Road, 20 Jan 2013

The snowy Glencairn Road

This year’s snowfall was nay too bad up our way – last weekend a few inches fell and mostly thawed overnight, followed by a few fresh flurries, ice on pavements and a final thaw yesterday as a warm front pushed in.

Up in Glencairn Park (above) last Sunday, the snow crunched deeper underfoot as I gained altitude, listening out for birdsong as I went. At the bottom of the park the piping calls of blue tits and coal tits, and the more strident vocalisations of great tits, filled the trees. A herring gull flew solemnly over while black-headed gulls gallavanted by the housing estate.

On the first hill hooded crows picked through the grass and argued loudly with magpies in their skyscraping conifers. A jackdaw also put in an appearance.

As I climbed the hill, listening out for new finds, the round-winged, long-tailed silhouette of a sparrowhawk swooped across the sky. (I probably could have just watched it rather than trying to focus through a hopeless pair of pocket binoculars!)

Soon enough I heard the robin… and perhaps a goldfinch, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t hear it again. Likewise a rattle from the trees could have been a mistle thrush… but probably just a magpie.

I’d been keeping a beady eye out on the bramble bushes. If you remember, last year I really got into leafmining micro-moths, and one of the most common of those is Stigmella aurella. Its tiny orange caterpillar mines bramble leaves, making brown-white squiggles on them. So far on my walk I’d seen plenty of old vacated leafmines that the caterpillars had already left long ago. But what I was really hoping to see was a tenanted mine – one with a caterpillar in it.

And after a while, I had success!

Stigmella aurella larva in mine, 20 Jan 2013

Literate larva!

Not one, but two little caterpillars huddled in their mines, in the freezing cold.

After a few minutes’ worth of fiddling with my camera and hand lens, my hands were going cryogenic so I put my gloves back on and left the caterpillars to their sleep.

As I was rebooting my hands, a bird started calling very loudly from the tree above me.

“Chick…      chick…      chick…”

I peered up to see what it could be, but before I could get my eye in it was off. I chased the sound down the road a bit… it was father away and still calling. Then it flew back the way it had come, revealing itself to be a thrush of some kind.

Didn’t sound like a blackbird,
or a song thrush,
or a mistle thrush…
fieldfare maybe? That would be quite a find.

But as I later found out on the RSPB’s newly-revamped website, fieldfares chuckle not chick, and the only thrush that it really could have been was a redwing. Quite pleased to find this winter visitor.

Before I headed back down to the urban jungle, I had a close encounter with a friendly robin which perched no more than a metre or two away from me, then flew right past me to the other side of the road and back.

It appeared so interested in me that I raised my arm, thinking there might be a possibility it might even come and perch on me, but as it turned out, he wasn’t quite as tame as that common darter dragonfly!

Descending through the woods, I was arrested by a flash of white, black and pink. It couldn’t be… it was! A jay! It flew silently away from me, from tree to tree.

A clan of bullfinches escorted me down the hill.


Yesterday, while I was at school and the rain was clearing the last of the snow, my parents got quite a treat. Just look who showed up in our garden!

Waxwings in the garden! 25 Jan 2013


The Internet is always awash with waxwing photos at this time of year. They come over to the British Isles from Scandinavia during winter, to feast on berries. And I can tell you they did a pretty good job clearing out our cotoneaster!

Apparently the collective term for waxwings is “a grosbeaks of waxwings”. Some people, like me, prefer “an earful of waxwings”. 🙂

If you haven’t yet seen these fantastic fellows, it’s well worth checking online to see if any have been spotted near you. They are fabulous!

And don’t forget the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend!

Home Garden, 26 Jan 2013

What’s-a-in your garden today?

2013 MOTHS: 1L
2013 BIRDS: 33

Happy New Year!



The wallflower is flowering by the wall, the daffodils and tulips are shooting up, and the days are starting to get longer.

So by my definition, spring is underway! Hope this picture conveys a sense of the rich, joyful energy of new life bursting forth.

(Life which includes moths!!! I’ve had the trap out for the past few nights, as it’s been mild, and caught nothing, but I’ll keep trying – there are some species flying at this time of year.)

I’m looking forward to all the experiences 2013 will bring – one of which is (hopefully) university! Another thing I’m looking forward to is not spending my summer watching terns through a telescope! (Don’t ask.)

I wonder if 2013 can be any more moth-tastic than was 2012 – my moth year list came to 273 species!! I have, amongst others, Catherine Bertrand, Andrew Crory and Ted Rolston to thank for some memorable mothy moments. Hopefully it’ll be better on the butterfly front this year – nationally last year was quite poor for butterflies, and I didn’t see as many as usual myself.

I learned some lessons in 2012 too. Like, when you open your mind to new ideas and perspectives, a whole truckload of bs falls in along with the gold dust you’re after. (I’ll say no more.) There were plenty more lessons – some I haven’t unwrapped yet.

Anyway, you can expect more sporadic, spontaneous, randomsocks writing from The Caterpillar in 2013! (Including the return of The Planets!)


A Smiley Caterpillar

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 6 Sep 2012

The spectacular Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar

After all the mad leafmining caterpillars I adopted over the summer, with varying success, it was nice to get back to the much simpler macro caterpillars. This is a Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar, which I collected from Murlough less than a month ago. It’s grown very fast since then (compare 10 Aug, below, with 6 Sep, above), moulting at least twice, and is probably still munching his hawthorn leaf as I type.

I called him Smiley as soon as I saw him. Why?

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar "Smiley", 10 Aug 2012


That’s why. 🙂

[Project 31A: Coxcomb Prominent]

Where was I?

In July – too busy with work to have any energy for blogging… in August – at a caravan with basically no internet access. But now I’m at the library at good ol’ Newcastle, County Down, and I’m in the mood for bloggingood!!! (well, I had to make it rhyme somehow)

I’ll start off with a bang…

Lesser Swallow Prominent; Murlough NNR; 5 August 2012


This, my dear readers, is a Lesser Swallow Prominent moth. Over the past week I’ve been joining a friend of mine, Andrew Crory, a volunteer who regularly puts out UV light traps at Murlough NNR near Newcastle. The light traps attract moths by the dozen (and flies by the million as well as ichneumons, bees and beetles) and in the morning – bingo, you get a box full of beauuuuuuuuuuuutiful moths like this one.

My moth year list is over 240 now and my life list must be approaching 270. It’s getting ridiculous now!

A few more nice pics from the traps before I start typing again:

Antler Moth; Murlough NNR; 6 Aug 2012

Antler Moth

Scallop Shell; Murlough NNR; 6 Aug 2012

Scallop Shell

That’s just a taste – there were loads more and once I get home Flickr will be duly bombarded with all the photos.

A technique that’s also been very useful for finding new stuff is looking for leaf mines. These are distinctive squiggles/blotches/blisters made on the leaves of many different plant species by many different insect species. One of the most common leafminers has to be Stigmella aurella, which I mentioned at the start of the year:

Stigmella aurella larvae mining Rubus sp.; Murlough NNR; 5 Aug 2012

Stigmella aurella larvae, mining some kind of Rubus (Blackberry/Raspberry) cultivar

Well, we knew THAT one was in Murlough, but Andrew and I think we’ve found about 6 new moth species for the reserve in the space of about three days. Noooooo joke.

So you can see the attraction.

Incidentally, I’ve collected some of the tenanted mines (ones with the larvae still in them, as opposed to vacated mines that the larvae have left) and am rearing them. Those three caterpillars above have now all exited their mines and are pupating in tiny brown cocoons on the leaves.

I also have 1 Phyllonorycter coryli (pupated), 1 Ectoedemia minimella (which has left the mine but might not pupate – it’ll be a difficult one as it has to overwinter) and 3 Apple Leaf Miners, Lyonetia clerkella (all pupated). Bringing them into the warmth seems to make them go into pupation mode pretty much immediately. They must know to take advantage of warmf.

The Apple Leaf miner has the coolest pupation technique – it doesn’t make a cocoon. It makes a hammock.

Apple Leaf Miner (Lyonetia clerkella) larva in pupation 'hammock'; Slidderyford, Newcastle; 1 Aug 2012


Well, brethren, my time is short so I must fly. But at some point… I’ll get round to talking about those cute tern chicks I think I mentioned. If I can bring myself to. Working during the summer holidays, even paid work, even for the RSPB… really demands motivation. But it’s been very good and I’ve loads of photos, which mostly look the same from a distance.

You’ll see what I mean.

EDIT 04.01.2013: I should have said, actually, to do him justice, that Mr Crory is a volunteer warden at the reserve, and its principal moth recorder.

EDIT 28.03.2013: In fact, he has now been appointed Macro-moth Recorder for Northern Ireland!


Common Blue (female); Kinnegar Bay; 16 Jul 2012

A female Common Blue enjoying a nice drink from a birds-foot trefoil flower.

Small Tortoiseshell; Kinnegar Bay; 16 Jul 2012

The charismatic Small Tort.

Beautiful Golden Y; Springmartin; 17 Jul 2012

And finally, one from last night’s moth trap: a Beautiful Golden Y.

May I be random?


Known variously as the Triple-barred Argent or Juniper Ermine Moth… or the Golden Zebra 🙂

I will start here and keep doing this until I run out of micros or until I get nabbed for Epic Smiley copyright violation!!! I did take the photo though.

If I get round to it, I’ve one final rearing release to write about, as well as some very cool tern stuff from the bursary placement I’m doing at the RSPB. Not to mention some very cool moths that have been showing up in my graden trap!

Checking on my pupae on the morning of 21 June, I was delighted to find a perfectly-formed male Buff Ermine!

Buff Ermine male, emerged 21 June 2012

Who’s looking at you?

I waited a few days to release him in case the other moth would emerge and I could release them together or see them mate. After two nights on 23 June, with no signs of the other pupa making a move, I released him on our geranium.  I kept an eye on him I did some dusking, searching for moths in the garden that night. He buzzed off around a quarter to midnight.

Unfortunately, the other Buff Ermine wasn’t so healthy. It emerged a week later on 28 Jun… or at least tried to. I found it in the morning, half-emerged from its pupa, but when I checked on it later in the day it had made no progress. It was actually stuck. It had also secreted a black fluid from the sides of its head (I think this is a defensive/stress reaction in moths of this family).

Buff Ermine female, emerged 28 June 2012

Unfortunate little moth.

This obviously meant that something was wrong – the moth must have had some deformity. Plus, the wings had dried out unexpanded so it would never be able to fly. At this point I knew that the only way to give it a chance at surviving to mate was to peel the pupal case off its abdomen. (Normally one should never interfere with emergence but this was an exceptional case.) I did this without injuring the moth, but even with the pupal case removed the moth seemed unable to walk. Its legs could move vigorously enough, but the back ones were translucent and seemed too weak to pull the moth along.

I released it in the garden anyway. It probably didn’t survive.

Why? Well, I suspect it may be due to the fact that the caterpillar pupated on a flat surface. As the pupal case is initially soft, turning hard, this meant the pupa gained some flat surfaces – and this may have harmed the development of the moth. Actually, I think the crippled Cinnabar moth’s pupa had the same problem.

Not the most uplifting blog post, I know. But hey, I released one healthy moth into the wild and I learned another lesson. So it’s OK. 🙂