Category Archives: Butterflies and Moths

The Continental Swallowtail Butterfly ssp. gorganus

in Dorset and south British coast. Identifying individuals.

MG: Please excuse my ignorance. I thought there was one place you could see the beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly in Britain. Somewhere on the Norfolk Broads, associated with Milk Parsley plants. There. That’s the end of my knowledge on the British Swallowtail. Indeed I didn’t even know it was especially ‘British’. Well it is. Thanks to Steve Smith who got in touch I have learnt much more. The Norfolk Swallowtails really are British- the indigenous British subspecies Papilio machaon britannicus limited to… you guessed it, the Norfolk Broads. Lots more on the excellent UK Butterflies site.

However there is a continental form Papilio machaon gorganus which rarely crosses the channel into southern England. Last summer (2013) was an exceptional year with gorganus Swallowtails reported in Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and Bucks. And it seems they did the quite unexpected, breeding and overwintering successfully and appearing this summer.

In addition adults on the wing were discovered earlier this month in Dorset. Steve tells the full story on his blog, so with these photos to whet the appetite please visit Steve’s site. Read about his discoveries and how he is exploring to see if individual butterflies can be specifically identified by their discrete wing markings.

all photos below by Steve Smith. Read all about the gorganus Swallowtails in Dorset:

               post on the discovery                     post on further explorations

worn swallow

 

swallowtail one

Swallowtail B: Left forewing (2 July 14) – Yellow patch A is almost square (Swallowtail A – it a longer & flattened oval) & black band C has 3 distinct triangular edges on left hand side (Swallowtail A – it’s smooth)

swall tail

swallotail4

.

Rare Moth in me Trap

New for Flamborough, 6th for Yorkshire

Martin Garner

First off thanks so much to Mark Pearson and Keith and Clare Clarkson for the loan of moth trapping kit and great encouragement to ‘do something’ when I was a lot less mobile, and straight from hospital. Nick Carter too spurred me on. Ian Marshall has tirelessly answered my questions and is happy with the ID (and congrats on being new VC61 Moth recorder). What is it?

Pine Bud Moth 1207. Pseudococcyx turionella

Pine Bud Moth, 21st May 2014. Martin Garner

Pine Bud Moth, 21st May 2014. Martin Garner

Status in UK from UK Moths

Fairly common in southern parts of England, and in Scotland, but scarcer in between, one of several related species that feed on coniferous trees.

The adults are on the wing during May and June. They are quite distinctive with their combination of chestnut and grey forewings, and orange head and labial palps. Another useful pointer is the pale or whitish hindwing, when visible.

The larvae feed inside the buds and shoots of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and occasionally other pine species.

Status in Yorkshire

5 previous records, first in 1904. Last record in Vice County 61 in 1997. 1st for Flamborough (and East Yorkshire coast). From Yorkshire Moths

Grade 4. Rarities where there are very few Yorkshire records.  A good quality photograph or a voucher specimen is mandatory unless the observer is very familiar with the species.

pine bud moth in yorks

Tony Davison – Top Team Moments 2012

Picture2

In early June this year I wandered of to the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria on a Butterfly Trip with three other companions. My aim was to see an Apollo, one of the most spectacular species of Butterfly in Europe and a Red Data Species.

I still have the 1960′s Brooke Bond Tea Card Album by the late Sir Peter Scott and can remember the Apollo being my favourite card in the series. I thought at the time, as a young lad, one day I hope to see one. Well some 50 years later, sure enough I did and my first sighting took my breath away.

All the best

Tony

Parallels in the Art of Identification

Guide-lines to the Identification of the two British Copper Underwings.

There are occasions when it is seemingly impossible to identify a moth from a physical appearance. When faced with this situation, the scientific decision-making processes “kick-in” and a choice has to be made:-

1) Record the specimen as e.g. Common Rustic aug or Copper Underwing aug

2) Check out the Genitalia of the insect (that is the examination of its bits!!)

Option two is not everyone’s cup of tea! nor skill factor, nor inclination to undertake the processes involved. I for one have no real desire to do this, although it must be very interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the science behind the processes but I am sure that there must be features on difficult moth species that are there, waiting to be discovered, we just simply haven’t found them YET,  now that’s a thought!!

There has been much debate over the identification of the two British Copper Underwings and even to-day, much work is being carried out on these two species. However there are a number of reliable theories and features that together should help to separate the two with reasonable accuracy. Certainly a combination of all the features together would achieve a reliable result. The latest moth identification guides all seem to make consistent reference to the features listed below. Some are well known and some are fairly new discoveries. So let’s take a look then at these two well known species that can be difficult to identify:-

Copper Underwing - Amphipyra pyramidea                                                                             The underside of the hindwing’s discal area is a pale straw yellow and this contrasts with both the orange-copper terminal area and the blackish-brown curved streak along the leading edge.                                                                                                                        Svensson’s Copper Underwing - Amphipyra berbera svenssoni                                   The underside of the hindwing’s discal area is suffered orange-copper with a lack of any contrast to the discal and terminal area.

                                                       Photos – Simon Roddis

Copper Underwing - Amphipyra pyramidea   (below left)                                                               The cross-line just before the middle of the forewing has four projections along it which are all typically the same length.

Svensson’s Copper Underwing - Amphipyra berbera svenssoni (below right)

The projections are similar to Copper but the two nearest to the trailing edge of the forewing protrude further out and are more pointed. 

                                                          Photos -Tony Davison & Simon Roddis.

Copper Underwing - Amphipyra pyramidea  (below left)                                                                     The upward pointing palps are completely pale

Svensson’s Copper Underwing - Amphipyra berbera svenssoni (below right)                                   The palps are dark with a pale tip

                                                           Photos – Tony Davison & Simon Roddis.

Copper Underwing - Amphipyra pyramidea  (below left)                                                                     The upper parts are brighter and more sharply defined. There is a contrasting broken post median line but a duller and darker brown cross-band towards the trailing edge of the forewing.                                                                                                                               Svensson’s Copper Underwing - Amphipyra berbera svenssoni  (below right)                                 The upper-parts are duller by comparison with Copper. There is a less contrasting post median line and a pale creamy cross-band.

                                                             Photos – Tony Davison & Simon Roddis.

Copper Underwing - Amphipyra pyramidea (below left)                                                                      The copper marking is minimal on the under hind-wing and the black & white colouring of the abdomen sides seems to be more intense                                                         Svensson’s Copper Underwing - Amphipyra berbera svenssoni  (below right)                                 The copper markings on the under hind-wing run the full length of the wing and the black & white markings on the abdomen sides are dull and less intense.

                                                           Photos – Simon Roddis.

Acknowledgements – Montgomery Moths. Simon Roddis for his superb collection of photographs.

References – British Moths and Butterflies – Chris Manley; Moths of Great Britain & Ireland – Sean Clancy, Morten Top-Jensen,Michael Fibiger; Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain & Ireland – Waring, Townsend & Lewington. Herts & Essex Moths.

Parallels in the Art of Identification

Migration….

By Tony

As a young birder, I was always fascinated by the subject of bird migration. I can remember being bewildered at the time, with the journeys undertaken by our summer & winter visitors. Birds such as the Swallow, Cuckoo, Fieldfare, Redwing and the vast array of warblers, all visitors to our shores but then how did this all happen and how did the birds take on this incredible feat? I soon began to figure things out, yet too this day, I still find it amazing how a fledged Swallow can find its way to South Africa simply on instinct and with no previous experience of the journey it is about to undertake. Or a Barred Warbler, straying off course and ending up on our shores when it should be in a completely different place altogether.

Migration Parallels – Examples

Image

Barred WarblerSylvia nisoria – Unst, Shetland. A typical autumn “Drift” migrant

Prior to my interests in Moths and Butterflies, I was somewhat unaware that these insects also migrate and it wasn’t until I began to visit the Isles of Scilly, that I became aware of this phenomenon. For example, seeing my first Clouded Yellow and Monarch butterflies on UK soil certainly proved the point.

Image

Clouded YellowColias crocea – A migrant watched arriving in-off the sea on the island of Tresco, Isles of Scilly. Note how tattered the wings have become. This can often be a typical feature on a butterfly that has travelled a long distance.

Image

Monarch - Danaus plexippus - One, if not the most famous migratory butterfly. The nearest colonies to the UK are on Madeira, Canary Islands and the Azores. The Monarchs that find their way to our shores are highly likely to have originated from these colonies, rather than having undertaken a trans-atlantic crossing. However it is a nice thought to think that one or two may have made the atlantic journey. Nevertheless an incredible achievement and a fantastic sight to see one of these beautiful butterflies in Britain.

Image

Painted LadyVanessa cardui – A common migrant butterfly that visits the UK annually and sometimes, in large numbers. This was the case in 2009, when thousands streamed across the country, a sight that I was fortunate to witness and one that I will never forget.

The Migration MEGA Parallel

When moth trapping in the UK, especially at so called “Migration Hot Spots”, in particular the South Coast, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the “parallel” upon opening the Moth Trap, is to quickly be able to spot an interesting  looking moth amongst the sometimes large numbers of common moth species.

A similar parallel can apply in birding. For example, when scanning through large numbers of gulls, ducks or waders, one is continuously looking out for something that is different. During times of peak migration, we are always hopeful to discover a “Good Bird” and keeping fingers crossed to be the one to find the MEGA.

Here are some examples of MEGA migrant moths, that found their way into my moth trap during several years trapping on St.Agnes, Isles of Scilly. The thrill is exactly the same as the discovery of a rare bird – an adrenalin rush followed by several expletives!!

Image

Crimson SpeckledUtethesia pulchells – Who says moths are little brown jobs? I would defy anyone to keep quiet upon finding one of these beauties in the trap. A Mediterranean species.

Image

Antigastra catalaunalis – A rare pyralid micro moth from the tropics.

Image

Palpita vitrealis – This moth is often a good indicator species of high migrant moth activity. A scarce migrant from Southern Europe.

Image

Hymenia recurvalis – A rare migrant from the tropics.

Finally to conclude this feature – Here is a future possibility for discovery - Not YET recorded in Britain, so one to look out for. This butterfly is a long distance colonist, a recent colonist on Madeira and highly migratory. So it could arrive in Britain. Most probably somewhere along the south coast. Anything is possible –

Let’s hope it does one day soon!!

Image

Lang’s Short-tailed Blue - Leptotes pirithous – Madeira August 2012.

Parallels in the Art of Identification

Intricacies…

by Tony

It is truly amazing how Bird Identification and Butterfly & Moth Identification have very similar parallels. The intricacies of bird identification can run deep, especially in finite feather detail and we are always striving to age birds, i.e. 1st summer / 1st winter / near adult / juvenile etc, etc.
Birding Frontiers Website admirably demonstrates this, with so many pioneering articles on Bird Identification. The same processes can apply to the identification of Butterfles & Moths, the parallels are incredible, with one exception – we then really start to get intricate!!

Let me explain:-

Below we have three pairs of photos – 4 Butterfly species & 2 moth species.

Pair A: Wood White Butterflies

The Wood White Leptidea sinapis,  is found locally in Britain but is common across Europe. The Eastern Wood White Laptidea duponcheli, is found locally in SE Europe with small scattered colonies in SE France & Italy. Both species are almost identical in the field until you examine their Antennae!!
 On Eastern Wood White (duponcheli), the Club-head of the Antenna is all Grey/Brown with an orange tip (as marked). Whilst on Wood White (sinapis), the Club-head of the Antenna is Grey on the upperside & white on the underside with an orange tip (as marked). This is diagnostic on both species and is a crucial ID feature. However you have to look closely and know that this part of the ID criteria in the first place. This was a true learning curve for me during a recent trip to Bulgaria where both species exist side-by-side.
Image
Eastern Wood White- Leptidea duponcheli - Grey Antenna-head
Image
Wood WhiteLeptidea sinapis - White underside of Antenna-head

Pair B: Brown Argus and Common Blue

Two different species of common Butterfly both found in Britain & Europe but both are easily confused and miss-identified with regularity by the untrained eye.
Observing the underwing of both these butterflies is crucial to the ID Process.
In the Brown Argus - Aricia agestis, the two spots (as marked) on the underside of the hind wing are arranged one above the other but in the Common BluePolyommatus icarus, they are arranged (as marked) alongside each other.
Image
Brown ArgusAricia agestis - underwing spots one above the other.
Image
Common BluePolyommatus icarus - underwing spots arranged alongside each other

Pair C: Prominent Moths

Two species of Prominent Moth, of the family Notodontidae and both species are reasonably common throughout Britain. In Lesser Swallow Prominent – Pheosia gnoma, there is a diagnostic bright white wedge-shaped “tornal streak” (as marked) but in Swallow Prominent – Pheosia tremula, the “tornal streak” is longer and less defined almost washed out.
Image
Lesser Swallow Prominent - Pheosia gnoma - white wedge-shaped “tornal streak”
Image
Swallow ProminentPheosia tremula - longer, slimmer and washed out “tornal streak”.
Over the forth coming months I hope to put together various articles on fascinating Butterfly & Moth identification processes, all of which are true learning curves. Also what Moths & Butterflies to look out for during our British Seasons. My thanks go to the many entomologists out there that have discovered many new identification processes, all helping to pave the way forward.

Spurge Hawk-moth

Oh wow oh wow oh wow

I know these were also reported as Steve Job’s dying words. I also use these kind of words with some unexpected encounters with nature. I did with these as correctly identified by some blog followers. Caterpillars of the Spurge Hawk-moth just look amazing. It’s very a rare as a flying moth in Britain and only one record of the caterpillar. For more see here.

I saw some on Linosa, thanks to Andrea Corso who was ‘grazing them’.