It's been a busy few weeks. I finished university, quit my job at Tesco and have spent the remaining time helping a PhD student carry out butterfly surveys in orchards across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire (you can read about Charlotte's ongoing research project here
). Butterfly sightings within the orchards themselves are few and far between, particularly on the more intensively managed farms, and have mostly been limited to singles of Green-veined White
and Painted Lady
as they speed through. However, the overgrown field margins and buffer strips that surround each orchard are more productive - this striking dalmation spotted Thistle Ermine
burst out from the undergrowth as I walked a transect on Monday.
Last Friday I spent the afternoon in a Christmas tree plantation just east of Worcester. Not the first place you'd expect to find me looking for moths, but it paid off. I was netting hundreds of tiny moths off the Fir trees which I suspected would turn out to be something interesting, but I didn't expect them to be quite as interesting as they have turned out to be. Dissecting a couple of specimens has shown them to be Epinotia pygmaeana -
a scarce species associated with Norway Spruce. However, externally they show characteristics much more in line with Epinotia subsequana
- an even rarer species associated with Fir trees. Dissecting moths is one of the most reliable and necessary methods of identifying troublesome moths, but given the extent to which these individuals resemble E. subsequana in forewing markings, the results have come as a surprise to everyone.
Everything we have so far has been passed on to the experts for further discussion, but which ever way you look at it this represents the first record of either species for Worcestershire. The whole saga now brings to light the difficulty involved in identifying these two species, and casts doubt over the reliability of forewing characteristics when telling them apart. The mystery deepens!
Epinotia pygmaeana (or is it?)
To clear my head of this moth conundrum, I visited Monkwood to survey more moths. Fighting fire with fire. I was surveying Drab Looper
to be specific, an uncommon day-flying species that frequents coppice woodland with healthy populations of Wood Spurge, the larval foodplant.
Drab Loopers were thin on the ground, and one individual was all I could turn up in a two hour transect walk. There were plenty of other things to keep my eyes occupied though.