Finally yesterday I found what I’ve walked many miles, worn out a pair of shoes, sweated buckets to find …my first Jersey tiger moth of the year. And it was worth every ache in my poor old feet!
Though the text books and web sites haven’t yet acknowledged it, we locals are positive we have a colony now established along our piece of the south Wales coast, and the records logged in Aderyn, the Wales biodiversity database, confirm it. These tigers have been recorded every year for over ten years at local sites, including Lavernock Nature Reserve and in gardens in the neighbouring towns of Sully and, latterly, Barry.
Jersey tigers are beautiful moths: triangular shaped, stunningly patterned with black-and-beige stripes, with vibrant orange underwings only usually seen when they’re flying, and a pale apricot body.
They’re currently only seen, as their name suggests, on the Channel Islands, in certain spots along England’s south coast and in London, and in our little area in Wales.
p.s. A Butterfly Conservation staffer from south Wales has since told me that this moth’s establishment in our area is not disputed and that it probably became established around 2012-13 but that it just takes time for websites to update their records.
It’s time to check your local patch of Ragwort for these little critters, the caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth.
As adult moths, they’re bright red and black but as caterpillars they’re a striking combination of orange-and-black stripes, the patterns more visible the more they munch and grow.
For some reason there’s quite a size difference in this little bunch – perhaps a combination of broods hatched at different times that just happen to have chosen the same Ragwort plant to chew on.
Believe it or not, this amazing creature is a moth, an aptly named clearwing moth – you can see parts of her wings are not covered by scales so are transparent. She is a Six-belted clearwing (Bembecia ichneumoniformis) and I know it’s a female because she only has five belts, i.e. five yellow stripes on her abdomen – the males have six.
I discovered her completely by chance – I was scanning the ground at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park for butterflies and happened to notice her stripes. Cosmeston actually has the perfect habitat for these moths as they like chalk and coastal grasslands and quarries, and their caterpillars like to munch on Common Bird’s-foot trefoil, which grows locally in abundance. I’m amazed, then, that there have been very few locally recorded sightings – maybe everyone who spots them thinks they’re wasps or bees.
These are day-flying moths and the adults are on the wing between June and August, so I’ll be on the look out for more of them over the coming weeks.
I’ve had the most wonderful day out butterflying but it’s already 5:30, I have a lot of photos to go through, I’m hungry, and I desperately need a shower to wash off the heat and insect repellent – okay, probably too much information, but you get the picture. The butterfly blogs will have to wait till tomorrow and Sunday. So, here’s another gorgeous creature from today’s outing, a Humming-bird Hawk-moth.
Remember I said on Friday that they’d be ‘coming soon‘, well here they are. The Six-spot burnet moths have begun to emerge, buzzing around the wildflowers like little red-and-black bumblebees. Delightful!
First, the caterpillar. Now I know this is a bit like the chicken and egg debate – which came first? – but my sequence is chronological for 2019. This is the caterpillar / larva of a Burnet moth, most likely a Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae), as they’re the species I’ve seen at this site in previous years. I only found out this week that they over-winter as caterpillars, and they’re now enjoying a final munch before beginning their transformation.
Second, the pupa. Some of the munchers have already begun their metamorphosis into moths. This week I’ve spotted quite a number of the papery cocoons they spin to house their pupae while they go through this process.
Third, the moth. In previous years, the Six-spots have begun to appear around the beginning of July but the weather conditions can have an effect on their emergence. So, eyes peeled for the appearance of these gorgeous creatures in a meadow near you very soon!
p.s. And if, by some chance, it’s actually a Five spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae), then it will look like this – you just have to count the dots!
This is one of my favourite moths, a Latticed heath (Chiasmia clathrata, from the Greek chiasma, meaning formed like a cross, and clathrum, meaning lattice or grate, a reference to the lovely interlaced and criss-crossing patterns on its wings).
As well as flying in the night time, the Latticed heath also flies by day, which is how I’m able to see them, though they’re very good at hiding in amongst the long grass and wildflowers. I saw my first for 2019 on 23 May at Cosmeston, and I’ve since seen them at most of my regular haunts, Grangemoor and Hamadryad Parks in Cardiff, and Lavernock Nature Reserve.
It’s a smallish moth, with a wingspan between 20 and 25mm, and can be found around clovers and trefoils and lucerne, which are the plants its caterpillars feed on. The first adults can be seen in May and June, and then there’s a second generation that flies in August and September.
I’ve had a lucky week with my Lepidoptera sightings – that’s moths and butterflies, for those who didn’t know – and the week’s not over yet. As well as the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth on Monday and the Burnet Companions on Tuesday, yesterday I found my first (three) Large Skipper butterflies for the year at Cosmeston.
And, today, my wander around Grangemoor Park was something of a Lep-fest, with the first (five) Mother Shipton moths I’ve seen in 2019.
And I spotted a nice Latticed Heath moth trying to hide in the grass.
And, then, just as I was about to head for home, I noticed something small flitting about along a side path, went to investigate and found two Brown Argus butterflies, which I have seen already this year but not in Wales. You can see why I named this blog ‘leptastic’!
I mentioned in yesterday’s post about the amazing Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth that I had actually been trying to re-find a Burnet Companion moth when I spotted the Hawk-moth. Well, today I got the one that got away yesterday – not the actual moth, as today I was at Cosmeston not Lavernock, and not just one but three Burnet Companions appeared for my camera today.
I felt a bit sad for the first one I saw (below left). Either it hadn’t developed properly in its pupa or something had happened to it since hatching, as its wings appeared damaged and it didn’t seem able to fly.
But the other two were flitting merrily from flower to flower, drinking in as much Bird’s-foot trefoil nectar as their tiny tongues could manage. And not only do they have lovely markings on the top side of their wings but they’re a wonderful buttery yellow underneath as well (above right).