As many local events in Nature’s calendar have been tracking a couple of weeks earlier than usual this year, I first started this year’s tiger hunting ten days ago but it took three visits to Lavernock Nature Reserve and much staring at the flowers of Hemp-agrimony before I finally found a tiger.
I am not, of course, talking about the big cats – I am vehemently opposed to all hunting! My hunt was for the gorgeous moth that is the Jersey tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria).
Having spread northwards in southern England, from Devon in to Somerset, these moths tackled the watery expanse of the Bristol Channel in stages, recorded on the island of Flat Holm in 2008 but not making the final flight across to the south Wales coast until 2012.
Though they have avoided big city Cardiff – the single Cardiff record thus far was in 2017, the Jersey tiger now appears to be well established along a section of the Vale of Glamorgan coastline, from Penarth to Barry, and presumably it will spread further as climate and environmental conditions allow.
Last Monday, 17 August, I spotted these two, feeding quite close together, at Lavernock (the first two photos here are one moth; the other three show the second tiger). Though they have been recorded on various flowers, I’ve only ever seen them on Hemp-agrimony, which is one of the food plants used by their larvae. I live in hope of finding one of their funky-looking caterpillars but I was over the moon to see my first tigers of the year.
We’ve had cooler, greyer, wetter weather in recent days, which isn’t so good for seeing hosts of butterflies and other insects flying around the wildflowers but, if you can find them, it does slow those insects down a bit making macro photography a little easier … sometimes. A slow, quiet, stealthy approach is still required as, to take macro photos with my Olympus camera, I need to get as close as an inch to my subject. Mostly, the insects fly or scuttle off, but this stunning Silver Y moth was a rather lovely exception to my usual failures.
I’d hoped the sunny skies and warmth would bring out more butterflies during yesterday’s exercise walk but they were few and far between at Grangemoor Park, and I think that’s weather related.
Earlier this year, we had almost constant, often heavy rain that saturated the ground and turned everywhere to mud, and now the ground is being baked dry and hard by a subsequent lack of rain. This cycle seems to be having a marked effect on plant growth and insect emergence – at least that’s what I’m seeing, or, rather, not seeing.
The good news at Grangemoor, though, was the abundance of Latticed heath moths, more than I’ve spotted in one day before. Though they do have a habit of flitting very quickly away just as I get ready to take their photo, they are lovely creatures, and seeing so many certainly made my day.
During yesterday’s exercise meander around Penarth, I found two lovely Lepidoptera in one of the few local parks that’s still open.
The first was this amazing day-flying moth, the Green long-horn (Adela reaumurella). It may have a wingspan of only 14-18mm, but just look at those antennae (hence, the name ‘long-horn’). This is a male; the females have shorter antennae, which are half black, half white.
Then, to my delight, soon after seeing that stunning little moth, I spotted my first Large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae) for 2020. And, compared to the moth, it really is large, with a wingspan between 63 and 70mm. This is also a male; the females have two grey-black spots on their upper wings.
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 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).
I had a heart-stopping few moments at Lavernock Nature Reserve this afternoon. I’d just taken a rubbish photo of my first Burnet Companion moth of the year but it had flitted off and I was trying to re-find it when I spotted this beauty … and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It’s a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth (Hemaris tityus) and it’s something of a rarity here in south Wales.
According to Aderyn, Wales’s Biodiversity and Information Reporting Database, this species has not been recorded anywhere near my area for more than 50 years, yet they seem to be having a good year in 2019: George, from our local Butterfly Conservation branch, tells me this special moth has been seen in three new sites in south Wales so far this year. Long may this trend continue!
I’d only ever seen this beautifully patterned moth once before so it was a treat last week to see two of them on two consecutive days. Despite having a guide book, I always find moths difficult to identify but this one, the Treble-bar (Aplocera plagiata), lives up to its name rather nicely. Having said that, there is a chance these could be Lesser Treble-bars but they are much less common so I’m assuming they’re not (and I wasn’t able to check the ends of their abdomens to be sure!).
These are probably second generation moths, the first having emerged, mated, laid, munched, pupated during May and June, and the second now going through that process during August and September.
Every step I take across the west paddock at Cosmeston seems to send at least two tiny beige-looking insects flicking off in different directions in front of me. At first, I think they might be grasshoppers or crickets, springing quickly out of the way of my trampling feet but no – these creatures are not making straight leaps, they are fluttering and flying. They’re not easy to follow – as soon as they touch the ground they seem to disappear so I have to focus intently to follow each flight and then approach very slowly to discover what they are.
It turns out they’re not beige at all – they’re a quite striking combination of maroon and yellow, hence their common name, Common purple & gold. This is Pyrausta purpuralis, not to be confused with Pyrausta aurata, a very similar moth of the same family (see more here).
With a wingspan of just 20mm, this moth really is tiny but it’s relatively common throughout Britain, particularly on chalky downs and dry grasslands. The moths I’m seeing now in such abundance are the second brood of the year and fly, both during the day and at night, from July to August. I saw their parents during May and June, though they didn’t seem as plentiful. Perhaps this is a moth species that has enjoyed our hot dry weather this summer.