Not Just Any Duck

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are often taken for granted, but I hadn’t seen one for quite sometime. So when I came across several males and females on the local canal they were a pure delight to see as they paddled across the still waters with autumn reflections.

Small Wonder

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Another dedicated mother looking after her eggs. This is the Cream-backed Comb-footed Spider (Neottiura bimaculata), which was a new species for me this year, discovered in the back garden.

Only a small one with a body length of around 3 mm (1/8 in). The female carries her egg-sac attached to her spinnerets.

The Unknown

I came across this green, wavering cushion which is around 25 mm (1 in) in diameter in my birdbath. The water is crystal clear, but here was this thing quite happily growing there. I don’t know what it is. It might be an alga of some kind, or it could be be something from outer space which hitched a ride on a meteorite. Just hope I don’t get any ‘pod people’ growing in the flowerbeds …

Netted Slug

Gardeners probably won’t like this one. The Netted Slug (Deroceras (Deroceras) reticulatum) is very much hated as a pest as it eats the leaves of many various plants and crops, including seedlings.

It also goes by the names as the Field Slug or Grey Field Slug.

Pergamasus

Pergamasus sp

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Pergamasus sp

I just really like some names of species (or in this case the genus) so I used it as the title for this post.

Pergamasus are verocious predatory mites of soil and leaf-litter. And unfortunately not much more info is forthcoming.

Pergamasus sp.

Here are three individuals I discovered .. yep, under that plant pot.

One of The Smallest

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This is one of the smallest mites I have come across. I discovered it by simply lifting up a small plant pot. And once disturbed they never stay still for a second, so you have to try and focus and snap them on the move. In fact, I can only see them when they move.

I have manged to get them down to genus which Eupodes. They are one of the trombid mites (Order Trombidiformes), and are so small they are usually measured in µm (micrometres). Even with the Raynox conversion lens I have had to crop these images. They are around 0.2-0.5 mm in length. Quite distinctive mites with pinkish legs and antennae, and pinkish longitudinal dorsal stripes which varies in width. Seen all year round in soil, leaf litter and amongst mosses – or even sheltering under plant pots.

Over 250 Moths Over 16 Years

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum
Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) – taken August 2005

It was when I purchased my first digital camera back in 2005, a Sony Cybershot compact camera, that my love for nature and the side of the natural world, that is not always often seen but is always there to be found, became rekindled. My interest in moths – ‘moth mania’ I call it – began from a young age when I used to stay up a little at night with my older brother Steve, looking out for these nocturnal insects. In those days I used to paint and draw them, especially those with vivid patterns and colours like the Garden Tiger, which has sadly declined over the years since, and I have not yet seen one here to photograph.

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta) – taken August 2006
Scorched Wing Plagodis dolabraria
Scorched Wing Plagodis dolabraria – taken June 2007

So since 2005, I have photographed over 250 (and still counting with lots of past images still to go through and positively identify) species of moth and have uploaded them to this site. 250 is small fraction of the 2,500 or more species of moth to be found throughout Britain. Not all are attracted to light. Some are attracted to feromones or sugar. Some are day-fying moths, and some are rare and localised to different areas of the country.

The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) – taken September 2008
Common Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma truncata) – taken May 2009

Oddly enough, in the year 2010 I apparently did not take one single moth photo, but a year later moth mania hit me again and I photographed over 150 different species of moth!

Yellow-tail Euproctis similis
Yellow-tail (Euproctis similis) – taken July 2011
Shaded Broad-bar (Scotopteryx chenopodiata) – taken October 2012
Scarce Silver-lines Bena bicolorana
Scarce Silver-lines (Bena bicolorana) – taken July 2013

After buying different compact cameras over the years, it was in 2014 I purchased my first DSLR camera the Nikon D3200.

Hebrew Character Orthosia gothica
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) – taken March 2014
Common Yellow Conch Agapeta hamana
Common Yellow Conch (Agapeta hamana) – taken July 2015
Riband Wave (Idaea aversata f. remutata)
Riband Wave (Idaea aversata) – taken July 2016

2016 was the year I upgraded my camera to the Nikon D7200 (which I still use to this day) , and in 2017 it was another year the moth mania got to me. It was a very bountiful year for moths.

Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana
Garden Rose Tortrix (Acleris variegana) – taken September 2017

The thing with moths is that they can be seen all year round, even during the winter months where most other insects are hibernating.

Sycamore Piercer Pammene aurita
Sycamore Piercer (Pammene aurita) – taken June 2018
Elephant Hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor
Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) -taken July 2019
Azalea Leaf Miner Caloptilia azaleella
Azalea Leaf Miner (Caloptilia azaleella) – taken May 2020
Common White Wave (Cabera pusaria) – taken July 2021

Spotlight on The Grey Dagger Acronicta psi

There are two very similar ‘dagger’ species in Britain, the Grey Dagger (Acronicta psi) and the Dark Dagger (Acronicta tridens). The adults cannot be accurately identified visually without genital dissection and microscopic scrutiny – but I don’t like to harm them so this adult would be recorded as an aggregate species Acronicta psi/tridens. The adult is readily attracted to light, and is seen in June and August in most habitats, including woodland, hedgerows and gardens. Sadly its numbers have significantly decreased in recent decades.

The caterpillar is quite an odd thing, and on first discovery I thought it had been parasitised! But the long and prounced ‘hump’ or fleshy projection is one of its defining characteristics and which visually separtes it from the Dark Dagger (Acronicta tridens) which has a shorter ‘hump’. A visually striking moth larva with long hairs and a yellow or white dorsal strip. The orange side patches offer quite a contrast in colouration. It feeds on a large range of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, and overwinters as a pupa amongst bark, in rotten wood or in the ground.

The Dangers of Courtship For The Male Garden Spider Araneus diadematus

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It’s amazing what you see sometimes as you travel through your own backyard. I spied this female Araneus diadematus some days ago. She is really quite a big individual and had made a large orbweb stretched between a plant pot and some shrubbery. Here she has a good meal ready to go in the shape of a Hawthorn Shieldbug .. in fact, to my crazy mind, she looks like a band member ready to knock out a tune on it.

The next day, on the late afternoon, I spotted the handsome male Araneus diadematus apparenty repairing and tidying her web for her at a distance. But he had also spun a strong silken quick release safety line … more on that later.

In the above image we can see how large the female is compared to the male. She looks rather intimidating … and she is. I watched as the male Araneus diadematus tentatively approached her along the web, getting a little closer, the female closing the gap … and the male backing off from time to time keeping a little distance between them. He was testing the waters, and so he should. Female Araneus diadematus practices sexual cannibalism before and after insemination. One thing in his favour is the large food package she already has nicely wrapped up … but he certainly didn’t want to be seconds.

Eventually they closed the gap but he was still very sheepish and kept darting back … and on a couple of occasions when he must have read the situation as potentially dangerous rather than amorous he used his pre-made quick release safety line to swing back a good distance out of harms way. They must have been playing this cat and mouse courtship game for a couple of hours … and I don’t know what the outcome was in the end for the male. The next day had seen overnight rain which had damaged some of the web, but the female was found sheltering under a leaf. The male was nowhere to be seen. He was either inside her as last nights late supper … or he had gone off in search of another mate with an extra swagger to his gait.

Sexual cannibalism in spiders is a long-standing evolutionary paradox because it persists despite extreme costs for the victim, usually the male. Several adaptive and nonadaptive hypotheses have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, but empirical studies are still scarce and results are inconclusive.

What Lies Under A Piece of Bark

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Lifting a piece of bark in a garden border, the last thing I expected to find was a delightful Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris).

It remained where it was, frozen to the spot. I hadn’t got my camera, so I gently placed the bark back and went into the house to get my equipment. Thankfully, when I got back and lifted the bark a second time, he was still there.

It is the first time I have seen a Smooth Newt here, in fact, surpisingly, the first time since I was a boy back home in the 1970s., so this was quite an exciting find for me.

I found him at the opposite end of the garden to where my pond is located, but after their spring mating sessions in ponds they live the rest of the year away from water, hiding under rocks and logs in woodland, hedgerows or gardens, venturing out only at night to hunt inveretbrates.

The Smooth Newt is one of three native species to be found in the UK, and it is the commonest and the most frequently encountered of them all.

Wainscot Smudge


Ypsolopha scabrella – Quite an extraordinary looking little moth with distinctive raised tufts which can be seen when the moth is at rest.


Wainscot Smudge Ypsolopha scabrella


Wainscot Smudge Ypsolopha scabrella


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 20th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

White Campion


Silene latifolia – This is one of my favourite wild flowers, and it is always a pleasure to see on my walks. According to fossil records it was introduced to Britain during the Bronze Age. It flowers between May and October across much of Britain, except the far north and west.


White Campion Silene latifolia


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 7th July 2019
Place: Local woodland ride, Staffordshire


 

Garden Rose Tortrix


Acleris variegana – An extremely variable micro-moth species in patterning and colouration. A melanic form also occurs. Like other similar species of Tortrix, it mimics bird-droppings to evade predation. The larvae feed on the leaves of a variety of trees and shrubs, including roses, brambles, hawthorns, cherries and apples.


Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana


Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana


Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana


Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 23rd, 24th & 30th September 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Old Lady


Mormo maura – You know when this one pays a visit because it is fairly large with a wingspan of up to 65mm (2 1/2in). Not one of the brightest of moths, but it has an interesting, fine-lined pattern.


Old Lady Mormo maura


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 26th August 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Ash-bark Knot-horn


Euzophera pinguis – Quite an unmistakable micro-moth with distinctive zig-zag markings. The larvae feed under the living bark of ash, which if becoming infested may kill the tree. This is a localised species in England.


Ash-bark Knot-horn Euzophera pinguis


Ash-bark Knot-horn Euzophera pinguis


Ash-bark Knot-horn Euzophera pinguis


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 20th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Common Plume


Emmelina monodactyla – An odd-looking moth which often rests with its wings rolled tightly up. It is quite a weak flier, and will only travel a short distance before settling down again.


Common Plume Emmelina monodactyla


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 8th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Iron Prominent


Notodonta dromedarius – A moth which looks like it is suffering from oxidation with its distinct red rusty markings. One of the easier of the night lepidoptera to photograph. They are fairly calm and will remain still for a long time.


Iron Prominent Notodonta dromedarius


Iron Prominent Notodonta dromedarius


Iron Prominent Notodonta dromedarius


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 20th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

The Drinker


Euthrix potatoria – An unusual moth. This is the female of the species. The name comes from the habit of the caterpillar which apparently has a preference for drinking drops of dew.


The Drinker Euthrix potatoria


The Drinker Euthrix potatoria


The Drinker Euthrix potatoria


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Date taken: 26th June 2011
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Maiden’s Blush


Cyclophora punctaria – A finely detailed and beautifully coloured moth from the family Geometridae.


Maiden's Blush Cyclophora punctaria


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 20th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Lunar Underwing


Omphaloscelis lunosa – There is a dark ‘crescent moon’ marking on the pale underwing of this moth which gives it its name.


Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa


Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa


Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa


Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 23rd, 24th & 30th September 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Barred Sallow


Tiliacea aurago – Although this is somewhat faded, it is quite an attractive moth with autumnal colours and a very diagnostic yellow or yellow-orange central band.


Barred Sallow Tiliacea aurago


Barred Sallow Tiliacea aurago


Barred Sallow Tiliacea aurago


Barred Sallow Tiliacea aurago


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 15th October 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Scarlet Tiger


Callimorpha dominula – This is a wonderfully bright coloured day-flying moth.


Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula


Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula


Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula


Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula


I found the larva to the adult above feeding on Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) on a walk along a local woodland margin back in the spring of 2012.

Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula caterpillar


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200 (2019) Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 (2012)
Date taken: 29th June 2019 (adult) 16th May 2012 (caterpillar)
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire (adult), local woodland margin, Staffordshire (caterpillar)


 

Heather Knot-horn


Pempelia palumbella – This is another rarity for my county, and only a few have been noted by the Staffordshire Ecological Record, most of these before 1995, the first in 1877. I really like the colours and patterns on this moth. It kind of reminds me of Inca art and design.


Heather Knot-horn Pempelia palumbella


Heather Knot-horn Pempelia palumbella


Heather Knot-horn Pempelia palumbella


Heather Knot-horn Pempelia palumbella


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 8th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Small Emerald


Hemistola chrysoprasaria – This is rarely seen in my county, and there has only been but a handful of ecologically recorded sightings since the first one in 1967, this one being one of them. A beautiful green moth with distinctive pale crosslines.


Small Emerald Hemistola chrysoprasaria


Small Emerald Hemistola chrysoprasaria


Small Emerald Hemistola chrysoprasaria


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 8th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Honeysuckle Moth


Ypsolopha dentella – If you grow honeysuckle in your garden the chances are you may have some of these. This is a chestnut-brown and cream to whitish patterned micro-moth with distinctive upturned wingtips. It has a forewing length of around 11mm ( almost half an inch).


Honeysuckle Moth Ypsolopha dentella


Honeysuckle Moth Ypsolopha dentella


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 20th July 2017
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner


Cameraria ohridella – One can easily overlook this tiny micro-moth as it is only has a forewing length of up to 5mm (1/4in) long. The forewings have an attractive ginger ground colour with distinctive white cross-bands and dark-brown cross-lines. It was first recorded in the south of Britain in 2002 and has rapidly spread north and west across England and Wales where it is common.


Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner Cameraria ohridella


Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner Cameraria ohridella


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 20th July 2017
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Long-horned Flat-body


Carcina quercana – This is a fairly colourful moth with very long antennae. Is also called the Oak Long-horn. It has recently been introduced to North America where it is called the Oak-skeletonizer Moth.


Carcina quercana


Carcina quercana


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 8th July 2017
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


Want to learn more about this moth? Please visit the species main page.


Hummingbird Hawk-moth


Macroglossum stellatarum – I feel quite privileged to have been able to take these photographs of this splendid hawk-moth. I took them quite a few years ago with my first digital camera purchase back in the summer of 2005, and haven’t been able to capture one in flight and feeding since back then. A spectacular brightly coloured diurnal moth which can be seen sipping nectar in full sunlight with its extraordinary long proboscis. It looks and sounds like a hummingbird as it feeds from tubular flowers such as Red Valerian, Buddleia, Lilac, and the like.


Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum


Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum


Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Sony Cybershot DSC-W1
Date taken: 21st August 2005
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Nature’s Design


Garden Snail (Cornu aspersum) – A common garden snail we may have all seen at one time or another. I do have a thing about their shells, and shells in general. I love the intricate details, the patterns and earthy colours of this one in particular.


Garden Snail Cornu aspersum


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 13th October 2019
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Mint Moth


Pyrausta aurata – Also called the Small Purple & Gold, this moth has always been a regular visitor to my garden, yet I have always grown mint, so that is not really very surprising.


Pyrausta aurata


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 20th July 2017
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Catching Moths


Light Emerald Campaea margaritaria
Light Emerald Campaea margaritaria


This is how I manage to get to see and photograph so many different species of moth in my garden. With Mk III of my homemade moth trap, utilising 2x 20w blacklight bulbs which do not cause light nuisance issues with the neighbours as some of the more powerful mercury vapour lamps do. Already made moth traps can be bought online, but they can be quite expensive.

You can see more clearly where I have removed one half of the lid of this relatively cheap plastic storage box to show how I access the moths the next morning and the egg boxes which they rest inside. I fixed a timber framework to hold the lighting above the funnel (one light worked okay originally, but two seems better – I have since swapped out one of these bulbs for an LED) and then cut the lid in half and around the framework. I fixed a plastic party plate above to help direct the moths between the bulbs into the funnel, and this also acts a rain protector just in case there is any drizzle. I always check weather forecasts for dry nights. Warm and still nights are usually the best. The bulbs are fixed into two batten holders which are wired to a plug. It is always advised to plug into an RCD socket so that if there are any issues with the electrics it should cut out. Please note that any electrical work should be done by a competent person.

The full set-up at the side of my shed can be seen here. The cheap plastic shower curtain reflects the UV light and some moths will settle on it and around it, sometimes around the corners out of the light. A white bedsheet will do just as well. I sometimes leave the outside shed light on in conjunction with the blacklights, and this appears to increase numbers slighty. The trap can be set up up anywhere in the garden, without the shower curtain or white sheets, and if weather conditions are favourable it can still get a fairly decent catch. I have it elevated for convenience’s sake, but it can be placed on the ground, which some trappers prefer to do.


Marbled Beauty Bryophila domestica
Marbled Beauty Bryophila domestica


All moths are released unharmed into a safe environment once they have been checked and photographed. I do not trap frequently, and very rarely on consecutive days, as this may disrupt their feeding and mating cycles.


Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)
The Herald Scoliopteryx libatrix


When mothing you can also attract other interesting nocturnal visitors as can be seen in the examples below. These were found resting near the trap and in the trap.


Caperer Caddis Fly Halesus radiatus
Caperer Caddis Fly Halesus radiatus

Dor beetle Geotrupes stercorarius
Dor beetle Geotrupes stercorarius

Oak Bush-cricket Meconema thalassinum
Oak Bush-cricket Meconema thalassinum

European Hornet Vespa crabro
European Hornet Vespa crabro


To note not all moths are attracted to light. Some species are attracted to sugars or feromones, which I have not really done as to yet. Some moths can be seen flying during the day just like their butterfly brothers and sisters, but it is at night many of the moth species can be seen attracted to a light source, even if it is just a garden light, or a light in a window.


 

Elephant Hawk-moth


Deilephila elpenor – This hawk-moth always reminds me of a fond time during my boyhood when my brother and I discovered the caterpillar for this moth, and subsequently watched it pupate and turn into this magnificent adult. Hawk-moths can be quite docile creatures in the daytime, and they will let you handle them readily, and tend to be very cooperative and accommodating on a photo shoot. This is one of our most beautiful moths with large pink and olive-green streamlined wings. The name comes from the caterpillar which looks like an elephant’s trunk when it extends itself. This is one of the few caterpillars that can actually swim, in which it may resemble a small grass snake.



Elephant Hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor


Elephant Hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor


Elephant Hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 6th July 2019
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Lime Hawk-moth


Mimas tiliae – This is a large and impressive hawk-moth with scalloped-edged forewings and olive-green and pinkish markings. The central dark forewing markings may be variable, and in some individuals may be joined to form a cross-band.


Lime Hawkmoth Mimas tiliae


Lime Hawkmoth Mimas tiliae


Lime Hawkmoth Mimas tiliae


Lime Hawkmoth Mimas tiliae


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon Coolpix P500
Date taken: 26th June 2013
Place: Attracted to moth trap, rear garden, Staffordshire


 

Green Long-horn


Adela reaumurella – This is the male with his extraordinary long white antennae, which are three times the length of the forewing. The adult flies in May and June, and in the daytime, where they may swarm.


Green Long-horn Adela reaumurella


Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D3200
Date taken: 4th May 2015
Place: Local wood, Staffordshire