The Sprawler moth seems to spread its forelegs wide when it’s at rest on a chunk of wood. Its delicate patterning gives it something of a resemblance of a bark surface, perhaps. But, it is its scientific name that is a little curious and needs further explanation.
Lepidopterists originally referred to The Sprawler as Cassinia after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini who lived from 1625—1712. It was first cited by Hufnagel in 1766. But, why was it named after an astronomer? The answer lies in the behaviour of the moth’s larva, its caterpillar. When startled the little green beast rears up its spine-covered head as if gazing heavenwards. Why it does this is something of a mystery, but then much about insects remains mysterious. Perhaps the behaviour is enough to fool a predator into thinking the larva might bite back.
The Cassinia genus was dropped in recent times for the term Asteroscopus, which is a more generic term for a star gazer, one might say. The astero part from the Greek for star and scopus from the word for watching (see also telescope). So, the full scientific binomial for The Sprawler is Asteroscopus sphinx (Hufnagel, 1766).
UPDATE: The Sprawler turned up in early November, bringing the total up to 36 new for the garden in 2021. No December moth yet, at the time of writing, sadly.
These Lepidoptera were all new for my back garden in Cottenham drawn to a 40 Watt ultraviolet “actinic” lamp on the night noted. Any of dubious ID I had confirmed from a photo by Sean Foote better known on Twitter as @MothIDUK to whom I am very grateful for the assistance and have put a tip in his tip jar.
The 35 species new for the garden in 2021 are as follows
*Drawn to pheromone lure during the day, rather than actinic light at night. If non-target then pheromone is named
Numbers were very much down on my previous three seasons of trapping, never getting to more than a couple of hundred moths on any given lighting-up night and usually of 30-40 species on such nights. When I last counted (2/9/21) I’d seen about 4760 moths of 260 species. In 2019, I counted 12000 specimens and hadn’t lit up anywhere near as frequently in that year as I have during 2021. Early to mid-September got quite busy with a lot of Large Yellow Underwings and Setaceous Hebrew Characters etc.
The spring was cold and wet, summer was a bit of a washout too, but we had two or three warm spells in September.
Mrs Sciencebase and myself visited the July Racecourse end of Devil’s Dyke near Newmarket back in July and saw literally hundreds of Chalkhill Blue butterflies and dozens of Marbled White as well as a couple of Dark Green Fritillary.
It was tip-off from a couple I met by chance in a woodland who were “twitching” a White Letter Hairstreak at Overhall Grove (Nick & Stella). All of this was mentioned in my Woodwalton NNR blog post at the time. The same couple pointed me in the direction of the Cambs and Essex branch of Butterfly Conservation website, to which members add their sightings on a very timely basis.
I’d missed seeing Clouded Yellow on the wildflower margin at Waresley Wood up the hill from Browns’ Piece this year, not surprising given the farmer had ploughed it for some reason and put a load of signs up warning off walkers from venturing anywhere near his land.
Anyway, the C&E branch had an update regarding another dyke, Fleam Dyke, near the one I mentioned earlier. Chalkhill Blues there and Clouded Yellow. So I took a trip there on the first sunny morning for a few weeks. I was perhaps too late for the Clouded Yellow. Although their season does extend into the autumn, they’re a rare migrant anyway, so you have to be lucky.
However, parking up at the Fulbourn Fen car park and walking from there to Fleam Dyke and to the far end of the ridge Mutlow Hill, I was rewarded with a fair few Lepidoptera – Common Blue, Brown Argus, Brimstone butterfly, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, European Peacock, Chalkhill Blue, Large and Small White. There were numerous moths around – Silver Y, Yponomeuta sp., Garden Carpet, Treble-bar.
I had planned to head to Devil’s Dyke after walking Fleam Dyke for more “Chalks”, but changed my mind as it clouded over. I learned later from the Cambs & Essex page that someone had spotted a solitary Adonis Blue there, which would’ve been a new species to me. Ah well.
In the US and elsewhere, there’s been a call to give many plants and animals new vernacular names because their well-known common names contain terms and words considered inappropriate. The Gypsy Moth, Lymantria dispar, is a case in point.
L. dispar was, according to the UK Moths website, “a common species in the East Anglian and southern fens” in the early 1800s, a century later it was extinct as a breeding species here. Meanwhile, having been introduced to North America in 1869 it has spread there and become a larval pest of deciduous trees. It is already more properly known as the LDD Moth in North America, for the extant sub-species there Lymantria dispar dispar.
Back in Old Blighty, the species had somewhat recovered in London by 1995 and has spread across its old stamping grounds. I saw my first male L. dispar to the actinic light on the night of the 5th August 2020, only my third season of mothing. On the almost balmy night of 22nd August 2021, there were three males in the garden. Incidentally, the females are larger and bulkier than the males and mostly white. The larvae are tiny and can disperse readily on a breath of wind.
The term “Gypsy” (more commonly Gipsy in English until recently) originated in the early 17th Century and derives from gypcian, a Middle English dialectic word meaning “Egyptian“. Of course, the Roma to whom the term has pejoratively and inappropriately been applied were of Indian ancestry rather than North African. The term is generally considered offensive when referring to itinerant ethnic groups and so there is a pressing need to find new names for a range of plants and animals – Gypsy Wort, Gypsy Ant, and, of course, the Gypsy Moth.
I wonder whether the entomologists would consider calling L. dispar the “Dusky Underwing”. I don’t think that name has been used for another member of the Lepidoptera. The male of the species has a passing resemblance to the Catocala species, such as the Red Underwing and the Dark Crimson Underwing at least while their hindwings are not exposed. And, there are many other unrelated “underwing” moths, such as the various and diverse yellow underwings, orange underwing, straw underwing and the black underwing (now usually known as the Old Lady and previously the Grave Brocade). #TeamMoth #MothsMatter
Forgive me, I thought I was writing a new blog article but when I looked at the one I did when I saw L. dispar in the garden for the first time in 2020, I seem to have repeated myself.
I have been mothing in earnest since the summer of 2018 and have seen and photographed almost 400 species in that time. It feels like a lot, but there are some 1800 or so species we might see in The British Isles, although not all of them will be present in a Cambridgeshire garden.
I keep a detailed record of what I see and report into the County Moth Recorder at the end of the season. Usually, there are a few new species to add to the growing list each year. 2021 does not feel like the numbers nor diversity have been as high as they were in the previous three seasons, but I have noted several new and interesting species attracted to the actinic light of the scientific moth trap and to pheromone lures (previously, I used a lure for the Emperor moth, but this year, bought a set of lures for Clearwing moths and the Hornet moth, and was successful with several of those species.
Regular readers will hopefully be well aware by now that I got bitten by the mothing bug three years ago. Mrs Sciencebase spotted an enormous Copper Underwing in the garden and we were both fascinated by its size and its markings.
A friend in the village had previously offered to lend me his scientific moth trap with its UV tube and so I gave him a call and he said he would set it up that night in his garden. I could come to see what had turned up the next morning (24th July 2018). There were lots of moths in there with some weird and wonderful names – Angle Shades, Poplar Hawk-moth, Willow Beauty, Dark Arches, Burnished Brass, Ruby Tiger, Buff Ermine…the list goes on.
I was hooked and took the trap home and have been “lighting up” ever since. My “tick list” is fast approaching 400 moth species. I’ve photographed them all at least once and some of them several times. You can see my latest moth photos on the Sciencebase Instagram along with my other nature photos and other stuff. My ticklist is on my Imaging Storm website along with an archive of the Lepidoptera photos.
They do say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you cannot deny that the insect world is beautiful and nowhere more so, in my opinion than in the realm of the Lepidoptera. Incidentally, butterflies are just one group within Lepidoptera, on the same branch of the family tree as the so-called micro moths, in fact.
My Mothematics Gallery can be found on my Imaging Storm photography site along with other invertebrates, flora and fauna, etc. I’ve written about several of the species I’ve seen for various outlets, but haven’t yet got around to adding all of the links to this list #bearwith
Incidentally, the title of this blog post was alluding to the 1975 song by Hal David (words) and Albert Hammond (music) – To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before – from Hammond’s album of that year 99 Miles from L.A. You might also know it from the 1984 cover version by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson.
As the name of the Toadflax Brocade moth might suggest, its purported larval foodplant is toadflax, which could one of dozens of Linaria plant species. The “brocade” refers to the patterning on the wings of the moth, which might to a fanciful entomologist remind one of a heavy fabric interwoven with a rich, raised design.
Anyway, we saw a solitary larva of this species on our garden waste bin a couple of years ago, I blogged it at the time. Two summers later and an adult finally made an appearance in the scientific trap last night, drawn to the 40 Watt actinic UV tube. There were a few dozen other moths in the trap, all ones that have put in several appearances over the summer weeks. It’s been a mad year in this part of Vice County 29, far fewer moths seen in far lower numbers than in the heady days of the summer of 2019.
That was my first full season with the trap and one sultry night had almost 500 specimens of more than 100 species to count and catalogue before freeing into the undergrowth some way away from the trap site. At the time of writing, 25 species new for the garden so far in 2021. There’s still plenty of time for something special to arrive, still hoping to see December Moths later in the year, of course!
According to the UK Moths site: “As a resident species, this moth is restricted to the south-east and central southern coasts of England, where it frequents mainly shingle beaches.Â It is a relatively recent colonist, arriving around 1950 and quickly gaining a foothold, but appears to be now in decline again.”
Its scientific name is Calophasia lunula which hints at a heat phase and perhaps the moon-like quality of some of its wing marking…but that’s just a guess and Peter Marren doesn’t seem to mention the scientific binomial in his excellent book Emperors, Admirals & Chimney Sweepers. Actually, I recall now, a lunula is a crescent moon marking, like the white at the base of one’s fingernails. Also refers to a Bronze Age necklace.
If I’ve counted correctly, there are 14 clearwing moths that we might see in The British Isles, some more likely in some areas than others (Welsh Clearwing, for example, and Raspberry Clearwing, Cambs and Beds). They’re generally diurnal, day-flying moths, great pollinators of wildflowers and garden flowers alike.
You might spot some on your raspberry canes or purple loosestrife on a riverbank. However, having a pheromone lure to bring them to your garden briefly for a sighting is a more certain way to see these amazing creatures. I’ve got a selection of pheromone lures from Anglia Lepidopterist Supplies, which have drawn a few.
Once drawn to the lure, the moth can be observed and photographed, the lure packed away in the freezer until next year and the moths meanwhile released back into the wild away from any watchful insectivorous birds (I’m looking at you Robin and Blackbird!)
They’re all quite small moths but all superficially resemble wasps in various ways, an evolutionary adaptation to confound predators.
I do have a lure for another moth with clear wings that is even more like a waspish creature, the Hornet Moth, unfortunately, it’s past their flying season and I did not see a single one during any luring session unfortunately, although I know from another moth-er in the village that they are in our locality.
There are about 20 hawk-moths that you might come across in The British Isles, some far more often than others. Some are day-flying (diurnal), some night-flying (nocturnal), some drawn to light others preferring sweet nectar. These moths sit in the Sphingidae grouping, and are more generally known as Sphinx moths elsewhere.
The photos above are the eight hawk-moths we have seen in our garden over the last three years of mothing here. So, still plenty to “tick”, as it were.