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12 July 2017

12 July 2017 – Ghosts Gathering

Ghost Moth (Hepialis humuli humuli)

The trap we set out in the garden did not have as big a yield as we had hoped. While the species number was low, there was still an interesting collection.

This female Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli) was a surprise to me, as it camouflaged perfectly with the lemon-sorbet colored egg box. The Ghost Moth is a dimorphic species which means that the male has a different pattern from the female. One of the five primitive moth species here in the British Isles, the males form a lek, which is a gathering of males who perform competitive displays to attract mates. Its distinctive flight, usually at dusk and after dark, is comparable to a pendulum and during which, they release a ‘goat-like’ scent. Once the larvae hatch they go underground where they feed on the roots of grasses and herbaceous plants for two years.  Dock and nettle are both on their menu.

Its name Hepialus means ‘a fever’, which describes its pendulous flight motion, and humuli means ‘the hop genus’, which was the food plant that the larvae were thought to feed on. Ghost moths can be seen gathering on the verges of the road from Coxwold to Kilburn, just a few hundred yards from the garden.

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina)

Another striking moth in our trap was the Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina). Hidden in a shadow in the moth trap, it was right next to a Beautiful Golden Y (Autographa pulchrina). I thought the two moths were the same species as I went to gently lift the moth out of the trap, but as the light slowly illuminated the body of the moth I realized how different the two were. This burnt umber colored moth has a unique characteristic located on the top of its head. Its shark-like fin, when looked top-down, is a bright buff color. It reminded me of the wood planks carpenters use for their woodworking projects.

Its scientific name Ptilodon means ‘a tooth’, referring to the dorsal tuft on the forewing, and capucina means ‘a cap’, describing the prominent crest on its thorax. The larvae of the Coxcomb Prominent feed on a number of deciduous trees such as lime, apple, poplar, and oak.

(Zeiraphera ratzburgiana)

The Spruce Bud Moth (Zeiraphera ratzeburgiana) was also found in our trap. At first glance, the moth seemed familiar with its central crest on its wings. However, I did not recall seeing many tortrix species with that color before so I placed it in a tube to help make an identification.

(Z ratzburgiana) 

Zeiraphera ratzeburgiana

was not difficult to locate in the micro moths guide book as its coloring was different from the many shades of grey found on the other moths. Zeiraphera means ‘a loose garment’, which might relate to the larval spinnings of the caterpillars. The second half of the name ratzeburgiana is named after the German entomologist, Julius Theodor Christian Ratzeburg.

Yew branch with berries

Like the name suggests, the Spruce Bud Moth does feed on spruce, but it also feeds on the shoots of a variety of coniferous trees. We were quite confused to start with because we could not think of any coniferous trees near us. It turns out that the Yew in our garden is a conifer even though it does not produce any cones, just seeds wrapped in red fruit.

Zeiraphera ratzeburgiana is a another new species for Shandy Hall which makes the count 417!

Post : Walter Chen [UPenn intern]