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13 June 2023

12 June 2023 – Sharks in Coxwold

Mullein moth
Mullein (Shargacucullia verbasci)

My first time sighting a shark (moth) at Shandy Hall! I’ve been terrified of sharks my whole life, but this little fellow was quite docile and fuzzy – far from fearsome. Shargacucullia refers to a genus of moths known as the Sharks, or, as translated, the Shark-Hooded ones. Verbasci is simply the genitive of Verbascum, the scientific name of the Mullein plant from whence the moth also derives its common name.

This moth’s presence at Shandy Hall, previously undocumented, is a first! Mullein caterpillars have been frequently seen, but this is the first time, at long last, that we’ve caught an adult! The larva feeds on the Mullein plant, its namesake, and other verbascums, which grow abundantly in the garden. Knowing that the Mullein’s food plant of choice is available in Shandy Hall’s gardens introduces a reasonable probability of sighting one, which was important when identifying this moth. The Mullein is notoriously similar in appearance to another shark moth, the Striped Lychnis. However, the reason to believe this is a Mullein and not the former is the flying season: Mulleins fly from late May to July, whereas Striped Lychnis moths don’t start flying until July.

The Mullein is local and well-distributed around England, and has a variety of habitats, including gardens and parks.

Small Magpie moth
Small Magpie (Anania hortulata)

We first observed this moth upside-down, as it clung to the clear interior of the moth trap. Identification nearly drove me mad until I realized that it is a micro moth, not a macro – I suppose it was its ostentatious pattern that fooled me. Small Magpies have been spotted around Shandy Hall on numerous occasions. The caterpillar eats stinging nettles, meaning food is plentiful for them. (My foolishly bare legs can attest to the abundance of nettles in the Wild Garden!) They’re common throughout England, flying from May to September.

The species Anania hortulata means “without pain” and “garden” respectively. Perhaps it’s because of their immunity to the nettle’s sting that they received such an unusual name!

There was also a number of Ermines, Swifts, Poplar Hawkmoths, and a Heart and Dart in the trap. More notable species include the following: Small Phoenix, Foxglove Pug, Swallow Prominent and Green Oak Tortrix.


Small Phoenix moth
Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)
Foxglove Pug
Foxglove Pug (Eupithecia pulchellata)
Swallow Prominent moth
Swallow Prominent (Pheosia tremula)
Green Oak Tortrix moth
Green Oak Tortrix (Tortrix viridana)

Post by Autumn Cortright (UPenn intern).