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6 June 2017

6 June 2017 – Lantern Bearer

Small Angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara)

My first day at Shandy Hall was met with a light drizzle which soon turned into a downpour later in the evening. After watching some cows trudge towards a tree to protect themselves from the rain, I started my adventure of moth identification thousands of miles away from home.

I have done some identification before with butterflies when I volunteered at a museum back home. That however, was simple due to the carefully curated butterfly species which were meant to capture the eyes of children. One only needed to memorize around 15 different kinds of butterflies, each with its own unique color and pattern. This on the other hand proved to be quite the challenge. There are hundreds of different varieties of moths, some of which look similar to others and makes you wonder what makes them a separate species.

Out of the 10 moths I identified, one of them was particularly striking. It was the Small Angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara). I sat there staring at this moth, looking at the beautiful mixture of browns and black. The highlights are the two bright spots, one on each wing. They look almost like two dots of gold leaf painted on. The name ‘Euplexia’ is derived from the Greek words ‘plexis’ meaning ‘weaving’, and ‘plekō’ meaning to plait or to twist. It describes the resting position of the moth when the wings are folded; ‘lucipara’ derives from the Latin words ‘lux’ meaning light, and ‘luciparens’ meaning light-bearing. Its description mentions a resemblance of a lamp shining out of darkness. This almost poetic derivation is very fitting for this stunning moth.

Fern in the quarry garden

The Small Angle Shades caterpillar’s main food-source is bracken (Pteridium aquilinum). That plant is not to be found at Shandy Hall but UK moths records that the nocturnal larvae will eat ‘other ferns’ – so the one above could be tonight’s meal.

Shoulder-striped Wainscot (Leucania comma)

Another moth identified was the Shoulder-striped Wainscot (Leucania comma). This one was fairly easy to identify as the pattern was quite distinctive and the markings on the moth were very clear. Comparing the moth to a picture in the moth field guide, it was like a picture-perfect match. The moth itself looks smooth and sleek, with its black vertical marks along its wings. Its scientific name ‘comma’ comes from the streaks as it refers not to the modern punctuation but just a mark.

Cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerata)

Cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerata) is what the Shoulder-striped Wainscot likes to feed on. It is used mainly for hay, as the grass is sweeter and has higher yields than other temperate grasses or grasses found in areas with mild temperatures. Dactylis glomerata is found throughout our gardens.

Post : Walter Chen (UPenn intern)