Tag Archives: moth

The March of Early Spring

Forgive the title pun, but this year it really has felt as though March began the spring properly. With just one hour to 1 March I spotted my first moth of the year by the rear window, a Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria), a species which can be easily identified by the row of minute dots along the edges of its wings.

A Dotted Border moth.
A Dotted Border moth. Note the tiny dots along the wing edges.

The Dotted Border is an early spring moth, flying from February until April.

In the last few days I have seen quite a few bees around, mainly big queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and so far one male of the species sunning itself on an old white-painted board.

The male Buff-tailed Bumblebee is very similar to the female but far smaller. She is immense.
The male Buff-tailed Bumblebee is very similar to the female but far smaller. She, by contrast, is immense, almost thumb-sized.

Last year’s Buff-tailed Bumblebees  were still around in late December and early January, collecting pollen from flowering exotic garden shrubs such as Mahonia. The bees then disappeared for the two months of the coldest part of winter and are now re-emerging to start new colonies. Buff-tailed Bumblebees are  not the only ones around, I was very surprised to find a handsome queen Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) two days ago, drowsily collecting pollen from the newly blooming dandelions.

A Common Carder Bee from the side. These bees normally don't show up until very late March or early April, and even stranger is that this has been a colder year than last year by a long way.
A Common Carder Bee on dandelion. These bees normally don’t show up until very late March or early April, and even stranger is that this has been a colder year than last year by a long way.

Like the bees the birds have already begun their spring activities too. I was very impressed by the display a Magpie was putting on for his intended, flying high into the air and hovering like a kite before dropping suddenly and swooping to where she was perched at the top of a huge Ash tree.

A male Magpie displaying to a female as part of a courtship ritual.
A male Magpie displaying to a female as part of a courtship ritual.They are certainly very beautiful birds.

I was also delighted to observe some other creatures enjoying the recent sun, such as this very distinctive spider, the Nursery-web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) which almost always rests in a pose similar to Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Universal Man’.

Nursery-web Spiders love to sunbathe. They don't make webs to hunt with, only for protecting their young, and only in late spring.
Nursery-web Spiders love to sunbathe. They don’t make webs to hunt with, only for protecting their young, and only in late spring. They are a medium-sized spider.

I saw all of these creatures in the last few days, but today alone (the best spring day so far) I saw even more spring wildlife, and I will post those images later tonight.

 

Longhorn Moths and Silver-Ys

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, you really do not know what you’re going to find round the next bend in the road in Wicklow. Here’s something really remarkable I found feeding on the Cow Parsley – a Longhorn Moth:

Longhorn Moths, just like Longhorn Beetles, get their name from their extremely long antennae, which in this species are truly immense.
Longhorn Moths, just like Longhorn Beetles, get their name from their extremely long antennae, which in this species are truly immense, being almost twice the length of the moth’s body.

And the excitement didn’t end there – this particular species is one of the two most colourful species found in Ireland, known only by its scientific name of Adela croesella.  It is (as far as I know) only found in the Burren, on the west coast of Ireland. So to find it in Wicklow is very exciting. Only the males have such long antennae, apparently to impress the females with, as is often the case with extremely exaggerated bodily appendages.

A Silver-Y moth, named after the beautiful 'y' shaped mark on its wings, which is upside down when the wings are folded, as in this photo.
A Silver-Y moth, named after the beautiful ‘y’ shaped mark on its wings, which is upside down when the wings are folded, as in this photo.

Today I was very glad to find my first Silver-Y of the year, which had to be rescued from a polytunnel. Silver-Ys migrate to Ireland from southern Europe and North Africa, and it seems they also attempt the return journey, although some will attempt to survive the winter in greenhouses. This one might actually be a larva which hatched out in the polytunnel itself.

Finally, a word about camouflage – for anyone who doubt species of white butterfly have adequate camouflage, just look at this female Green-veined White feeding on a cystus flower – truly impressive camouflage as it feeds:

Just another petal on one of many flowers unless you look more closesly.
Just another petal on one of many flowers unless you look more closesly.

Watch out for the Silver-Y

Right now Wicklow is swarming with Silver-Ys, muscular moths which migrate from North Africa and southern Europe every summer. Some years they are in small numbers, and some years in large ones, and this year they are in the latter. You will see them flying by night mostly, but individuals are very noticeable by day too, moving from place to place or perching on walls and windows. They come to garden plants by night in hovering swarms which are very impressive.

A Silver-Y feeding on garden pinks in my garden.
A Silver-Y feeding on garden pinks in my garden.

The moth’s scientific name, Autographa gamma, literally means ‘self-written y’. Both the common and scientific name are due to a silver-coloured ‘y’ marking on each forewing, as you can see clearly in the photo below.

A Silver-Y feeding on Bouncing Bet, a wild flower which is also cultivated.
A Silver-Y feeding on Bouncing Bet, a wild flower which is also cultivated.

Silver-Y moths are believed to attempt to migrate home in autumn, but some will instead opt to hibernate, and with some success as I have discovered them springing to life in sheds in springtime. It’s difficult to know how long they can live but we do know Painted Lady butterflies not only migrate from North Africa to Ireland, but also can successfully make the return journey in autumn, so the robust Silver-Y should be equally capable of this feat. As with so much in nature, however, it remains to be conclusively proven.