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Mike's Blog - Day 299

As well as using mist nets, Biosci have other methods to catch wildlife for monitoring purposes.

We recently set a camera trap up in the woodland down the garden. Prof Steve Willis baited it with jam sarnies and we caught a fox on camera.

We have another camera card to look at tomorrow, so let’s see if there is anything exciting on that.

Another tool is a moth trap. This is basically a bright light on top of a box and overnight moths are drawn to it and roost inside the box. They are then collected the next morning and identified.

We had some “normal” or “macro moths” back on Day 199, of which there are about 800 species in the UK, but also caught up in by Stu in his traps are a small selection of some of the 1600 or so species of much smaller “micro moths”.

As you would imagine by the name these are much smaller, although some of the largest of the micro moths (e.g., Small Magpie and Mother-of-Pearl) might be larger than some of the smaller species of the macro moths, but generally these are fingernail length in size or smaller. The larvae are tiny and many typically feed internally on leaves and are often seen by us gardeners as damage to leaves that we refer to as being caused by leaf miners, although that’s not always moth larvae causing these markings of course.

One of the most common of these “leaf miners”, and you’ll see it often on brambles is of a little moth called Stigmella aurella. Of course these little moths don’t get spotted much so don’t tend to have common names, but you are sure to have seen signs of them if you look at bramble leaves…

Stigmella aurella - UKMoths

Other moths are a bit more sinister, such as the Bee moth, Aphomia sociella. This is a parasite on wild bees, particularly bumble bees and wasps. Its noted for its breeding behaviour, males give an acoustic call as well as a pheromone signal. Once mated females can lay up to 100 eggs in the nest of a bee and the caterpillars can destroy the nest by eating the brood comb and bee larvae.

Then there is Apotomis betuletana, a cunning species, its caterpillars disguise themselves from predation by mimicking a bird dropping with their cryptic colouration. This species, “betuletana” is so named as its caterpillars feed on Birches, Betula spp.

Generally moths themselves might only survive for a very short time in that part of the life cycle and not even feed, having gained all their energy as hungry caterpillars, but some species will feed on nectar, pollen, dew. They seem to do their most “eating” during the larvae/caterpillar stage.

Recent research by the Biosci department looking at the DNA of prey in blue tit droppings has shown that these micro moths are an important part of the diet of woodland birds.

So, attached are a small selection of some more of these fascinating creatures (sorry, no common names). Enjoy!

Here are these micro moths in close-up.

Stathmopoda pedella, grassland near to the Botanic Garden in August
Phyllonorycta quercifoliella, woods next to the Botanic Garden, August
Exotelia dodecella, woods next to the Botanic Garden, July
Pandemis cinnamomeana, woods next to the Botanic Garden, August
Eana incanana, woods next to the Botanic Garden, August
Caryocolum fraternella, grassland near to the Botanic Garden in August
Carpatolechia decorella, woods next to the Botanic Garden, August

You can see the Bee Moth and the Apotomis betuletana (aka bird poo moth) on Stu’s excellent moth blog here, including a species that has a golden-brassy colour resembling Christmas paper, plus a good few more with lots of good information too.

Category: Stu's Top Moths - Conservation Ecology Group @ Durham University

Thank you Steve and Stu, my pleasure to pass on such expert knowledge.