Netted Carpet

It was late July when I received an email from a local moth expert, Brian Hancock, inviting me to go along to a local woodland one evening to see if we could find specimens of the adult Netted Carpet (Eustroma reticulatum). When I first set out on my mothing journey, Brian got in touch and invited me round to his house, socially distanced and outside of course, he lives just over the border in North Lancashire. I had never met Brian before, although we both volunteer at RSPB Leighton Moss, our paths hadn’t crossed. However, I have a number of small publications about the wildlife in our local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AoNB) of which Brian authored and acts as recorder of the species seen. He has also written an excellent book about Pug moths (Pug Moths of North-west England – available from the Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Society). Brian advised me on various things to do with mothing and invited me along to meet the mothing team at RSPB Leighton Moss once things got going again after lockdown. I duly went along and am now a valued member of the volunteer mothing team, regularly checking the trap and recording the moths we find, I’ve even been let loose on my own a couple of times now. It was apparent early on that this journey into the world of moths is not just about spotting the moth itself but rather learning about the habitats they can be found in, where and when to find the food plant but also which rare moths survive in specific areas locally and the conservation efforts in place to safeguard their future. I have Brian to thank for encouraging me to delve deeper into this world, I am grateful for him sharing his enthusiasm for the subject along with his knowledge and experiences.

I had not seen a Netted Carpet before, so thought it best to at least have a look in the field guide (Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, Third Edition, Waring et al 2017) for it. It is quite a small moth with a forewing of one and a half centimetres, with a network of white lines on the forewings, on a dark background. Whilst looking in the field guide I noticed the initial RDB, just above the distribution map. The highlighted area on the map was tiny suggesting a very localised population nationally. The letters RDB illustrate that the Netted Carpet is a Red Data Book (RDB) species. The RDB in question is the British Red Data Book number 2: Insects published by the Nature Conservancy Council 1987, I duly picked up a copy of the book from an online auction website. Red Data Book is a state document established for documenting rare and endangered species of animals, plants, and fungi, listing the threatened species. I noted that the species can be found in the wet parts of woodland and favours the Touch Me Not Balsam (Impatiens noli-tangere) as its food source both as an adult and as a larvae. The adults can be found in flight from early July to mid August. Like most moths they are nocturnal and come to light traps. They are also, univoltine, which means they have one brood a year. In 1987 it was recorded that Netted Carpet can be found at nine sites in the Lake District. Since 1987 the Netted Carpet has been listed as vulnerable in the RDB. Populations can be affected by factors such as habitat loss, change of land use and the availability of the foodplant. This has led to conservation efforts taking place to not only protect the habitat but to promote the growth of the species in the areas it is found in. The survey I was invited to in the local woodland was to locate and count the numbers of adults among the patches of Touch Me Not Balsam. Such is the importance of the foodplant that it was important to take the utmost care when searching for the specimens. One cannot simply charge around like a bull in a china shop and tread on the foodplants, a more delicate approach was necessary. At dusk we set out carefully trying to locate the moths by the light of our headtorches, Brian set up a portable trap up to see if any of the adults came to light, a small number were recorded this way. Very quickly an adult was spotted alighting on a moss covered log, much to the excitement of the small group of moth-ers present. During the search we found a good number of adults spread out over the woodland area, the adults were found in the areas where the Touch Me Not Balsam has been encouraged to thrive as a result of some excellent conservation work to promote it’s growth.

Netted Carpet (Eustroma reticulatum)

As September approached, Brian mentioned that it was the time of year for the annual Netted Carpet larvae count at the local site and would I like to join the survey team with the hope of seeing the small larvae on the foodplant. Obviously I jumped at the chance to take part. We met up at the woodland and techniques in searching for the larvae were exchanged. We then went off into a small patch of Touch Me Not Balsam and carefully, bottoms in the air, searched for the larvae. It wasn’t long before a shout went up “found one”. Brian was the first to find a larvae so I went over to have a look, having never seen one in the flesh before, at least now I knew what I was looking for, I even managed a half decent photograph on my phone. It was apparent that this search was going to be difficult, the larvae blend in very nicely with the stems of the plant making them very hard to see, perfect camouflage. Nevertheless, after searching a few plants I managed to find a larvae by myself, my first one. I found two in total that evening of which I am quite proud. Overall, a good number of larvae were found across the patches of Touch Me Not Balsam in the woodland, this indicates that the population is sustaining itself.

Netted Carpet larva
Netted Carpet larva on the delicate Touch Me Not Balsam
A damaged seed pod indicative of feeding by the larva

When I got home that evening I did wonder if there was an easier way of detecting the larvae on the foodplants. It was difficult maneuvering around in the dark trying desperately not to damage the plants. It occurred to me that I had read somewhere that some larvae fluoresce under UV light and wondered if these larvae did the same. Only one thing for it, I purchased a simple UV torch from an online retailer with next day delivery and waited patiently. My new torch arrived the next day complete with instructions on how to use it best for locating pet urine on a carpet! I set out that evening, back to the woodland and straight to a spot where I found a larva the previous night. There it was, in the same spot. I waited until darkness fell and low and behold the larvae fluoresced right before my eyes, a single stripe of brightness extending along the length of the body. Hopefully we can use this technique in the future to help us locate more larvae and further study the progress of the local Netted Carpet populations. We just need a more powerful UV torch.

Netted Carpet larvae fluorescing under UV light

I hope to return to the woodland in the year to take part in some of the conservation work necessary to the survival of this vulnerable local species. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Cheers for reading and if you have any questions, please get in touch.

Cinnabar

As far as I can remember, I first encountered the larvae of the Cinnabar (Tyria Jacobaeae) in 1988 when I was 14 years old growing up in Salford. Somewhere I noticed an advert for volunteers to help with conservation projects during the summer holidays from school. The advert was probably in the local free press or even a poster at school. This was on offer from the Salford and Trafford Groundwork Trust a charitable organisation specialising in urban conservation projects and encouraging young people to consider the natural environment and the benefits of connecting with nature. As a reward for participating in the conservation work, we went on days out to other local sites, I remember one trip over to Delamere Forest in Cheshire. They are still going strong and now called Groundwork (www.groundwork.org.uk) and people from all walks of life can join in with the projects. Arrangements were made, for my younger brother and I, to be picked up from outside the Town Hall in Swinton where we would be taken by minibus to help with a project, all I needed to take was a decent packed lunch and old clothes and be ready for a bit of hard graft, all equipment was to be provided. One of the first projects was to do some work at the new Irlam Linear Park which followed an old, derelict railway line from Irlam to Cadishead (https://irlamandcadishead.net/locations/irlam-linear-park/). Along the old railway cutting there was a yellow plant about half a metre tall in large clumps. This turned out to be Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea). On closer inspection we could see lots of small, about one inch in length, black and yellow/orange striped caterpillars (larvae) crawling around the plants, eating the flowers, leaves and stems. There were hundreds of these larvae and they were found on most of the Common Ragwort plants along the cutting.

Larvae of Cinnabar on Common Ragwort

As it turns out, the Cinnabar larvae have voracious appetites and can quickly strip a plant of its leaves and flowers. As they feed, the larvae absorb toxic alkaloids from the plant rendering them, the larvae, unpalatable to predators such as birds. Common ragwort is renowned to be harmful to livestock if eaten by them so the plants are often cleared from farmland, but it is very common to see it growing on roadside verges and areas of waste ground. Common ragwort is an excellent food source for butterflies and moths and over 200 invertebrates have been found feeding on it, making it quite an important link in the food chain. Since first observing them in my youth, I quite often inspect swathes of ragwort to see if the larvae are present and quite often see them. Up until recently I had never observed the adult moth. My first official sighting of the adult moth was in May 2016 when a beautiful red and black specimen alighted on my daughters shoulder in the back garden.

Adult Cinnabar moth on the shoulder of my daughter, Erin.

We have seen the adults quite often since then, usually in the garden flying during the day after being disturbed by play time.

A few years ago, my children got a butterfly rearing kit as a gift at Christmas. We successfully raised the supplied Painted Lady butterflies from eggs to adults and released them locally. We found some recently hatched Cinnabar larvae on some local Common Ragwort so decided to use the butterfly rearing kit to see if we could get the larvae to pupate (where the larva undergo the transformation into adults in a cocoon) with a view to storing the cocoons over the winter and watch them emerge in the Spring as adults. We collected four larvae and a selection of healthy plants and put them safely in the butterfly rearing net.

Cinnabar larva feeding on Common Ragwort inside the rearing kit
Cinnabar larva

It was interesting to see how much the larvae ate over the next week or so, it was quite a lot of plant. Judging by the amount of frass (the excrement of the larvae) in the bottom of the cage, they must have been eating plenty. We had to clean the cage out regularly and replace the old plants with fresh from the nearby roadside verge. We were careful not to take plants with larvae on and collected from different areas locally. It wasn’t long before we could see the larvae moving around slowly and eating less so we knew a change was afoot and watched them more intently. The larvae eventually made their way to the base of the cage and clearly started the process of pupating.

The larvae pupating
Cinnabar cocoon

After a couple of days, the cocoons hardened and darkened in colour. They are very delicate so careful handling was required. in the wild, the pupa overwinter just under the ground so we placed the cocoons carefully into a plant pot with a light covering of soil and popped them in the shed with a net over the top so we can view the emerging adults in the Spring.

One of the cocoons

In terms of trapping, I had Cinnabar adults come to the actinic light trap in the garden, in low numbers, at the end of May and into early June.

We have also raised a White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) larvae and watched it pupate. Following this we have raised three larvae of the Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae) which we found feeding on our nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) in the garden, they have just pupated over this last weekend so they will be stored until Spring ready for emergence.

I hope you have enjoyed this latest installment and it would be awesome if you would share it.

Cheers.

A treasure chest of biodiversity

Hi

Being back on duty after a bit of annual leave is always a challenge. Getting back into the routine of day shifts and night shifts again, plus finding stuff for the kids to do during the holidays, leaves you with less time to write a blog. Thankfully our two love a local walk in the woods and they quite enjoy getting up early to help with checking the moth trap, which makes it a family event. We get quite excited about the prospect of what we will find when the lid comes off, likening it to pirates opening a treasure chest.

I have learnt that it is important to check around the trap first, including all surfaces in close proximity to the trap site. There is a small fence, a shed and lots of plants close by to the trap. I quite often find moths settled here, attracted by the light, and not inside the trap. You do have to be careful where you step!!

The trapping got off to a slow start this year. I first put the trap out on the 27th February and you will remember that the weather was really cold earlier in the year, the end of winter going into early spring was particularly cold with a frost most mornings going into March and early April. Suffice to say the first night drew a blank with no moths. It wasn’t until the 8th March, when it warmed up slightly, that I got my first ever moth caught in the garden trap, a single Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica). Followed a week later by a couple of Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi). They do say patience is a virtue and I persevered, religiously putting the trap out whenever I had the opportunity. Then on the 19th March I got a 16 moth haul, lots of early spring treasure, Common Quaker, Hebrew Character and a couple of Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) joined by a Chestnut (Conista vaccinii). This was a pattern for the next week or two with the occasional Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria), the odd Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda) and one or two Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta).

Numbers started to increase towards the end of May as it started to get warmer, I got my first trapped Cinnabar (Tyria Jacobeae) on the 26th, I will write a future blog dedicated to the Cinnabar. I began to get new species for the garden after each night of trapping now. The moths in the trap were joined by Burying beetles (Nicrophorus humator), these have a fantastic odour and Common Cockchafer (Melolantha melolantha). On one occasion I counted 12 Common Cockchafers in the trap and my six year old son took great pleasure in examining these beauties, he even took one to show and tell at school, in a jam jar with holes in the lid. He would go on to repeat this with larger moths as the summer term progressed much to the delight of his Headteacher.

I had wondered for a while, since I started trapping and probably since we moved into this house, if we had any of the Hawk moths locally. I remember seeing a photo of a Poplar Hawk moth (Laothoe populi) that my brother had found in his porch in the next village, one mile away, so we must get them here. Two Elephant Hawk moth (Deilephila elpenor) turned up in June closely followed the next day by my first Poplar Hawk moth. As a new “Moth-er” these were the fancy treasures I had been looking for, these have that wow factor that makes you stare at them open mouthed. I popped these in the aforementioned jam jar and popped down to school with them to show my sons class, it is good to share, and these “super” moths are jaw dropping. The children were delighted to see them, for sure, a great unexpected connection with nature for them. My son particularly liked it when a Buff Tip (Phalera bucephala) appeared in the trap, handling them gently and helping them to safety but only after a good ten minutes of close examination at their intricate beauty and marveling at their camouflage. One alighted on a nearby log, very close to our bird feeders and in the direct line of sight of a male Blackbird (Turdus merula)! We watched from the kitchen window as the Blackbird stepped over the Buff tip and shoveled up discarded sunflower hearts off the bark, completely ignoring the juicy moth. I reckon that is natural selection in action right there. The Buff tip survived to live another day.

Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)
Poplar Hawk Moth (Laothoe populi)
Buff Tip (Phalera bucephala)

And so the summer has been fascinating, it has been an unexpected joy to get up early and inspect the trap, sometimes on my own and sometimes with the family. The numbers of moths in our garden so far have been spectacular, in my mind. I thought we would get a few over the months of trapping and had an idea what was around in our area (I had read the Briggs list, see previous blog) and I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many different species turned up to the light.

In terms of the positive effects on my wellbeing, looking back at the 5 steps again from the NHS:

*Learning new skills – at the forefront of this is the methods of identification of the new moth species I have trapped. Using guide books and local records to narrow down the possibilities to come up with a positive ID, most of the time. Recording the trapped species in my notebook and then uploading them to the national and county recording schemes.

*Give to others – sharing my finds with the family, sharing the finds (especially the “super” moths) with my sons class, posting photos of my finds on social media pages.

*Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness) – connecting with the natural world has always been a positive experience for me and this is no exception, you never know what is in the trap until you open it with childlike curiosity. It has/can be a challenge trying to ID some of the moths, I am colour blind, but with a little bit of patience I can pretty much get there and if I can’t I will ask for advice, there are plenty of experienced Moth-ers out there if you know where to look.

All in all so far, my experiences of “Mothing” have been positive and I have learnt so much already. I’ll keep you posted on how we get on going forward and I will share some further mothing stories what have been quite unexpected and an absolute delight.

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing/

Cheers.

Choosing a trap and getting started

It was early February 2021, round about the 4th, when I made the final decision to buy a moth trap for the garden. I did some research online looking at various retailers of equipment. I had an idea of how much I’d like to spend it was just finding the right trap for us and I couldn’t decide with out expert input. So I joined the local online community on social media, Cumbria Moth Group. With over two hundred group members, I thought it would be the best place to get advice on the most suitable trap for our garden so I got in touch with a post seeking advice on the group page. I must doff my cap to this online community as quite a few members got in touch with loads of great advice. Our garden is quite small and we share it with our neighbour, so I didn’t want to buy a larger trap like a Robinson at this stage. The garden is also not very traditional in its layout. As we step out of the back door and round a corner the garden is elevated above us, up four steps. The properties were once part of a larger country estate, purpose unknown but may have been stables or similar. Once the steps are ascended there is a narrow paved pathway with a small lawn of field grass on either side. The side that we use is planted with various shrubs and flowers, ornamental and wild in borders, on two sides with a shed at one end. We have a couple of wood piles in the border, plus a wood store for our winter logs for the wood burner. One side of the garden is bordered by a stone wall ten feet high which acts as the boundary between us and the larger property next door. A further raised section is accessed by a further flight of steps with a small rockery and lower walls. We are adjacent to the garden of the next door property at this end of the garden and we can also see agricultural fields and are about 30 metres from a river. We have quite a number of well established trees nearby, for example, walnut and mulberry and are very close to a large garden centre and nursery so have a fantastic array of food sources for moths in the locale. So, it isn’t a large area by any means but due to the elevation we have good visibility over a large area. The advice from the moth group indicated that for garden use it would be a good idea to try a mains operated Heath trap with an actinic bulb. I found a supplier of traps of various shapes and sizes online and plumped for a 20W actinic compact trap. Heath traps use a small fluorescent energy saving bulb which emits a whitish blue light, which hopefully does not disturb the neighbours. The bulb hangs down under a circular rain shield and has three fins which, when they are attracted to the light, the moths are directed down a funnel and into the depths of the dark box shaped trap. I had seen egg boxes used previously in traps, so collected our used boxes and popped a few in the bottom of the box. The moths, once in the trap, shelter in the shadows of the egg boxes which stows them safely away from predators until morning. The trap I bought has a ten metre cable and plug which goes directly into the mains via the kitchen window. I can also extend this using a traditional extension lead, protected from the elements by popping it in the shed. I thought it best to try this method of trapping first before purchasing a battery operated trap which would allow me to trap in different areas, one for the future. I also purchased various sizes of sample pots, for potting specimens for identification purposes and of course, a guide to macro moths to aid identification. Pots also allow me to pop the specimens in the fridge for a couple of hours to settle them down. I’ll let you know how the first trapping went in my next blog. Just to let you know, the moths are unharmed during the trapping process and are released in a place of safety once recorded.

I also found out that there was a gentleman who used to trap in my village, Jeremiah (Jerry) Briggs. He used to keep extensive notes and had a vast number of specimens. He retired to our village from the Bradford area, his collection along with the collection of his friend, Mr Cecil Haxby, are housed at Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley, West Yorkshire. I hope to visit and view the collection soon and look at the diaries and notebooks of Jerry Briggs. Dr. McGowan of the Museum has written a blog about this:

Compact 20W actinic Heath trap
Some of the egg boxes in the trap

Introduction

Hi, my name is Nick and for the last five years I have been privileged to work for the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust (NWAS) as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT1). This means, in essence, I work day and night shifts out of an ambulance station in rural Cumbria. I mostly work with a Paramedic and we respond to, essentially, 999 calls from the general public. Now, being involved on the front line of a very busy Ambulance Service, is challenging most of the time but during the last eighteen months it has been particularly challenging, as you can imagine. Luckily, the “green family” is made up of a great bunch of people who, along with doing the very best for our patients, do the very best for each other too. We support each other, we check on each others wellbeing, we send messages of support after difficult incidents and exchange good old fashioned workplace banter, great camaraderie. Plus we have a great support structure in place from our management team which helps during the toughest of times. We have regular communications encouraging us to look after our health and wellbeing, often with great advice and tips. I wondered if there was anything that I did outside of work that helped me with my health and wellbeing, certainly being out and about in nature on my days off and on trips out with the family has had a great impact over the years so I decided to set up a social media group for my colleagues in order to promote wellbeing through connecting with nature, posting advice, photos of my own connections with nature and group members post about their own sightings. I did a little bit of research on how connecting with nature can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health, and how it can be one of many ways to protect you from the stresses and strains of a busy working life. The research? Well, a quick search on the web brings up a number of pieces which are all variations on the theme. A study performed by the University of Essex in 2015 concluded that “Overall there is a large body of evidence to suggest that contact with a wide range of natural environments can provide multiple benefits for health and wellbeing.”

My own employer, the NHS, recommends the five steps to wellbeing, so lets start there. This advice is echoed worldwide. You can find advice from South Africa to Japan, the USA to Sweden on the internet very easily. So what are these five steps?

  1. Connect with other people
  2. Be physically active
  3. Learn new skills
  4. Give to others
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

Throughout the coming blogs, I will touch on these in more detail.

Also, for the last few years, I have been part of a great team of volunteers at our local Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve, Leighton Moss in Silverdale, Lancashire, an absolutely stunning part of North West England on the edge of Morecambe Bay and part of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and as the moth flies, a few miles from the Lake District National Park. Our little team of volunteers runs a small group for youngsters aged 8 to 12 years old, The RSPB Leighton Moss Wildlife Explorers Group. Where we run activities with a natural theme on the first Saturday of each month, this is a superb way of encouraging youngsters to connect with nature and passing on the skills we, as naturalists, have learnt over the years. From a very early age I have been interested in all things nature, specialising in birds, to a point where I would call myself a birdwatcher. I am happy sitting in a hide with my binoculars watching the birds and I can while away a bit of time idly studying the birds on the feeders in the garden. I like to keep a list of what I’ve seen, occasionally recording it on an app but I haven’t yet gone as far as travelling the length and breadth of the country “twitching”, I’ll save that for retirement. One activity we have done a couple of times with our group is one of the “Meet the Moths” events on the reserve and I’ve always found these events fascinating, especially the enthusiasm shown by the volunteers. I can spot a bird and with a high degree of confidence I can identify it, sometimes I can even ID them by the call alone! Good eh? Butterflies, not too bad, I know a Comma from a Red Admiral and am improving with time. Moths? not a clue. I wouldn’t know where to start! I see them a lot on night shifts when it is dark and we have the lights on, fluttering around dazzled by our blue lights and have encouraged the odd one or two back outside after flying into the house through an open window. As I spotted more and more whilst out and about, I decided, during Lockdown, that it would be interesting to find out what species of moth we had in our back garden but also as an experiment to see how a learning a new skill would impact my health and wellbeing plus it would be something we could do together as a family, I do like to encourage my two children to get hands on with nature. We haven’t got the biggest of gardens but we live in a rural area close to a river, with fields and woodland nearby, so I expected that we would do OK in our bit of rural South Cumbria. Where do I start? I thought the best way would be to buy a moth trap, pop it out overnight and see what was about in the morning. So earlier this year the research began into finding a suitable trap…..