12 Jun 2013

Moths, Meadows and Orchids

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

Before setting out on a what turned out to be a damp and drizzly day, we gathered in the staff room to examine the moths which Marigold had trapped the previous night in the meadow behind the visitors car park and along by the Welsh Country Walk.  A moth trap basically consists of a box filled with egg boxes, plus a light to attract them.  The theory is that the moths settle inside and await our inspection the following morning.  Not quite so simple in practice since as the egg boxes are removed some of them escape and have to be recaptured in the little plastic boxes that are used to examine them.  One star moth, mainly because of his size, was the Poplar Hawk moth and, as it looked rather constrained in the box we soon let it go.  We then left Marigold and Susan to look them up whilst we went orchid hunting in the same meadow where the moth trap had been set.

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This meadow has a ditch running down the middle and there are two distinct habitats, perhaps reflecting the fact that it was originally two fields, managed or used in different ways.  The first looks wet and has a lot of long grass whilst the other is full of buttercups, yellow rattle and other wild flowers.  Nevertheless we soon came across our first Common Spotted Orchid, not fully out and not far from the path.  Then another in full bloom, probably also a Common Spotted, but with a slightly different shape.  Orchids have a strong tendency to hybridize so it came be difficult to be certain.  And Orchid seed is very tiny and has no food.  It depends on fungi in the soil and some species are very fungi-species dependent.  Because of the cold spring what we hadn’t expected to find was lots of Butterfly Orchids.  But we did.  Indeed, they were spreading across the field into new areas and we had to be careful where we put our feet.  However, going further down into the meadow to where they had first been evident in past years, the inability to manage the area probably has resulted in the grass growing rather long and dank.  Nevertheless further on we came across a stand of Common Spotted Orchids, thriving very nicely.

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In the meantime Jan and John had been sitting quietly on the log near the hornets nest, listening to the bird song – Blackbird, Wren, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Robin, Great Tit – when someone popped their head out of the bushes and looked at them –  a hind Fallow deer. Unfortunately, because John made a slight movement for this camera it disappeared.  So no photo then, but I did take some at night last year.
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Another interesting photo that John had taken was of the nymph of the Froghopper – see below – which you may have also seen on Springwatch.  This nymph creates the familiar Cuckoo spit by blowing bubbles out of its rear end.  It is also supposed to be distasteful though Martin on Springwatch didn’t seem to find it that bad.  The name Cuckoo spit derives from the belief that this is where Cuckoos came from.

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Later, back in the staff room we were now, thanks to Marigold and Susan, able to look at and name the moths that had been collected.  Nothing special here given the habitat and location, but a start in finding out just what species there are in this meadow.

Poplar Hawkmoth

Common. (the most frequent Hawkmoth in the British Isles)

Flight Season – May to July/Aug.

Larval Food Plants (FP) – Poplars, sallows and willows

White Ermine (2)


FS – mid May to late July

FP – wide range of herbaceous, incl. nettles and docks

Common Marbled Carpet


FS – May to July, & late Aug. to Oct.

FP – varied, mostly woody species, also recorded on docks

May Highflyer


FS– May to early July(a July Highflyer takes over then!)

FP – Alder

Scalloped Hazel


FS – May to June

FP – wide range of woody plants – not just Hazel!

Silver-ground Carpet


FS – mid May to late July

FP – herbaceous, incl. Cleavers, Hedge Bedstraw, Primrose

Beautiful Golden Y

Common, but more numerous in N. Britain

FS – late May – late July in S., late June to Aug/Sept. in N

FP – wide range of herbaceous, but also honeysuckle

Treble Lines


FS – May to early July

FP – Range of herbaceous, incl. Knapweed, Greater Plantain and Dandelion

Garden Carpet


FS – one to three overlapping seasons between April and October (this varies between 2 – 3 seasons in S., 1 – 2 in N.

FP – herbaceous plants of the brassica family

Grey Birch


FS – May to June

FP – Downy & Silver Birch, sometimes Alder. (Habitat is mainly long-established birch woodland or scrub)

On trap, but flew –


Scorched Wing


FS – mid May – late June

FP – mainly oaks and birches, but also sallows

Thanks to John James for his photos and if any volunteer or member is interested in joining us, or even starting something similar on a different day, then send an email to Colin Miles – also if you see or photograph anything exciting in the Garden. If you click on any of the images in these blogs, or anywhere else you will see a larger picture.