A good week for rare moths at Parc Slip

The second week in July has been a particularly good one for finding rare moths at Parc Slip.

As usual we have run the weekly moth trap which produced decent results with 71 species of moths caught including a fairly uncommon Beautiful Hook-tip (Laspeyria flexula). However, it was not this species that caused so much excitement on the reserve; it was a couple of others that were found out and about on the reserve and they are from both ends of the moth size spectrum!

Stathmopoda pedella by V Matthews

Stathmopoda pedella by V Matthews

Firstly Paul Parsons, a local wildlife enthusiast who spends a lot of time on the reserve and is an active member of the Glamorgan Moth Recording Group, discovered a tiny micro-moth whilst ‘beating’ vegetation. This is an effective method of discovering micro-moths (and other insects) which rest amongst the vegetation and often turns up species which aren’t attracted to moth traps. Paul spends a lot of time on the reserve and has increased the number of (particularly moths) species on the Parc Slip species list and we’re very grateful for all the records he has provided.

On Monday Paul decided to walk along the canal path near the Visitor Centre and was tapping alder trees when he saw a tiny but distinctive little moth. It was immediately caught and potted so that it could be photographed to confirm the identification. As Paul suspected, he had caught Stathmopoda pedella (below) which had only been recorded once before in Wales (in Monmouthshire) and was therefore a significant find – well done Paul! As you can see from the photograph, despite being only about 6mm long, it is an attractive little moth which holds its hind legs out at a distinctive angle and the caterpillars feed within the fruits of alder trees. It has since been released back on to the same alder from which it was caught.

Lunar Hornet by V Matthews

Lunar Hornet by V Matthews

The next find came on the very next day when a group of hardy volunteers were removing invasive Himalayan Balsam from the reserve. Tom Richards noticed a couple of large, brightly-coloured insects low down on a willow trunk. Looking very much like hornets, they were in fact a species of clearwing moth – Lunar Hornet Moths (Sesia bembeciformis).

The clearwing moths, as their name suggests, are unusual among moths in that their wings are not opaque which aids their mimicry of wasps. The lunar hornet moth is in fact probably the commonest of the 14 resident clearwing species in the UK but is rarely seen as an adult so this was a really special sighting – an unexpected benefit of balsam-bashing! The larvae live within willow trunks and the exuviae can sometimes be seen outside the exit holes. The males then fly around looking for unmated females to pair with (as seen here).

Both of these sightings really show the benefit of getting out and about in the countryside and keeping your eyes peeled – you never know what you might be lucky enough to see!