Saturday 18 July 2015

Brassy longhorns raid the Scabious!

Over the last 10 days or so, my regular rambles over Trust land have been fairly uneventful. Certainly, I’ve not felt compelled to blog about anything. Although, the Large Skipper, sitting on a Bramble leaf, delicately dripping urine onto dry bird’s poo in order to then slurp it up with its proboscis was quite entertaining! I even videoed that....I know, I need help. Then, there was the Red-tailed Bumblebees mating on the path at the Brickworks which was an unusual sight. The queen was enormous compared to the lowly little male. It seemed like a very precarious business. Anyway, what has finally motivated a blog post, I hear you ask? Well, let me share yesterday's excitement...

Bovingdon (BMT): In spite of the wind, I thought I’d do a little Hairstreak hunting. Purple Hairstreaks to be precise. To my mind, this basically involves hanging around Oak trees, staring up into the canopy for as long as my neck will tolerate it.

I got to the Brickworks mid-morning and headed to the Oaks east of Baker’s Wood. I love this area. It’s wild and warm and sheltered, and full of all sorts of interesting creepy crawlies and plants. The Oaks were devoid of speedy ‘streaks but I carried on along the path, to where the Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) grows. Suddenly, there, fluttering above the plants, not a Purple Hairstreak, but a small group of Longhorn moths. My pulse quickened. I immediately thought Horehound Longhorn (the fact that there isn’t any Horehound growing in this area was neither here nor there). I waited for one of them to settle, which seemed to take an absolute age. Finally, one came to rest, and was obviously not a Horehound (sense returned). In fact, I wasn’t quite sure what they were so decided I’d better take some decent record shots and look them up once home. By the time I’d finished, I’d convinced myself they were nothing to get excited about although their identity was still a mystery.

Longhorn on Field Scabious

I carried on around the rest of the site, spending a good 20 minutes under a large Oak, watching two tiny, speedy, dark butterflies occasionally flit between branches, high up. Purple Hairstreaks? Who knows, I never got a good look at them, unfortunately. Finally, on my return route, a ragged Painted Lady was sunning herself by some brambles.

Back home, with a bit of research, I got to the Brassy Longhorn (Nemophora Metallica) ID and looked up its status in Hertfordshire. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when the website said just 5 records between 1933 and 2004! Needless to say, I returned in the afternoon and did a proper count, 14 moths in total. UK Moths states that “the male has antennae three times the length of the forewings, the female around half this length...Like other members of the genus, the larvae feed at first on seeds and later on leaves or leaf-litter, mainly of Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis). Occurring in the south of England and East Anglia, the moths fly in June and July during the day.” I have since learned that there were a couple of Herts sightings last year.

So, there it is, another rare/scarce moth turns up on Box Moor Trust land. Brassy and beautiful, and it’s got me thinking more about the place of Field Scabious in the landscape. The flower heads were teeming with life: hoverflies, bees, beetles and moths, to name but a few. Definitely a plant that needs greater consideration.

So, to a few photos of the bobby-dazzlers...

Brassy Longhorn (Nemophora metallica), female. Her scales dull to the light

Brassy Longhorn (Nemophora metallica), female. Her scales glistening in the light

Of course, the male is the one with the long horns…THREE times the length of the forewing

Brassy Longhorn (Nemophora metallica), male. In dull light

Brassy Longhorn (Nemophora metallica), male, looking very brassy and longhorny!

The last few photographs show the head-on view; a size comparison with a hoverfly; a close up of the light-catching scales, and the predominant colouring.

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