Event Report - Emperor moth expedition/bug hunt and Spring Moth Watch

Place: Snelsmore Common Country Park, Berkshire. SU463710
Date: 17th May 1997

Despite a weather forecast predicting thunder storms and heavy rain, we eagerly gathered on Snelsmore Common (just outside Newbury). Armed with entomological equipment (butterfly nets, beating trays and our bare hands), our expert: Martin Harvey (from the Nature Conservation Bureau) and waterproofs, we began the hunt. Firstly in the woodland and then on the heathland area.

Amongst the many insects we found were two groovy Geometrid moth caterpillars, an entertaining click beetle, a solitary wasp, a sawfly and a beautiful lace wing (Chrysopa perla). We also found a sailor beetle, several ground beetles and weevils, 7 and 14-spot ladybirds, numerous shield bugs, a bumble bee and a St. Marks fly (Bibio marci). We found a large number of spiders, mainly Comb-footed spiders (family Theridiidae) but also a nursery-web spider (Pisaura mirabilis), a rather nice crab spider (almost certainly Xysticus cristatus), a wolf spider carrying her egg-sac and a really impressive (and also pretty large) Gnaphosid spider, Drassodes sp. We also found an extremely interesting spider, Tibellus oblongus which lies along blades of grass and ambushes its prey. Other arthropods caught were millipedes, including a pill millipede (Glomeris marginata), a centipede, harvestman, spider mite and many woodlice (the common striped and common rough species). There was an unexpected sighting of a slow worm (legless lizard) and a Greater Spotted woodpecker drummed near by.

Despite our best efforts there was not an emperor moth in sight. We did however, catch several other moth species: Miller, Speckled Yellow, Fox, Latticed Heath, Common Heath, Green Longhorn and a Tortrix moth (Ancylis uncella) and we found the larva of a Yellow-tailed moth. The most unusual species of the day was the Chamomile Shark moth (Cucullia chamomillae), a moth not seen very often.

After a quick trip home for some dinner, a torch and some warmer clothes, it was back to the common for a moth trapping session. We set up three moth traps, waited for the sun to go down and were amazed by the sheer quantity, as well as the great variety, of moths attracted to the bulbs. The first to arrive were Brown Silver-lines (Petrophora chlorosata).

Then came several species of Prominent moths (family Notodontidae), all four Hooktips (Drepana sp.), many Fox moths (Macrothylacia rubi) which insisted on laying eggs all over our traps, Scalloped Hazel (Odontopera bidentata), various Carpet, Pug and tiny Tortrix moths (micro moths).

Illustration of a Lime Hawkmoth

Lime Hawkmoth - Mimas tiliae

The most spectacular has to have been the Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae), five of which arrived at our traps. Interestingly named moths that were spotted include the True Lovers Knot, Chinese Character, Grey Dagger and Scorched Wing. A total of 80 species of macro- moth were recorded (an exceptional figure for mid-May), the rarest of which was the Pinion-spotted pug, a moth which is 'Nationally Scarce'.

Other exciting insects encountered at the moth traps included the largest UK crane fly (Tipula maxima), the black headed cardinal beetle which is classified as 'Nationally Scarce' (although it seems reasonably common in Berkshire). Scorpion flies, caddis flies, St Marks flies, ladybirds, lace wings, shield bugs and Ichneumon wasps were spotted near the bulbs and several cockchafers (May bugs) crash landed around the traps. Another slow worm was discovered and we spotted three woodcocks and heard a tawny owl and I am sure we would have spotted many bats, had we not been concentrating on our traps and the huge numbers of moths they were attracting.

All in all a fantastic day of bug hunting!

We are truly grateful to Martin Harvey for making this event possible and for his invaluable expertise. Thanks also go to the warden of Snelsmore Common for allowing us to invade the common and to everyone who attended.

Originally published in the Amateur Entomologists' Society Bug Club Magazine

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