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Wildlife Garden blog

3 Posts tagged with the moths tag
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Last month we were fortunate to have two students from the Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries Programme (YGMG), Ayana Porteous-Simpson and Carrie Roberts, spend two weeks helping us in the Garden including the surveying and comparing two of our hedges. They learnt several things along the way as they explain below.

 

 

"After a whirlwind introduction on the 19 August, we began our two week internship at the Wildlife Garden. We were greeted not only by Larrissa, Caroline, Naomi and volunteers, but also by Bee, Bella and Honey, the resident sheep we helped look after for the following two weeks. Our efforts were concentrated mainly on hedgerows, and the comparison of which of the two made a better habitat for wildlife.

 

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'Good morning' from Honey the sheep.


Almost immediately after starting our internship here, it became clear that identifying plants would be an important and large part of our project. Our second hedge has many different kinds of plant species. Identifying them was no easy task, but with the help of Caroline we knew several woody plants by the end of the week. To help gain a picture of the background of hedgerows, Caroline enlisted the help of Roy Vickery who spoke to us about the history of English plants such as hawthorn and holly.

 

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Roy grasping the nettle.

 

One of our first afternoons at the Garden was spent with Museum lepidopterist, Alessandro Giusti, who sorted the moths from the light trap that we helped to set up the night before. Though initially apprehensive, we developed a new found appreciation of the moths, which we realised weren’t scary at all, but quite cute!

 

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Poplar hawk moth.

 

Our next challenge was the dreaded spider counting. Tom Thomas, a fellow of The British Naturalists Association, knowing much more about spiders than we did, took us sweep-netting around the garden in search of our eight-legged enemies.

 

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Searching for spiders with Tom Thomas ...

 

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... around the ponds ...

 

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... and in the yew hedge ...

 

After looking at them under a microscope we found, much in the same way as the moths, they were in fact far more interesting creatures than we expected.

 

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... and then close up!

 

To learn more about the kinds of fauna that live in the hedgerows, we used three different methods of animal catching. The first, (pitfall trapping), helped us look at some of the invertebrates that lived in the hedgerows. We had a hard time identifying them, but we learnt again just how the Wildlife Garden attracts all kinds of insects and other invertebrates.

 

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Identifying some of our findings from the pitfall traps.


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Sadly, our humane mammal traps did not present us with the same array of wildlife, and though we managed to catch a few mice, they escaped before we could examine them. Squirrels, attracted by the seed we lay out for the mice, seemed to work against us as they broke into the traps and stole the food.

 

Lastly, Duncan Sivell who works within the Museum’s Life Sciences department came to help us with sweep netting. Though most of what we found were flies (moth flies, hoverflies, mayflies and midges) and wasps, we also found spiders, and a southern oak bush cricket.

 

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Ayana tries to sweep net.


The two weeks we spent in the Wildlife Garden were both challenging and interesting. Though we knew we would be gardening, we had almost no idea how much we would learn on top of it. From watering plants to spending the day examining spiders under a microscope, we had a great time, and appreciate all the patience and work put in by Larissa, Caroline, Naomi and the volunteers to help us."

 

 

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"We will miss the sheep too."

 

And we also learnt some useful tips from Ayana and Carrie

Thank you and we miss you two already!

 

If you'd like to come and see the Garden and its hedgerows yourself, we'll be giving 'A Walk on the Wildside' tours between 16.30 and 21.30 as part of this Friday's free Science Uncovered event at the Museum.

 

If you can't make it on Friday, then don't miss our Hedgerow Harvest event and talks on the 6 October.

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One of the many rewards of returning to work in the garden after a short break is not only to see changes in the vegetation that have occurred but also to hear about the different species of insects that have been spotted recently. Here Larissa tells us about the vibrant butterfly life during two sweltering weeks in July:

“Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

― Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales

It’s my favourite time of the year and I have welcomed the heat after a cool spring. This spell of fine weather is particularly good news for butterflies, whose populations had suffered from the previous years’ wet and cool summers. Butterflies and moths are unable to fly, find mates, feed or lay eggs to maintain population levels when the weather is poor. They are sensitive to environmental changes, and because of this, they are seen as good indicators of the likely effects on other species from a changing climate.

 

The first to emerge in the Garden earlier in the year at the end of April, were the orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines). Both male and female butterflies were around so hopefully they have mated successfully and we shall see their return next year. The males have the distinctive orange tips on their wings from which they get their name while the female is less conspicuous, lacking the orange tips and distinguished from the whites by the green mottled underwing which she shares with the male.

 

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Orange tip - this male was hiding from the April chill earlier this year, in the warmth of our greenhouse. Photo © L. Cooper

 

Early May saw the arrival of the first speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) and the holly blue (Celastrina argiolus). The holly blue is a delicate and beautiful butterfly with their blue wings brightening up the early spring garden. It gets its name from its preference for holly (Ilex aquifolium), but it also lays its eggs on ivy (Hedera helix), especially the summer brood.

 

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Holly blue - while males and females differ slightly on the upper wing, they are less distinguishable on the underside. Photo © Peter Eeles, Butterfly Conservation

 

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Speckled wood - often seen sunning themselves on a log in the Garden's woodland areas, or around the shed. Photo © L.Cooper

 

There have been plenty of large and small whites (Pieris brassicae and Pieris rapae, respectively) around since spring, dancing together over our pond and in the meadow. Although common and seen as a pest to many allotment owners, you can’t deny their beauty when in flight.

 

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Large white - setting aside one or two cabbages for caterpillars, and removing them from the rest, could be a way to happily coexist with the small and large white butterflies. Photo © Tim Melling, Butterfly Conservation

 

But it’s these last two weeks in July which have been the most impressive. The arrival of the sun has brought more butterflies with it and it never ceases to amaze me just how much wildlife can be found in this little acre of green in the heart of London.

 

On the 15 July, I sighted the first visits of the year to the Garden from 3 different species. First up, a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) passed me by near the pond resting just long enough in the reeds to admire its bright colours.

 

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Red admiral. Photo © Neil Hulme, Butterfly Conservation

 

The red admiral was followed shortly by a skipper flying around the hedgerow flower near the greenhouse. These were planted with the aim of providing a nectar source for insects so it good to see that it is working! Unfortunately, the skipper lived up to the reason for its name and was quick to fly away so I have neither a photo or species identification, but I think it was likely to be a large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus).

 

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Large skipper - the members of this genus adopt a typical pose making it easy to identify them as skippers. Photo © Ian A Kirk, Butterfly Conservation

 

I then spent about an hour, on and off, trying to spot an elusive bright orange butterfly which kept tempting me, then flying away at the last moment. It looked too bright to be a British specimen at first and I thought it may possibly have been an escapee from the Museum's nearby butterfly house that is on the East Lawn for the summer. However, when it landed long enough for me to take the poor picture below, before it took to the wing and disappeared, I was able to identify it as a comma (Polygonia c-album). Although it was a first for me, it has been a frequent visitor to the garden in previous years and it is resident in the country.

 

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A comma - bigger than I imagined, but recognisable from the rough wing edges. The species gets its name from a white 'c' shape on the underside of its otherwise brown wing. Unfortunately, this one didn't stop for long enough for me to capture this signature marking. Photo © L. Cooper

 

A couple of days later, not only did our new volunteer Alora spot the first six spot burnet moth of the year but a little while later we had a Garden first. A ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) settled in the meadow long enough for us to take a picture and identify it by the distinctive rows of rings on the underside of its wings (n.b. they do also have rings on the upper wings). This was a very exciting day!

 

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Ringlet - not only a first for the Garden but also an uncommon species in London. Photo © N. Lake

 

 

Today I can also add a brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) to the list of my sightings, feeding on purple loosetrife nectar by the Garden’s waterfall.

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A brimstone feeding - my first sighting of the species was earlier this year at Juniper Hall. It’s lovely to see them here in the Wildlife Garden too. Photo © L. Cooper

 

I’ll keep looking for butterflies this summer, and you can also join in with Butterfly Conservation Trust’s Big Butterfly Count. It’s the world’s largest butterfly survey and by taking part you can help monitor the health of our environment. The Big Butterfly Count is really simple and great for all ages, and even comes with a free easy to use smartphone app to help you’re your recordings. To find out more visit the Butterfly Conservation website.

 

Thank you Larissa!

 

P.S. Drop by the Garden to see if you see some of the same butterflies as Larissa or, to see exotic butterflies and moths that aren't native to our shores, visit the Museum's Sensational Butterflies exhibition. It's in it's last few weeks so be sure to come along before it ends on the 15 September.

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Volunteers play an essential role here in our Wildlife Garden. They help with practical tasks including planting and pruning, composting and coppicing or messing about on the pond – more about this later…

 

Observing wildlife is also part of the day’s work for wildlife gardeners and volunteers.

 

Since the day the Garden opened, our gardeners, volunteers, Museum scientists and other specialists have recorded some of the many species that have colonised or visited it.  Of the 2,300 taxa entered on to our database, notable records have been collected over the years from groups including moths and butterflies, dragonflies and waterfleas, bryophytes and lichens - and more.

 

The image below shows a sample of sightings this year - mainly collected during mid week ‘lunch-time recording sessions’ when some of our scientists come outside and share their knowledge, sandwiches and survey methods. Below are some photographs of those lunch-time moments, from August and September this year.

 

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A small selection moths from the previous night’s trapping including Jersey tiger moth (foreground)

Image: Jonathan Jackson NHM

 

 

We set our moth light trap as often as weather permits (so not very often this year!). Martin Honey, Lepidoptera curator, who has recorded and identified over 500 species of moths in the Garden, has a wealth of knowledge, and has patiently taught some of us all we know about moths. Once identified, the moths are carefully released back into the Garden.

 

We spotted the sawfly larvae below during a walk exploring leaf mines and they were initially mistaken as caterpillars but, as Museum lepidopterist Alessandro Giusti explained, the larvae of sawflies (Symphyta) have at least 6 pairs of abdominal legs (pro-legs) compared to 5 or less on Lepidoptera caterpillars. When disturbed, as these were, the larvae lift and curl their abdomen over their heads. Lepidoptera caterpillars also have sclerotized hook-like structures at the end of their prolegs, called crochets. These allow the caterpillar to hold on to surfaces. Sawfly larvae don’t have crochets. However, one might need a hand lens to see these structures.

 

 

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Sawfly larvae on willow – taken by volunteer Sophia Pomiakowski


Stuart Hine, Manager of the Angela Marmont Centre and 'bombuslucorum' on our Identification forums identified these sawfly larvae as Nematis species.


Blow flies have been studied in the Garden but up to now, very few other families of flies (Diptera) have received the same attention.This year, we are learning to love flies, and records have greatly increased since the Museum’s Erica McAlister and Duncan Sivell set up a ‘malaise trap’ earlier this summer. We will be reporting on malaise trapping in the next few weeks so more on the ‘what and how’ at a later date.

 

 

 

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Wildlife gardener, Daniel Osborne examining the malaise trap with a little help from our sheep

 

 

Adrian Rundle, Learning Curator, has led pond life workshops in the Garden for the past 12 years, and has been running training sessions for Wildlife Garden volunteers this summer. We'll share more pond moments in future blogs.

 

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Volunteers Tommy Fieldsend and Alex Lynch investigating pond life during an Explore Aquatic workshop with Adrian Rundle

Image: Naomi Lake (c)

 

 

More of our wildlife sightings in the Garden next week...

 

Caroline