Wildlife Garden | Species review of the year 2017 – part 1: mostly moths, bees and wasps

Whilst Joe Beale and Wildlife Garden bird recorder Florin Feneru were focussing on birds, as reported in our previous blog, it was also a good time to take stock of other species we’ve seen. They may not be visible during the early part of the year, but were very much in evidence in the warmer months of 2017 and hopefully will soon reappear – in between the heavy rain showers and cold spells…

Volunteer Salma Ahmed has been adding last year’s records to our database so it’s timely to review some of those species recorded and photographed in the Wildlife Garden over the past year.

A multitude of moths

Last year we mentioned a few moth species recorded from our hedgerows and those observed in our grassland habitats.

However, the majority of moths recorded are found from our weekly moth trapping sessions using a Robinson light trap fitted with a 125w mercury vapour bulb. Once identified, the moths (and other night-flying insects) are released unharmed, unless they are being kept for further identification purposes.

Last year an additional 17 moths were added to our species list of 540 moths. Two of these were kept for further identification, of which Zelleria oleastrella (Milliére, 1864), recorded from the light trap on 13th June last year, has been noted as the 8th record of this species for the UK and the first for the county of Middlesex (the Vice County in which the garden is situated), as Martin Honey writes in the Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation 129: 298-299 (2017).

Photo 1 DSCN2065 Zelleria oleastrella
Zelleria oleastrella at rest © Martin Hone y

In the previous year, but only recently determined, another interesting species found in the light trap on 23 August 2016, was the leaf miner Antispila treitschkiella (Heliozelidae) which feeds on cornelian cherry (Cornus mas). This is still the first valid UK record of this moth (the native dogwood feeder A. petryi turning out as a distinct species with which the new species had wrongly confused), despite the leaf mines turning out as already widespread on a survey of cornelian cherries between London and Cambridge, including botanic gardens, conducted by David Lees and Klaus Sattler. You can read further about this intriguing find which highlights the role of the Wildlife Garden as an important sentinel area for the detection of new arrivals to the fauna. (And read the research paper here.)

Photo 2. NHMUK010305234_Antispila_treitschkiella_from_Cornus_mas
Antispila treitschkiella © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London/David Lees

The light trap is of course only good to catch night-flying insects. Day-flying insects are best observed whilst quietly walking, sitting or working in the garden. This beautiful image of a hummingbird hawkmoth was photographed by the late Russell Ritchin in July 2017 during one of his many photographic forays in the Wildlife Garden. So greatly missed is Russell, but we will be using many of his beautifully captured images.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) © Russell Ritchin

The hummingbird hawkmoth was first recorded in the garden by Martin Honey in 1996 and not observed or recorded again until 2000. However, in the last five years we have observed it annually. It is breeding on the chalk downland habitat where larvae and pupae have been found amongst its food plants: lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) and hedge bedstraw (Galium album).

Hummingbird Hawk Moth Caterpillar
Hummingbird hawkmoth larvae on the chalk downland habitat of the Wildlife Garden © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

A particularly spectacular longhorn moth that was found by David Notton on the chalk mound in July 2017 is Nemophora metallica (Adelidae). The larvae feed on scabious and the moths nectar on the flowers, the males consorting in numbers in sunshine in a captivating display. The moth only occurs in one or two other sites in the London area and is a surprising find.

Photo 5. Nemophora metallica on WLG chalk mound 5072017
Nemophora metallica male on the chalk downland habitat of the Wildlife Garden © David Lees

Bees and wasps

An additional two bee species added to the list last year were Nomada panzer and Macropis europaea the yellow loosestrife bee. The latter, a Nationally Notable A species, was spotted by David Notton while it was nectaring on yellow loosestrife on 17 July. The bee is entirely dependent on this plant as a pollen source, so is only ever found at waterside habitats where yellow loosestrife grows.

Photo 6 56WLG_140714-051
Yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) thrives together with Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) and common reed (Phragmites australis) along the south margins of the main pond in the Wildlife Garden

David Notton’s find of the year in 2016, on 13 July, but only recently determined, was a spider wasp (Agenioideus apicalis) recorded on wild carrot (Daucus carota) in the meadow grassland alongside the west side of the Museum. This species, thought to be a recent colonist in southern England, is the first record for the UK.

Species count WLG 2016
David Notton sweep netting in the meadow

This area of grassland, until five years ago, a closely mown lawn, has been allowed to grow, flower, set seed and be grazed by sheep, and is enriched by species such as wild carrot from adjoining wildlife garden meadow areas. You can read more about Agenioideus apicalis here.

photo 8 78010264906-NHMUK-Agenioideus_apicalis-male-habitus_dorsal-1_0x-a
The spider wasp Agenioideus apicalis

This spider-wasp is a predator of the tube-web spider Segestria florentina, one of the biggest British spiders, up to 22mm body length (excluding legs). We have yet to record this spider actually in the Wildlife Garden though it has been spotted in the colonnade ‘back of house’ area of the Museum.

Other sightings

Other new insect records for 2017 included the mottled shieldbug, Rhaphigaster nebulosa and 11 additional species of beetle. These included the weevil Cionus alauda, found on water figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) which grows profusely around the ponds and waterfall,  the metallic blue-green willow beetle, Plagiodera versicolora spotted on willow alongside the main pond on 10 July, the Nationally Notable A beetle, Hypera meles, and late in the year,  a new dung beetle, Aphodius sphacelatus, turned up in the light trap just after the sheep left the meadow in November. More about beetles in a later blog.

Whilst all these new records are exciting finds, it is also gratifying to continue to record familiar and more common species. One such species is the conspicuously striped cinnabar moth caterpillars.

Last year we had a fine colony of 30 or more, which was a record year for this species.

Photo 9 P1000365
Cinnebar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) caterpillars on food plant ragwort Senecio jacobaea in Gill’s meadow

And the beautiful (but deadly) Box Tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis ) first recorded in the Wildlife Garden in July 2015 has greatly increased its population to the detriment of our one box tree (Buxus sempervirens) – on the night of 26 August over 60 Box Tree moths were collected from the light trap. This is an Asian adventive and expanding species which has colonised the UK since Plant (2002).

One of the values of the Museum’s Wildlife Garden is of course its setting, just a few paces from the sharp eyes of some of the country’s finest botanists, entomologists and zoologists who with Wildlife Garden volunteers and staff have been recording here for nearly 23 years. For more details of species recorded over the past few years in the Wildlife Garden see the Journals of the London Natural History Society, Volumes 95 (2016) and 96 (2017) of the London Naturalist.

Spring returns

Now, at the beginning of a new recording season, we have spotted – in between the showers – several species of bee including the hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes), our first butterfly of the year, a brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)  (recorded by volunteer, Pravin Patel last Thursday, 5 April) as well as recently laid frogspawn (19 March) nesting blackbirds, robins, blue-tits,  long-tailed tits and some of the bravest loudest-singing wrens I’ve ever heard.

Visit  the Wildlife Garden and enjoy these signs of spring together with primroses, bluebells and wood anemones in woodland areas, cowslips in grassland and marsh marigolds at pond edges and hear more about the Wildlife Garden on this Saturday’s Nature Live talk, Springing to Life with Joe Beale.

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