Monday, 7 September 2009

Moths of Hardy Farm by Ben Smart

I met Ben last Saturday after a meeting about the proposed Hardy Farm football development. He told me of his interest in the moths of the area and I asked him if he could let us have an article for the blog. The following article was in my inbox by Saturday evening - and what an amazing article it is! Who would have thought that such a relatively small area could contain so many moth species!

The Moths of Hardy Farm

If you look for them, this is an area that is full of moths in all stages of their life cycle. Between 2001-2005 I ran a moth trap in one of the back gardens leading to the old playing fields area of Hardy farm. Including the moths attracted to the light trap and those I have found in my wanderings around the area I have recorded over 600 species of moth. I gave up the light trap when I found it was more interesting to look for moths in their natural habitat, often in the caterpillar stage.

Most of the interesting records have been of moths found either on the trees in the old playing fields area, or amongst the low growing plants of the area close to the river.
I have recorded a number of species which have been new for Lancashire, as well as many others which have been unrecorded for 50 years or so.
Examples include the Lead-coloured Drab, a species of macro-moth that feeds on poplars, particularly aspen, in its larval stage. Another Lancs first was the micro-moth Phyllonorycter dubitella which was reared from its leafmine found on the single sallow tree close to the south-west corner of the existing Chorlton and West Didsbury football club.

Many of the smaller moths can be found as leafmines. This refers to the larva actually feeding inside the leaf often leaving a distinctive pattern on the leaf. The adults that emerge rarely wander far from the foodplant, but are so tiny that for recording purposes it is often easier to record the species by looking for its leafmine.
An example of this, found on the willows by the side of the footpath from Hardy Lane to the Mersey, is an even smaller moth, Stigmella obliquella. As the moth itself is only about 2mm long it is very easily missed! Larger moths abound also. Last October (12.10.08) I found a 5cm long Poplar Hawk-moth caterpillar feeding on the same willows. Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillars may also be found in late summer feeding on Rose-bay Willow Herb.

Another interesting moth is Luffia ferchaultella. This belongs to a group known as the psychids. As far as I know the only Lancashire records for this species have been found in Chorlton. It is a parthenogenetic species, in that only the female moth seems to exist. It is also a wingless species. How it is dispersed is unknown but some closely related species are spread via predation by birds, as the eggs of the female can pass through the bird’s gut unscathed, as the larvae can go on to hatch and feed. The larva of Luffia ferchaultella goes on to produce a case which is coated in sand and fragments of lichen and algae, sometimes arranged in bands of colour, and may be found eating algae from the trunks of trees. Another Psychid moth, Narycia duplicella, may also be found as a larval case on the trunks of the trees in Hardy Farm. This species, though, does produce winged adults.

For a small area, this seems incredibly rich in unusual moths that I don’t seem to be able to find in other areas, even those designated as nature reserves. Because most moths live high up in the trees or fly only at night, much of this is unnoticed. However to lose an area like this would be devastating for the biodiversity of the Mersey Valley.

Ben Smart, 5th September 2009

Ed's Note: Ben also sent me the photographs above. The left hand photo is of an Elephant Hawk Moth and the right hand one one is of a Poplar Hawk Moth caterpillar. I will also put these, plus some other photos that Ben sent me, on the 'Inverterbrates' Picasa photo album.

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