08 January 2012 ~ 1 Comment

Great Mullein And The Mullein Moth

Great Mullein

Despite spending much of my free time out in the countryside observing nature for as long as I can remember I recently stumbled across a new find in the form of a plant I’d never seen before.

Whilst it isn’t rare it is most exotic-looking and my first thought when I saw it was that this plant had blown in as a seed from a nearby garden. After some research I managed to identify the plant as a mullein. Whilst there are a number of different mulleins in the UK it seems from my research that the plant I found was the largest (and seemingly commonest) of the group – known as Great Mullein.

Great or Common Mullein, latin name Verbascum thapsus, is an impressive plant that can reach over 6 feet in height with rosettes of large leaves each one cloaked in bristly white hairs giving it a Mediterranean look and the appearance of greyish foliage thanks to the combination of the white hairs on the green leaves.

Great Mullein plant

mullein

Just as interestingly while trying to get a number of photos of the plant to help me identify it I stumbled across a number of large, brightly-coloured caterpillars feeding on the plant.

The combination of a minty green background together with the yellow and black spots gives it a most attractive and indeed impressive appearance. It turns out that these are the caterpillars of the mullein moth though I was somewhat disappointed that the adult moth itself is far less impressive in appearance that the larvae.

If you’re out and about in the late spring and early summer keep an eye out for mullein which thanks to it’s size and shape is easy to identify – and watch for caterpillars feeding on it.

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Mullein moth caterpillar

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03 July 2010 ~ 2 Comments

Mystery Moth

For those of you know I don’t know personally, one of my hobbies is keeping and breeding leaf insects. The typical hobbyist food of leaf insects in the UK is bramble so every week or so I find myself out in the countryside with a carrier bag and pair of scissors taking some leaves back home (all whilst trying not to get spotted by someone else so I don’t have to explain myself and look like a weirdo!).

At this time of year of course hundreds of different invertebrates use bramble as a food source or a place to hide and so I do my best to choose leaves without spiders on, cookoo spit and so on so they can carry on to adulthood.

However a few weeks ago I missed something. And that something was a couple of caterpillars. These lived perfectly happily with the leaf insects, feeding on the fresh bramble leaves that I gave them until they both pupated.

In the picture above you can see both one of the caterpillars and the other having already turned into a pupae.

The questions is – what are these pupae going to turn into? My assumption due to (a) their size and (b) the way they both pupated down on the ground rather than attaching themselves to a plant are that they are moths rather than butterflies but only time will tell. I also believe they are the same species due to the similarity in appearance of both the caterpillars and they resultant pupae.

Assuming they hatch out successfully I’ll try to get some photos and let you know what appeared!

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20 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Six Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

burnet moths
Creative Commons License photo credit: Woodlouse

The six spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) is one of the commonly-seen day-flying moths of British summer days. Often seen feeding on nectar-rich flowers like thistles, the moth is one of the easiest of all to identify.

Appearance

The six spot burnet looks almost like it could be a beetle due to it’s long antennae but the wings clearly mark it out as either a butterfly or moth. The burnet possesses 6 bright red/pink spots on an otherwise black background so is very easy to spot.

Habitat

The burnet can be seen during warmer months in gardens but is most often seen in rough pasture and meadow where it feeds on the nectar of flowers. A summer walk through your local common gives you a great chance of seeing this brightly coloured insect.

Food

The adult moths feed on nectar whilst the caterpillars feed on wild plants like birds foot trefoil.

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