Holly Leaf-miner

Leaf mines are mainly caused by species of Lepidoptera (moths), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (sawflies, bees, wasps & ants), and a few Coleoptera (beetles), whose larvae feed within the leaves of plants. As the larvae feed and grow, they move throughout the leaves, creating mines. The mines created by these species are often very distinctive and, coupled with the fact that leaf-mining species tend to be restricted to a certain range of host plants, it is often possible to identify mines to an individual species.

The first step in working out a miner's identity is correctly identifying the host plant. Doing this normally narrows down the possibilities quite a bit and then you can identify which type of insect (order) the miner is from:
  • Lepidoptera normally make full depth galleries or blotches with single lines of frass (droppings).
  • Diptera mines are either lower- or upper-surface (or a mix of both), their larvae are maggots and they characteristically make twin trails of frass.
  • Hymenoptera mines are blotches rather than galleries and characteristically have extensive amounts of dark frass (compared to diptera mines). The larvae of Hymenoptera also have visible legs.

Phytomyza ilicis is a species of fly (diptera) whose larvae mine the leaves of Holly (Ilex aquifolium). P. ilicis is incredibly common and is the only species to mine Holly in Britain, making it very easy to spot and identify! It is abundant on the UEA campus, with P. ilicis mines visible on just about every Holly bush you come across.

Phytomyza ilicis leaf mine on holly


The appearance of Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in January is one of the first signs that Spring is just around the corner.

Snowdrops are a perennial flower in the Alliaceae family, alongside the garlics and daffodils. They can grow up to 25cm tall and are found in a range of habitats, including damp woodlands, hedge banks, churchyards. Although many people think of Snowdrops as a native wildflower, it is now believed that they were in fact introduced to Britain in the early sixteenth century.

Snowdrops are pretty neat little things and have a surprising range of uses too, including agricultural and medicinal applications...

Snowdrop lectin (carbohydrate-binding proteins) is an effective insecticide against species of Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Hemiptera (true bugs), and some research has suggested that introducing Snowdrop lectin to genetically-modified crops may increase the resistance of GM crops to insect pests. Snowdrop lectin is also being investigated due to its potential activity against HIV.

Galanthamine is an alkaloid found in Snowdrops which has been approved for use in a number of countries for assisting with the management of Alzheimer's disease, as well as being used in the treatment of traumatic injuries to the nervous system.

These delightful little plants are fairly numerous around the UEA campus, and are especially abundant underneath the conifers near the Sainsbury Centre.

Some of the Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) near the UEA Sainsbury Centre

Diurnea lipsiella

Diurnea lipsiella (aka the November Tubic) is a micro moth in the Chimabachidae family. It is locally, but widely distributed across the UK, with Oak (Quercus spp.) and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) being the preferred larval food plants. As with other members of the Chimabachid moths, the females are brachypterous and therefore flightless. The males however, have a forewing length of 10-12mm and are on the wing in October and November (hence their very imaginative vernacular name).
Distribution map of Diurnea lipsiella using the 292 records from the NBN atlas (https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NHMSYS0021142565)

Whenever the weather has been suitable this semester, we have tried to run two moths traps on the UEA campus. On the night of 31st October we set two traps as usual: one with an actinic bulb and one with a mercury vapour bulb. When we checked the traps in the morning, there were quite a few moths in and around the traps, including 26 November Moth agg. (Epirrita dilutata agg.), four December Moths (Poecilocampa populi), two Sprawlers (Asteroscopus sphinx), two Feathered Thorns (Colotois pennaria) and singles of Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) and Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata). Also in the trap was one Diurnea lipsiella, a new species to me, and apparently a new species for the UEA campus too!

Absolutely shocking iPhone photo of Diurnea lipsiella.

The Sprawler

The Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx) is a species of resident macro-moth found throughout most of England and Wales, although it is more common in the South. It can be found in broadleaved woodlands, and other well-wooded ares, including some gardens.

It is one of the later-flying species to be found in Britain, with adults being on the wing from mid-October to early December. The species frequently comes to light, with males usually arriving from midnight onwards, and females arriving earlier.

This species only has one generation each year and survives the winter by overwintering as eggs, which are laid in small crevices on the trunks of trees. The eggs hatch in April and the larvae feed nocturnally on a variety of tree species, including Pedunculate Oak, Blackthorn and Small-leaved Elm until early-June when they pupate in a cocoon beneath the soil surface.

The Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx)
The larvae have a habit of throwing their head back as a defence mechanism, and this behaviour is where the English name 'Sprawler' comes from.

It is classed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species in England due to an 83% decline in its UK population over a 35 year period (1968-2002) and its use as an indicator species for the winder environment.

Over the last two weeks I have been helping run a few moth traps on campus. Considering the time of year we have done quite well for variety, and in 3 nights of trapping with both an actinic and MV bulb a total of 87 individuals of 16 species have been caught. So far, seven of the species caught have been new to me which is very nice, taking my moth list up to 597 and PSL total to 1186. I'm hoping to reach 600 moths and 1200 overall by the end of 2017 so I have my work cut out a bit, but hopefully a few outings around Norfolk and Hampshire over Christmas will easily take me up to my targets.

Relative frequency of species on three trapping dates at the same site.
Cumulative totals of individuals from both an actinic robinson
trap and an MV robinson trap run simultaneously.

If you want to find out any more information about The Sprawler, or moths in general, these websites are a mine of information:


2017 catch up

Well, since it's been almost 9 months since my last blog post, I figured it was about time I got round to writing an update... 2017 has so far seen me complete my A Levels via distance learning...an 'interesting' experience, and begin studying BSc Ecology at the University of East Anglia.

In the last few months I have also been trying to broaden my natural history knowledge away from just birds, so I have been doing a lot of moth trapping, started trying to ID hover flies and have also begun delving into the botanical world too... it's slow progress but at least it's a start! Getting much more involved in Pan-species Listing has really helped drive my curiosity and interest in the lesser-known taxa, as every species is equal when it comes to PSL. I would really urge any aspiring naturalist to sign up and start delving into taxa outside of your comfort zone... the sheer variety of wildlife on your doorstep will no doubt amaze you!

Over August and September I was fortunate enough to spend five weeks volunteering with the Bardsey Island Bird Observatory. Throughout my five weeks there I assisted with a wide variety of tasks, from the organised chaos of changeover days, to helping check Manx Shearwater productivity burrows, and co-leading the annual Next Generation Birders week. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and was brilliant to get an insight into the huge array of daily tasks that enable the Bird Observatory's high standards to be maintained. My thanks must go to Steve Stansfield (Warden), Emma Stansfield (Steve's wife), Ephraim Perfect (Assistant Warden), Liam Curson (Assistant Warden) and many others for having me, and for making my time on the Island so memorable.

As part of my Ecology course I am required to keep an Electronic Journal, with a weekly post about a new species I have encountered on campus. This means that there should be many more posts here over the coming weeks and months; I hope to get that off to a start in the next few days, once I've had a chance to spend some more time wandering around the greener areas of the UEA Campus.