The Moths of the British Isles/Chapter 5

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[ 94 ]

Tussock-moths (Lymantriidæ).

About seventy-two species, referred to this family, are known to occur in various parts of the Palæarctic region; ten of these are found in our islands. The Black V-moth (Leucoma v-nigrum or Arctornis l-album) has been reported as British, but if the few examples that have been recorded were natives, the species has long since disappeared from this country.

Some of the caterpillars, as, for example, those of the Brown and Yellow-tails, are not altogether pleasant to handle, as the hairs with which they are covered have a disagreeable trick of transferring themselves to our hands, whence they find their way to our face, and when there are apt to set up most unpleasant irritation and swelling of the parts affected. These urticating hairs are more troublesome when received from the caterpillar or cocoon, but those from the moth itself communicate a very respectable simulation of the skin trouble known to the doctor as Urticaria.

The Scarce Vapourer (Orgyia gonostigma).

The male of this species, and also of the next, flies in the sunshine, but the female of each is wingless, or nearly so, and has to remain at home on the cocoon from which she emerged. Here she lays a large number of eggs, from four to five hundred, upon the exterior. The eggs of this species are whitish and rather glossy when first laid; the top is sunken. Apart from [ 95 ] the deeper brown colour of the fore wings and the blacker hind wings, the male of this species has a white mark near the tip of each fore wing, and this character will distinguish it from the same sex of the Common Vapourer.

The caterpillar is blackish with star-like tufts of hair, white on the back and greyish on the sides; on rings four to seven are brushes of brown hairs; a pencil of black hair on side of the first ring pointing forward, and a thicker one on the back of ring eleven directed backward; the interrupted stripes along the back and sides are reddish orange, approaching vermilion; those along the back are united in front of the pencil on ring eleven, and those of the sides unite behind the pencil. Head glossy, black. The foliage of sallow, willow, and oak, is perhaps the more usual food, but it has been known to eat beech, elm, hawthorn, sloe, and nut, and has been found on meadow-sweet. The chrysalis is brown, inclining to yellowish between the rings, and the back is hairy; enclosed in a cocoon spun up among leaves or in any suitable cranny. The male and female moths are figured on Plate 40 (Fig. 3, 5), and the caterpillar and chrysalis on Plate 41.

The moths emerge in June, and from their eggs caterpillars result in July. These, feeding up quickly, attain the perfect state in late July or early August. Caterpillars from this second generation usually go into hibernation when quite small, and feed up in the following April and May; in confinement they may, however, get through their metamorphosis and reach the moth state in September or October. Sometimes it happens that a part of the summer brood of caterpillars will feed up straight away and produce moths in August; others, feeding and growing more slowly, assume the winged state in November; whilst a third portion will remain small and go into hibernation.

This very local species used to be obtained in the Wimbledon district, but it has not been seen there for some years past. [ 96 ] Other localities for it are the Norfolk and Cambridge fens, Bewdley Forest in Shropshire, and Wyre Forest, Worcestershire; it is also found in some parts of Devonshire, Suffolk, Essex, and Yorks. Its range abroad extends through Northern and Central Europe, southward to North Spain, Piedmont, and Corsica, and eastward to Amurland, Corea, and Japan.

The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua).

The male has the wings rather more ample than the same sex of the last species, the colour is a more ochreous red and there is a large white spot at the lower angle of the fore wings, but no white mark at the tips of these wings. Specimens from the north of England are rather darker than southern examples. In the course of temperature experiments it has been noted that the colour of the moth is darkened if the chrysalids are put in a refrigerator for a few weeks, and then brought into a mean temperature of 40° Fahr. In the female the appendages representing wings are somewhat larger than those of the female of the Scarce Vapourer, but are quite useless as organs of flight (Plate 40, Figs. 4, 6).

In general colour the caterpillar is violet or smoky grey; the markings on the back comprise a creamy, red-dotted line along the middle area, this is edged with black, and on each side of it is a series of raised red spots; the broken line along the sides is yellowish, and the four brushes of hair on the back are yellow, sometimes merging into brown above; the pencils of longer hairs are blackish on the ring nearest the head, and dark grey or brownish on the last ring. It may be found through the summer on the leaves of most trees and bushes. Chrysalis blackish, glossy, and rather hairy. The cocoons are spun up in the crevices of bark on tree trunks, or in the fork of a twig, under the eaves of an out-house or shed, on palings and fences, etc. The hairs of the caterpillar are mixed with the silk of the cocoon; the female lays her pale brownish eggs, which are minutely pitted and have a darker ring below the sunken top, on the outside of the cocoon, and there they remain through the winter.

Moths of the British Isles Plate040.jpg


Pl. 40.
1. Dark Tussock Moth, male; 2 female. 3. Scarce Vapourer, male; 5 female.
4. Vapourer, male; 6 female. 7. Pale Tussock, male; 8 female.

Moths of the British Isles Plate041.jpg


Pl. 41.
1, 1a. Scarce Vapourer: caterpillar and cocoon.
2, 2a. Common Vapourer: egg-batch on cocoon and enlarged egg.
3, 3a, 3b, 3c. Pale Tussock: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and cocoon.
4. Dark Tussock: caterpillar.

[ 97 ] Generally distributed throughout the United Kingdom, but not so common in Ireland as in England and Scotland. It is quite a Cockney insect, and is found in almost every part of the Metropolis where there are a few trees. Occurs practically over the whole of Europe, and in North-east Asia Minor, Armenia, Siberia, Amurland, and North America.

The Dark Tussock (Dasychira fascelina).

The figures of the sexes of this species on Plate 40 represent the dark grey form. Sometimes the forewings are whitish grey and occasionally slaty grey; the cross lines may be stronger or fainter, and in some specimens are nearly absent; the yellowish colour usually seen on the cross lines may be missing, or, on the other hand, other parts of the wings may be stippled with yellowish. Laying her eggs in batches, the female carefully covers them with dark brown hairs from the tuft at the end of her body.

The caterpillar (Plate 41, Fig. 4) is blackish, with star-like tufts of hairs, yellow, mixed with longer blackish ones towards the head and tail, brownish grey on the middle portion; a brush of black hairs on rings four, five, and eleven, and of white hairs on six, seven, and eight. Head black. When full grown (Plate 42, Fig. 3) the hairs of the body are greyish, and those of the brushes on the back are black flanked with white. When disturbed it rolls in a ring. It feeds on hawthorn, and various species of Salix, also on broom and ling. It hibernates when still small, in a silken cocoon-like envelope which it spins in the fork of a branch, or among the twigs of a bush; growth is completed in April or May, and the winged state attained in [ 98 ] June or July. Sometimes the young caterpillars have been found in their winter quarters about the middle of July, and this would seem to imply that they occasionally lie dormant for two winters; at least this would appear to be so in Scotland whence such individuals have been recorded, with the additional information that they did not eat through the summer and that one was still alive in the following March. The chrysalis is glossy black, and hairy (Plate 42, Fig. 3a).

This is chiefly a northern insect, occurring most commonly on the Cheshire, Lancashire, and Cumberland coast. It is more generally distributed in Scotland and is often abundant on the moorlands. In Ireland three caterpillars were found by Mr. Kane in the Bog of Allen, and the species has also been recorded from Tullamore and Mullingar. Distribution: Northern and Central Europe, extending to the Altai.

The Pale Tussock (Dasychira pudibunda).

This moth is much commoner and more widely distributed in England than that last mentioned. The central area of the greyish white fore wings is subject to variation in width and also in tint; this latter may be darker or lighter than the example shown on Plate 40, and the cross lines are in some specimens black and very distinct. The colour of the female ranges from pale greyish white through various tones of grey, and the bands on the hind wings may be as well defined as in the male. Black males of the species have been recorded.

The hairy caterpillar is green or yellow, the former mottled with whitish and the latter with greenish; on rings 4 to 7 are thick brushes of yellow hairs, and on ring 11 there is a tuft of reddish hair; the back is marked with black between the brushes, and there are black spots on the sides of the hind rings. Sometimes the caterpillar is light or dark brownish and the brushes are then greyish, or tinged with pale reddish or blackish. Altogether it is a pretty creature, and as it is, or was previous to the modern "washing," common in hop gardens at picking time, it was christened the "hop dog." It may be found from July to September on the foliage of birch, hazel, oak, and many other trees, as well as on hop. The moth appears in May and June, and rests by day on herbage, especially on bracken in woods (see Fig. 6, p. 7); at night it comes readily to light, but specimens so obtained are generally of the female sex.

Moths of the British Isles Plate042.jpg


Pl. 42.
1, 1a. Yellow-tail: caterpillars.
2. Brown-tail: caterpillar.
3, 3a. Dark Tussock: caterpillar and chrysalis.

Moths of the British Isles Plate043.jpg


Pl. 43.
1. Brown-tail Moth, male; 2 female.
3. Yellow-tail Moth, female; 4, 5 males.
6. White Satin Moth, female.

[ 99 ] It is most at home in the southern portion, but occurs throughout England and Wales, to Cumberland. Only doubtfully recorded from Scotland, but in Ireland it has occurred in Galway, Kerry, Waterford, Cork, and Wicklow.

Distribution: Central and Northern Europe eastward to North-east China and Japan.

The Brown-tail (Euproctis chrysorrhœa).

Although sometimes found in the East and West of England, and even in Yorkshire and Durham, this appears to be essentially a coast species in Britain, and confined at that to Kent and Sussex, the former especially. Even in these favoured localities where it is usually abundant, it is, however, not always in evidence. The moths sit about at the end of July and early August on leaves of hawthorn, sloe, sea-buckthorn (Hippophaë rhamnoides), and wild rose, generally on the underside. Near the females will be found batches of eggs, which are covered with "fur" from the anal tuft of the female. The caterpillars hatch out in August, and while still very small go into hibernation in a common nest. In the spring, when active again, they construct a new habitation, and another or perhaps two more before they are full grown, about June. The chrysalis is very dark, almost blackish-brown, with tufts of hair, and the fairly substantial brownish cocoon in which it is enclosed [ 100 ] is composed of silk and caterpillar hairs, and is spun up on the food-plant, often singly, but not infrequently, several are made up in a common silken covering.

The caterpillar is blackish with brownish warts, each bearing a tuft of brownish hairs; a row of tufts of white downy scales on each side of the back of rings four to eleven; the central line on the back is black, edged on each side by a red line of variable width from rings six to ten; a vermillion round spot on nine and ten. Head blackish.

The moth is shown on Plates 43, 45, and the caterpillar on Plate 42, Fig. 1.

Distribution, Central and South Europe to North-west Africa and Asia Minor.

In 1897 an appeal was made to British entomologists to refrain from taking many specimens of this species; while American entomologists were seeking power to compel local authorities to suppress the Brown-tail, which about that time was a new, and no doubt introduced, insect pest in the State of Massachusetts.

The Yellow-tail (Porthesia similis).

The male has usually only one black mark on the fore wings, but sometimes there are two, as seen in Fig. 5, Plate 43; more rarely there is a dot or two towards the tips of the wings. The habit of the moth is to sit upon the foliage of bushes and the branches of trees, where it might easily be passed over for a fluffy white feather; occasionally it may be found on palings or even iron railings. About dark it is on the wing, and light has then a great attraction for it. The caterpillar is black with black and grey hairs; a vermillion stripe down the middle of the back has a black central line, and is expanded on rings four, eleven, and twelve; along each side there are tufts of snowy white fluffy scales; the back of rings four, [ 101 ] five, and eleven is velvety black and slightly raised, especially on ring four. Head black and glossy.

The caterpillars hatch from the eggs, which are laid in batches, in August, hibernate, each in a silken case, and recommence feeding in the spring (Plate 42, Figs. 1, 1a). In May, when nearly full grown, they separate and are then common objects on hawthorn hedges in many districts. They also feed on the foliage of oak, beech, birch, sallow, rose, apple, pear, and other fruit trees. Sometimes a nearly fully mature caterpillar has been found in August, this has pupated and produced a moth the same year. The chrysalis is rather hairy and of a brownish colour; the cocoon is similar to that of the last species. In late June and through July the moth is generally common throughout the Southern part of England, and as far northwards as Lancashire and Yorkshire. It has been very rarely seen in Scotland, and not at all in Ireland.

Distribution, Central and South-eastern Europe, extending to Amurland, China, Corea, and Japan.

The Reed Tussock (Lælia coenosa).

This insect (Plate 45) was formerly abundant in some parts of fenland, and was first met with, as a British species, at Whittlesea Mere about 1819 or 1820. It was subsequently found in Yaxley and Burwell fens. Up to 1860 it continued to occur freely in all stages, but by 1865 larvæ at a shilling per dozen, the price at which they had been sold by the reed cutters, were no longer obtainable, and they became so scarce that in the year 1871 or thereabouts, only two caterpillars were seen. The species was at that time seemingly on the decline, but a year or two later a good many males were attracted by the rays of a powerful lamp that had been set up at Wicken. Then the moths became fewer and fewer [ 102 ] until at last, somewhere about 1880, even the lamps would not draw a single specimen, and soon it appeared probable that the last of the Reed Tussock had been seen in the fens, its only known habitat in Britain.

Caterpillar, dusky with a blackish stripe along the middle of the back; the raised dots are ochreous grey with pale yellowish brown hairs arising from them; there are four brushes of yellow hairs on the back, bunches of long hairs on the first ring extended over the brownish head, and a pencil of similar hairs on ring eleven directed backward. The food plants given are bur-reed (Sparganium), Stephens; Cladium mariscus, Barrett, and reed (Phragmites communis). Stephens states that the caterpillar and the moth were found at the end of July and beginning of August, but other authorities give August to June for the caterpillar, and July for the moth. The caterpillar described above, and of which a figure is given on Plate 44, was obtained, together with eggs and cocoon, from Dr. Staudinger and Bang Haas, of Dresden. All are preserved examples.

Abroad this species is found in Northern Germany and France, Hungary, Bulgaria, Amurland, China, Corea, and Japan.

The White Satin Moth (Stilpnotia salicis).

The English name of this species dates back to about 1773, and is a very suitable one for it, the fore wings being especially glossy and satin-like. It seems to be less generally distributed over the country than formerly, but it is still common in most years, and in many places; more particularly in the south of England, and on the Lancashire coast. Even yet it occurs in the suburbs of London, and on the southern side is sometimes not uncommon. In Scotland it appears to be rare; Barrett mentions it from Aberdeen, Pitcaple, Inverurie, Peterhead, and Ayrshire. Kane states that in Ireland the species, so far as he knew, only occurred in a locality near Ahascragh.

Moths of the British Isles Plate044.jpg


Pl. 44.
1, 1a, 1b. Reed Tussock: egg, caterpillar and cocoon.
2, 2a. White Satin: caterpillar and chrysalis.

Moths of the British Isles Plate045.jpg


Pl. 45.
1. Reed Tussock Moth, male; 2 female.
3, 4. Brown-tail varieties.

[ 103 ]

The caterpillar, which is hairy and variegated with reddish and black and white, may be recognised by the large bright white marks on the back. It is often seen in the daytime on the boles or branches of poplars, as well as on the foliage. It frequently falls a victim to the parasitical flies, and it is probably due to these enemies that the species is less common in some years than in others. Besides poplar, it will feed upon sallow and willow. Hibernating when quite tiny, it reappears in April, and, feeding up, is ready to enter the chrysalis state in June or July, when it spins a flimsy silken cocoon among the leaves, or in some suitable cranny on the tree or bush. The moth is shown on Plate 43, Fig. 6, and the caterpillar and chrysalis on Plate 44, Fig. 2, 2a.

The moth emerges in July or August, and may be found resting on or under the leaves, and on stems and branches of the trees upon which the caterpillar fed, or on palings, etc., adjacent thereto.

Distribution, Northern and Central Europe, Iberia, Corsica, Italy, Balkan Peninsula, South-east Russia, North-east Asia Minor, and Armenia. In the Far East, including China, Corea, and Japan, it is represented by the var. candida, Staud.

The Gipsy (Lymantria dispar).

Up to some sixty-five years ago, this species (Plate 46, Figs. 1 ♂, 2 ♀) seems to have flourished in a wild state in the fens of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and also in Huntingdonshire. Just how long it had been common in those localities history does not inform us, but about 1792 Donovan was unable to obtain a native specimen to figure. Stephens, however, writing in 1828 states that at that time it abounded in the Huntingdonshire fens. "It is said," he remarks "to have been introduced into Britain by eggs imported by Mr. Collinson, but the abundance with which it occurs near [ 104 ] Whittlesea, and the dissimilarity of the indigenous specimens (which are invariably paler, with stronger markings) to the foreigner, sufficiently refute that opinion." There appears to be no doubt that some time near 1840 the Gipsy moth began to decrease in numbers, and that about 1850 it had almost or quite ceased to exist, as a wildling, in England. At the present time, and probably since the date last mentioned, the species has been semi-domesticated, and so reared year by year, at first possibly direct from the original wild stock, but afterwards from fresh stock derived from eggs of foreign origin. Futile attempts have been made to re-establish the species in various parts of England, and also in Ireland. Such failure is curious, seeing that in America the accidental introduction of a few moths has resulted in the species becoming so numerous that at least one state has been expending thousands of dollars in endeavouring to destroy it. The eggs are laid in batches and covered with the down-like scales from the anal tuft of the female.

The caterpillar hatches in April, and in warm weather feeds up pretty quickly. It is grey, covered with black dots and fine marks; the hairs arising in spreading tufts from the raised warts, are longer on the sides than on the back; these warts on the back on each side of the pale central line are bluish on rings one to five, and reddish thence to eleven. Head, pale brown marked with black. Feeds on the foliage of most fruit trees, also on oak, elm, sallow, hawthorn, and sloe.

Chrysalis rather hairy, brownish in colour, in a fairly strong silken cocoon, which is spun up in any suitable angle.

The moths appear in August, and there is a striking difference in the size and coloration of the sexes. The male is pale or greyish brown, lined and clouded with darker brown on the fore wings, and the female is whitish with brownish cross lines, and a black central V-mark on the fore wings.

Distributed over the whole of the Palæarctic Region, except [ 105 ] the most northern, and, as adverted to, it has now become a pest in parts of North America.

The Black Arches (Lymantria monacha).

Two examples of each sex of this moth are figured on Plate 46, and these show the normal form of the species; the central markings of the fore wings vary in width and intensity, and in some specimens the whole of the central area is more or less filled up with black or sooty black. Sometimes the wings are partially suffused with blackish, and the normal markings are consequently somewhat obscured. Examples wholly suffused with black are referable to var. eremita, a form not uncommon on the continent, and modifications of it are found in a wild state in this country. By selecting parents showing a tendency to vary in the direction of this dark form, it has been found possible to obtain a good percentage of darkened specimens, some of them closely approximating to var. eremita.

The early stages are figured on Plate 47.

The eggs of this species are laid in August in the chinks of bark on tree trunks, and do not hatch until the spring.

Caterpillar, whitish varying to greyish, a deep brown stripe along the middle of the back with an irregular black line on each side of it; the stripe is interrupted by a whitish or greyish patch on rings seven to nine; on ring two there is a black mark, and occasionally red dots appear on eight and nine; black dots on the back and sides are furnished with hairs. Head, brownish marked with a paler tint. It feeds from April to July on the leaves of oak and various other trees, including apple and pine.

The chrysalis, which is enclosed in a somewhat transparent silken cocoon spun up in a fissure of the bark, is brownish, hairy, and has a very glossy metallic appearance.

The moth emerges at the end of July and in August. It flies [ 106 ] at night, and may be seen resting by day on the trunks of trees. Although it occurs in most of the counties of England from Yorkshire southwards, and in some parts of Wales, it is nowhere so often met with as in the New Forest, Hants.

Distribution, Central Europe extending to parts of Northern Europe, and southwards to North Italy and Greece, and eastwards to Ussuri and Japan.

Moths of the British Isles Plate046.jpg


Pl. 46.
1. Gipsy Moth, male; 2 female.
3, 4. Black Arches, males; 5, 6 females.

Moths of the British Isles Plate047.jpg


Pl. 47.
Black Arches Moth.
Eggs, natural size and enlarged; caterpillars and chrysalids.