GARDENING: Not so common visitor drawn to Ray’s garden

Yellow Tail Moth (Euproctis similis)
Yellow Tail Moth (Euproctis similis)

Ray Sykes was in touch a little while ago to ask: “I saw this slug suspended from our greenhouse roof and wondered if they regularly acted this way.’”

He goes on to a moth on the same window, and that is my topic for this week.

“This moth was on our window, have checked on web and I think it is a yellow-tail. Not having seen one before, I thought this was most unusual. Are they common around here?”

Well, this certainly is a yellow-tail, gold-tail, or swan moth (euproctis similis), one of the family lymantriidae, and very distinctive in appearance. Apparently, it is widely distributed throughout Britain and Europe, but not so common in our region. In parts of Britain that are more low-lying, it is apparently present, from Morecambe Bay to the south, but missing most of the upper areas of the Pennines, including Sheffield.

According to ‘moth experts’ Dr Paul Ardron and Jan Turner, the yellow-tail is probably more common in the southeast of our area; so it might be expected in Ray’s garden.

This very pretty insect has a wingspan of 35–45 mm, and the female is usually larger than the male. The adults are pure white, apart from a bright yellow tip to the abdomen, which is again bigger in the female, and a small black or brown mark on the forewing of the male. These moths, especially the males, fly at night in July and August and will come to lights and windows. Overwintering as a larva, caterpillars are very hairy and black with red and yellow stripes. They are catholic feeders, usually on trees and shrubs including alder, apple, birch, blackcurrant, blackthorn, cherry, chestnut, hawthorn, oak, rowan and sallow. Interestingly, they have been recorded on monkshood, which is a herbaceous plant found wild or in gardens, and to humans, exceptionally poisonous.

With continuing warm, stable weather, a real Indian summer, we can expect to see some interesting butterflies, moths, and dragonflies. Certainly if the conditions persist, we could get some good late summer migrants and the like. Birds seem to be busy too, with tawny owls very active and noisy around Norton and Graves Park.

My garden has chiffchaffs darting amongst dense vegetation, and overhead the last swifts, swallows and martins are passing over. The local grey herons have been around and very vocal too; no doubt scoping the neighbour’s koi carp. I have also noticed some activity by moles in places where I have not seen them before and wondered whether anyone else had noticed this. Is it widespread? Do let me know. The combination of wet and now warm weather has really brought out the slugs, but more on this and on Ray’s mystery slug next week.

- Sightings: A hobby flying over the main road towards Totley at Blackamoor is a good sighting, though one to expect at this time of year. In addition, a bird to watch for as they pass through was an osprey over the M1 at junction 36; another was seen at Langsett Reservoir. Blackcaps and chiffchaffs are both still in song, no doubt encouraged by the hot weather. Birds such as meadow pipits are presumably passing through with for example, 60 plus at Redmires with 40 or more on the top dam. Exciting times to come if the weather holds.