Hello and welcome to the Rothamsted Insect Survey volunteers’ blog.

We intend this blog to be useful to our volunteer identifiers and operators who may use it to share identification questions and knowledge, raise issues and generally get to know each other.

If you have any ideas for posts, want to upload a photograph of a species for discussion or have any queries or comments please email Chris: chris.shortall (at) rothamsted.ac.uk

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Three interesting records from Tregaron

Ian Tillotson writes:

I have not encountered too many oddities this year, but I guess that this one will qualify: H. peltigera (Bordered Straw) taken here at Tregaron on December 27., and in amazingly intact condition (see pic).


The two nights of 1 and 2 January yielded single specimens of A. leucophaearia (Spring Usher). Also my Great Spotted Woodpeckers are already beating out their brains on my telephone pole.

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Important network update

As of the 22nd of September (Monday) I began a part-time PhD entitled “Modelling the temporal and spatial ecology of the oilseed rape pest Meligethes aeneus; implications for integrated pest management strategies”. This has meant that my Insect Survey post has also become a part-time position – I will be spending 2.5 days/week on each aspect.

As far as the Light-Trap Network is concerned there should be very little change detectable. I retain the overall responsibility and management for the light-trap network and will remain your point of contact for all trap-related matters. Certain procedures will be devolved to other members of the Insect Survey team and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the two people who will be assisting me in running the network. All data-related issues will be covered by Tracey Kruger who some of you will already have been in touch with regarding data over the past year or so & also was the main point of contact for our 50th anniversary celebrations. All operational issues (supply of consumables, trap faults etc.) will be handled by Mike Hall, again, some of you may already have been in touch with him as he has serviced & repaired some traps over the past year & is also responsible for setting up new traps & collecting retired ones.

Both Tracey and Mike have been with the Insect Survey for many years, Mike having started in 1990 and Tracey in 1997, though both have taken breaks to do other things during that period. They are incredibly conscientious and will do all they can to respond to queries, comments and requests both fully and promptly. As stated above, I will remain your point of contact so please feel free to email or phone me with any issues or requests you may have.

On a side note, many of you will no doubt be wondering what has happened to the data for 2013. Unfortunately the migration to our new database isn’t happening as smoothly or as rapidly as we hoped. Pretty much all of the data from 2013 are awaiting for some software issues to be tidied up (i.e. new software written) in order to get the data into the new database. As soon as the data are in they will be disseminated to the relevant people. Many apologies for the delay.

Chris Shortall, Light-trap Network Administrator

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Tavistock calling

Some correspondence received from John Siewruk in Tavistock, Devon. Anyone want to comment on the possible Stilbia?

Can someone please help with this monochrome specimen caught on 2nd Sep. please. The pale tornus is misleading – the wing is concolorous, the shading is due to the glossy scales! I think it might be a Stilbia anomola.


Also, for any trappers who haven’t come across one – here is a specimen of the Pyralid Palpita unionalis caught on 3rd Sep – beautiful!


Finally, just checking which season we’re in…we’ve got primroses out down here!


Best wishes, John

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BBSRC feature on Rothamsted Insect Survey

Our friends at the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) came to do a piece about the Rothamsted Insect Survey, the resulting video & article can be seen here – enjoy!

(This link should work if the one above doesn’t)

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New type of moth trap

I’m not sure there will be many volunteers. Possibly better for micros…


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Winkworth Moths

Two interesting moths from Winkworth. Putative identifications are Olive Crescent and a form of Clay Triple Lines.

Trisateles emortualis

Cyclophora linearia

Photos courtesy of John Boorman.

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Winter Gnats in Traps

Probably the most numerous insects caught in Rothamsted traps over the winter months are Trichoceridae – or Winter Gnats.  Looking like small craneflies, there are nine species on the British list, including one which is thought to be associated with caves and therefore less likely to be caught in a Rothamsted trap.  However, recent work on the continent has shown there to be more species present than previously thought, especially in upland and more northerly areas.  Given that they all look superficially similar, there could be more species yet to be found in Britain – maybe in your Rothamsted trap!

To see which gnats are lurking out there, and to provide material with which to develop an improved UK key to species, a number of trap operators have kindly agreed to send winter ‘by-catch’ onto Julian Small to identify the winter gnats.  So far, around 2750 winter gnats from traps at Wheldrake (south-east Yorkshire), Kindrogan Field Centre (Perthshire) and Malham Tarn Field Centre (north-west Yorkshire) have been looked at.  Remarkably, every UK species of winter gnat, apart from the cave-dweller, was present in just one night’s catch in the Kindrogan Field Centre trap.  Furthermore, a further species has been found, Trichocera implicata, which has not been confirmed, without doubt, from the British Isles previously.  This species was present in all three traps looked at.

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Obituary: Tony Dobson

Those that received the annual newsletter will be aware of the sad passing of Tony Dobson at the end of October last year.

Tony will have been known to many as a prominent entomologist and lepidopterist and a great friend of the Insect Survey. He started volunteering with the RIS as far back as 1966 when he was approached by R.A. French to be an expert identifier for the trap at Slapton Ley NNR and also ran a trap at his school in Cullompton where he encouraged the school children (10 and 11 year olds) to identify the moths and carry out investigations into moth activity and weather. After gaining promotion and moving to Hampshire, Tony continued his association with the Survey identifying catches from Lordsfield, Stronchrubie, Ewingswode, Rosewarne, Broom’s Barn, Starcross, Writtle and London Zoo.

Tony in his natural habitat

Tony in his natural habitat

Tony wrote his own obituary which I reproduce below.



Tony Dobson died on the 31st October 2013 aged 80 years, at home.

He was born on 4th December 1932 near Winchester, Hampshire. He showed an interest in Lepidoptera from 8 years old, encouraged by his mother, to keep him occupied and out of mischief. When 12 years old, he was fascinated by a live Tholera decimalis (Poda) and decided to study and collect moths for the rest of his life. During the war the family moved to Torquay. In early September 1951 he had a hunch that he would find a rare moth on ivy blossom on the Torquay coastline; on the 21st he found, on ivy blossom at Walls Hill, the third British specimen of Cyclophora puppillaria (Hb.).

During his two years of national service in the army, he spent ten months on active service in Kenya with the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. At Gilgil, when on duty clerk night duty, he would sleep in the C.O.’s room with lights on and the window open; early next morning he would arise, secure any interesting specimens, then gather the rest and release them outside before the C.O. returned. When on patrol, he always carried pill boxes as well as a rifle. A number of his butterflies and moths are in the foreign collection at the Natural History Museum, London.

After national service, he trained to be a teacher and taught in Primary Schools, where he organised natural history and insect study clubs. Through one of his pupils finding the second Devon specimen of Hippotion celerlo (Linn.), he appeared on Westward TV with it and other Hawk-moth specimens. In 1962, he found a colony of Lampropteryx otregiata (Metcalfe) in a damp wood on Haldon moor, Devon; he made a study of the wood, finding the moth’s ova and larvae in the wild for the first time. He was macrolepidoptera recorder for Devon from 1962 to 1971.

In 1971 he and his family moved to Hampshire. From 1975 to 1976 he spent a sabbatical year in Sheffield gaining a Teaching Diploma in Environmental Studies. For relaxation he was out in the woods or on the moors and obtained a few moth aberrations, now in the national collection. In 1979 he left mainstream Primary Education to become a warden of a field studies centre at Overton and then at Sparsholt College near Winchester. At both places he operated Rothamsted and M. V. traps, adding many records to the county list. He often took his Robinson M. V. trap to school grounds, so that children could study the contents next morning. At Clatford Primary school he found an aberration of Diachrysia chrysitis (Linn.), new to science and now in the national collection.

Returning to south Devon in 1990 for a holiday, he visited one of his old mothing haunts on the coast, where he found a colony of Hypena obsitalis (Hubn.) and in subsequent visits made a study of its habitats and life history, British Journal of Entomology & Natural History 8 (1995) pp 37-42. His wife Meriel often accompanied him on field meetings and referred to the 3 ‘M’s in his life – moths, maps and Meriel. He has always been a keen field-worker and interested in conservation. In 1989 a paper on Lepidoptera foodplant recording for conservation was published in the BENHS Journal, 2: pp 131-8. Since retiring in 1993 he has worked in Hampshire Wild Life Trust reserves, studying and recording Lepidoptera.

Throughout his life he has painted and in this youth played the piano and gained the A.L.C.M.


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Odd alniaria?

Barry Fox has pulled this out of the trap at Auchincruive:


Odd alniaria a


It looks like Ennomos alniaria but I have never seen one with that type of wing stripe before. Any comments appreciated.

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More Craneflies and Red Necked Footman at Preston Montford

(David Poynton at Pennerley sent this in the comments to the previous post but I feel it deserves more prominence:)


Pete Boardman of the FSC at Preston Montford near Shrewsbury asked me if I would tube up the by-catch craneflies from the trap. Last year I collected a few in September and October and Pete found amongst them Dicranota exclusa, the first record for Shropshire since 1930!

Covering a longer period this year, encouraged by last years find, I thought that the collection of specimen tubes I had would suffice. How wrong that proved to be with this year being an exceptional year for numbers of cranefly. Pete will publish next year an atlas of the Shropshire craneflies so I guess they were all keen to get a mention in this forthcoming publication!

Because of their abundance in the trap, around 3 weeks ago, we moved from tubes to small freezer bags. Over a period of about a week I fought my way each morning to the trap through hoards of copulating craneflies only to find the trap full to the bulb  with the flies cooking on the warm bulb! I could only extract them with the aid of kitchen tongs, which have been well washed before returning to normal duty!!

Main species has been exceptional volumes of Tipula paludosa. Results so far this year are over 30 species added to this square. Not bad for a by-catch.

One other interesting catch this year has been the Red-necked footman on 18th July. I have only recorded it once before in the trap, which I think was in the 90′s. At that time I remember Rothamsted saying it had been a good year, with the increased population showing in the traps for them so maybe this year has been the same. It is absent most years.

Would be interested in others experience with both the footman and the craneflies.


(Editors note: craneflies have been particularly abundant this year, along with wasps. The earlier post: Great Brocade & Great Big Catches shows this quite well.)


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