Autumn is a good time for insects, reveals James Lowen
In autumn, James Lowen reckons, the last of the summer wine is spiced with migrant insects
MOTH HARVEST MOON
A disturbing number of moths in the family Noctuidae are lookalikes. Such similarity of appearance can demoralise the beginner. The Lunar Underwing, a common autumn catch in moth traps, is more benevolent, as its obviously pale longitudinal veins soon betray its identity. To appreciate this moth’s common name, gently prise open the wings to reveal the hindwing, which exhibits an obvious and diagnostic dark ‘crescent moon’.
GRASSHOPPERS AND CRICKETS GREEN GIANT
Wander through rank grassland or beside reeds, south of a line from South Wales to the Wash, and you might bump into a Great Green Bush-cricket. This is such a hefty beast – the UK’S largest cricket or grasshopper – that it can startle even the expectant. This insect is precisely what it says on the tin: huge and intensely verdant. Late afternoon is the best time to find one, for this is when the male starts up his impressively far-carrying rattling ‘song’.
SUMMER’S SECOND BATCH OF SMALL HEATH IS STILL ON THE WING IN UK GRASSLANDS, BOBBING IN ITS CHARACTERISTIC LOW, ERRATIC FLIGHT
DRAGONFLY SOUTHERN MIGRANT?
Autumn often sees a flurry of Red-veined Darters, but were these attractive dragonflies born locally or are they recent arrivals from the continent? Summer incomers sometimes breed, with the resulting youngsters dispersing widely – probably heading south. Although this year hasn’t yet witnessed an influx of the magnitude of 2017 (when 36 counties generated 90 sightings in early summer alone), it is still worth checking warm, still waters with bare or muddy margins for this fine creature; the sky-blue underside to the eyes is distinctive.
Among my favourite autumn experiences is what I call Red Admiral Day. This is when you visit the coast to find bushes teeming with these fiery butterflies while yet more still power past you without halting. The feeders are stocking up on nutrition prior to joining those that are already airborne. All beat a line southwards to Europe, where they will overwinter.
FUNGUS INK OR WIG?
Most fungi are known solely by a scientific name, which many find as off-putting as their identification is difficult. Some, however, are blessed with not one but two common names. One such is the Lawyer’s Wig or Shaggy Inkcap. Both monikers are a nod to its distinctive appearance. Whatever you choose to call it, this is a common autumn sight on unimproved grassland and lawns.
MOTH FLAMING FLUTTERER
Stroll through open woodland or along scrubby hedgerows in autumn, and your eyes may chance upon a burnt-orange ‘leaf’ drifting weakly through the air. Follow it until it lands, when it transforms into a rather attractive moth. With impressively feathered antennae and white headlights on the forewings, this is a male Vapourer Moth – a pleasingly common sight by day. Don’t anticipate seeing the female, however: being flightless, she is almost impossible to encounter.