2014 was the year in which I finally began to get to grips with identifying moths for myself, rather than taking other people’s word for what things are. I needn’t say again how great I think moths are, for I have done so before at length. Instead I have chosen the tiniest moth imaginable to give a big thumb’s up to the ‘little brown jobs’ of the moth world.
I may have given the impression that moths are worth being interested in because they’re pseudo-birds: big, varied and colourful, identifiable easily from a book. That’s true up to a point, and certainly works for recruiting new moth-ers. However, look closely at the 1600 or so micro-moths* in the UK and you’ll see that some of them are absolutely dazzling, especially under a hand lens or microscope, and those that aren’t obviously so are diverse enough in habit and distribution to add plenty of extra intrigue to the mothing year.
Take Ectoedemia heringella, also known by the common name New Holm Oak Leaf Miner. It’s a leaf-mining moth, meaning that its larvae munch themselves a little tunnel before pupating in the same leaf. This particular species was first found on holm oaks in London and has since spread far across the southern part of the country. Exactly how far we’re not sure yet – these are not exactly charismatic insects (though I do think them rather attractive) and like all leaf miners are best detected by checking holm oak leaves for mines, though the absurdly small adult pictured here (with my thumb for scale!) was seen as part of a swarm of active adult moths at the end of June.
So as well as small moths, Ectoedemia heringella also earns a place in the 12 days of wildlife Christmas to represent introduced species. Given that it first turned up in London, rather than on the coast, and is not commonly found anywhere between the UK and its usual Mediterranean haunts (again, as far as we know) it is likely to be among their number. Introduced species are much maligned, but they’re not always invasive, i.e. damaging, and even those are often quite interesting animals in their own right. I’m not necessarily singing their praises, but there’s no need to pretend that they’re unattractive and boring.
* which are usually but not always smaller than macro moths – it’s complicated!