Tavistock. Report from the Entomology Section

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Author(s): Wootton. Robin; Year published: 2015; Origin: Section Conference Reports; Pages: 
Topic(s): entomology; Location(s): Tavistock

When l am writing about the insects of the Annual Conference each year, expert friends send me lists of interesting moths, flies etc, the names of many of which would mean nothing to readers, including me. Fortunately the miracle of Google Images allows anyone to see instantly what they look like. Put in the name, English or Latin, and pictures appear – give it a try.

Most Tavistock records come from the nearby moor, or the valley mires of Whitchurch Down, an SSSI very near the town with ten species of dragonflies and damselflies including the Southern Hawker, the Beautiful Demoiselle, the Golden-ringed Hawker and the rather uncommon White-legged Damselfly. The Small Red Damselfly breeds in bogs near Lydford. All beautiful.

Moths can be beautiful too. Look at Abraxas sylvata, the Clouded Magpie, and Papestra biren, the Glaucous Shears, two of a number of northern species that enjoy the tough conditions of Devon’s moors. Others include the Anomalous, Stilbia anomala, and the Large Ear, Amphipoea lucens – I love the English names. The Narrow-Bordered Bee Hawkmoth, Hemaris tityus, a splendid, day-flying bumblebee mimic, has a colony near Lydford, and Violet Oil Beetles Meloe violaceus are also in the Lydford Region. Martin Drake has listed several uncommon flies, including a Dance Fly Heterodromia adulatoria, two Snipe Flies Ptiolina obscura and Spania nigra, and a Snail-killing fly, Psacadina verbekei.

The area is outstanding for rare Fritillary butterflies – Dartmoor has almost all the British species, most of which are nationally threatened and need subtly different conditions so that careful management is essential. The Pearl-Bordered and Small Pearl-Bordered occur in several places near Tavistock. Also nearby are two of Britain’s rarest butterflies, the High Brown Fritillary, whose larvae feed on violets under bracken, and the Heath Fritillary, less picky in its food plants but desperately endangered. One of the very few remaining colonies is carefully managed by Jim Braven, of the Entomology Section, in an old hay meadow near Lydford.

Two more – one of which isn’t an insect. The first is a pretty little Lacebug Physatocheila smreczynskii, a rare inhabitant of old orchards. Finally the enchanting, uncommon Fairy Shrimp, Chirocephalus diaphanus, a crustacean that swims continuously around on its back in temporary pools. Its eggs lie in the dry mud for months until the water returns. Try YouTube for that one: Crustace d’eau douce/Chirocephalus diaphanus/BRUITX. Lovely.

Robin Wootton