Thursday, 30 July 2015

The hunt for Striped Lychnis caterpillars!

Another blog post written by Bug Mad Girl ...
Mum, Nanny Moth and I went to Lodge Hill this morning on an important mission to look for striped lychnis caterpillars and their food plant, dark mullein. Striped lychnis moths are nationally scarce, but are found around where we live in Buckinghamshire.
In the spring we grew some dark mullein plants for the Upper Thames branch of Butterfly Conversation, so that there would be more food plant for the caterpillars to eat. We took some of the plants to Holtspur Bottom butterfly reserve and planted some in our back garden.Now we've also offered to go to Lodge Hill and search for striped lychnis caterpillars and dark mullein plants, counting how many we see. The site was last surveyed five years ago, so it will be interesting to see how well the moths are doing there now.
When you first get to Lodge Hill, there is a nice view over the hill and a golden wheat field.
Lodge Hill
As we walked along, Nanny Moth told us we could eat the bits of wheat inside the hard case. It was very chewy, and tasted like flour. Then we came to a wooded area where we had to climb up a really steep, tiring slope. At the top of the slope it opened out into chalk grassland, full of all sorts of plants and bushes. It was very exciting when we saw our first dark mullein plants, especially when we could see they had striped lychnis caterpillars on them! Unfortunately they were behind a barbed wire fence so we couldn't get too close to them.
Dark mullein plant
Undeterred, we carried on hunting and found lots of dark mullein growing on both sides of the hill some of which had caterpillars on them. Luckily they were quite easy to spot as the plants are quite tall and the caterpillars seem to prefer eating the flowers. We managed to find a gate through to the first plants we'd seen so we could check them properly for caterpillars too.

Striped lynchnis caterpillars

While we were hunting we found some other caterpillars eating the dark mullein, including a strange caterpillar that was holding the plant with its back legs and sticking out at a right angle.
While we were hunting we saw lots of lovely butterflies, including chalkhill blues, common blues, small coppers and meadow browns. There were also loads of 6-spot burnet moths.
6-spot burnet moths
6-spot burnet moths

Chalkhill blue

Common blue

Small copper
There were also shield bugs, ladybirds, spiders and other bugs on the plants.
Baby shield bug
As we went further down the slope we came across a blackberry bush. I ate one of the blackberries that looked ripe, my first of the year, but it was really sour and I had to spit it out.
It was a lot of fun and over all we found 326 dark mullein plants and 33 caterpillars! We've still got to finish checking one of the slopes and then walk around the fields at the bottom of the hill, but it was a really good start.
(5 years ago there were 430 plants and 48 caterpillars, but we've still got to finish our count!)


  1. Wow! Those caterpillars look spottier than my swallowtail caterpillars! What do the adults look like?

  2. They look a bit like an ice cream viennetta - layers of cream and brown. Between you and me the caterpillars are prettier than the moths, but don't tell anyone I said that!