The wasp that’s not

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A MOTH so rare its presence is usually only known because of its discarded tiny chrysalis lives on Denholm quoiting green.

The lunar hornet moth will be one of many covered in a talk by enthusiast Nick Cook in the village at the end of the month.

orange underwing crown plantation nick cook

orange underwing crown plantation nick cook

“It’s very interesting,” said Mr Cook “It looks like a big wasp and has the markings of a hornet to deter birds and other predators from picking at it.”

The naturalist says the lunar hornet likes willows and sallows, which grow by the River Teviot.

The female lays her eggs on the trees, the caterpillar burrows into the trunks and lives on the sap, taking two years to mature.

“When it’s ready, it comes to the edge of the trunk but doesn’t break the bark, it forms its chrysalis inside the bark and when it’s ready to hatch into the moth, it wriggles through the bark which holds the chrysalis and allows the moth to escape. All that is left is bits of empty orange chrysalis and 99 per cent of sightings are of that, you very very rarely see the moth,” said Mr Cook, who has been watching moths for 50 years.

“It is a question of somebody knowing what they are looking for and who can identify what everybody else would see as a huge great big wasp!”

He is one of the lucky ones, spotting his first on July 9, 2010 when he saw “a very newly emerged male sitting on the tree drying its wings before taking off for its first flight”.

A volunteer moth surveyor for Butterfly Scotland, Mr Cook said: “I was very excited. A new tick is always a big thing when you have been doing it [recording sightings] for 50 years. It was the first time I saw the adult. I have seen the chrysalis before because I have been out looking for them.”

The quoiting haugh would appear to be a happening place for moths for the first red underwing ever recorded in Scotland was seen there in 2008.

Mr Cook’s garden is next to the quoiting green and in it he has recorded 282 type of moths, the most recorded in a garden in the Borders. A more usual figure for a rural area would be 150 species, said Mr Cook.

A retired town planner, Mr Cook has had a lifelong passion for moths and butterflies, dating back to when he was a child spotting steam trains.

He explained: “I would be sitting on a grassy bank waiting for the next steam train to come along and watching the moths, butterflies and insects – and I just got interested. That and a general enquiring mind.

“It’s the overall complexity of moths, their adaptability, their camouflage and the techniques they employ to escape bats and the challenge of identity – not all of them are small and brown or grey though a large percentage are – whether they are coming or disappearing because of global warming, many things.

“They are a very good indicator of the ecological health of an area and you can tell what type of land is around. It’s a fascinating area of natural history.”

Mr Cook’s talk on the moths of Denholm is in the village’s lesser hall on June 21 starting at 7pm.

Meanwhile over at Borders Forest Trust-owned Corehead, near Moffat, volunteers are being invited to learn how to monitor moths and butterflies on the farm.

UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme co-ordinator Andy Riches will lead the training on Saturday June 30 and volunteers are being asked to visit the upland farm to help at least once a month from April to September to do a count.

One of the organisers, Peter Dreghorn, said: “Our environment has some excellent butterfly populations which are seriously under recorded and we are very keen to alter this.”

Anyone interested should contact Phil Roe on 07713 566295 or Peter Dreghorn on 07810 505323, or email phil@bordersforesttrust.org or pbdreghorn@btinternet.com.