The Rare Insects of Mistletoe

GlosbapAttended a Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan Partnership workshop today, at the Gloucester Rugby ground in Kingsholm.  One of the workshop sessions involved an exercise looking at restoring habitat continuity – using old orchards, and the biodiversity value of old orchards, as an example.  David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust , had set us a light-hearted exercise centred on 'Ambridge' (home of the Archers) where orchard habitats had become fragmented in the modern agricultural landscape. 

Each orchard area supported a different assemblage of orchard-dependent species, including (naturally) mistletoe, and two of the rare insects associated with mistletoe – the Mistletoe Weevil (Ixapion variegatum) and the Mistletoe Marble Moth (Celypha woodiana). 

Mtoemoth I'll say no more on the BAP exercise itself – but will expand a bit on a couple of points.  Firstly the concept of rare insects on mistletoe – insects often specialise on one particular plant species, and mistletoes, worldwide, are well-known for their various insect-associations.  In Britain, on European Mistletoe, we have (as far as we know) 6 of these specialists – the Mistletoe Weevil, Mistletoe Moth and some bugs (more on those another time).  The 'as far as we know' comment relates to the fact that several of these have been discovered as new species (in Britain) in just the last few years – so there may be more…

Moth_huntThis little band of insects means that mistletoe gives extra value, in biodiversity terms, wherever it occurs, providing habitat for species not found anywhere else.  All are considered rare and, in recognition of this, the Mistletoe Marble Moth has recently (2008) been given Priority Status in the UK BAP.

This, in turn, means that efforts are now being made to document its occurrence and work out conservation needs, and this has been led, over the last year or so, by the charity Butterfly Conservation.

This picture (click to enlarge) was taken at one of their 'how-to-spot-the-mistletoe-moth' training days earlier this year.  Note the use of binoculars (all looking in different directions!) – this is the only way to spot the larval leaf-mines in mistletoe high up in a tree.  For more about the Mistletoe Moth Action Plan click here.

That other point I wanted to cover?  Well, that was more of an Archers link.  Eddie Grundy, a character in the everyday-story-of-farming-folk that is the BBC's longest running soap, used to take mistletoe (not always his own…!) to the Tenbury Mistletoe Sales back in the 1980s (when I used to follow the Archers).  So David Bullock's use of the 'Ambridge' location was apt.  Especially so since Trevor Harrison, who plays Eddie Grundy, is due to come to the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival events this year to crown the Mistletoe Queen (you read it here first…)

Mistletoe Promotion of the Day – cards featuring the Tenbury Mistletoe Sales…

Knee-deep Talking of the Tenbury events, here's a pic showing the rather odd scene just before the auctions begin – would-be buyers, having chosen their favoured lots, knee-deep in mistletoe next to them waiting for bidding to start.

Available in greeting card form at Cafepress (shipped from the US) or from Mistletoe Design (shipped from UK, in a slightly different format).