The Moth beyond compare

September has been an amazing month for one rare moth in Devon. Catocala fraxini, which has the wonderful english name Clifden Nonpareil (nonpareil meaning unparalleled or beyond compare), is a rare immigrant species, usually only seen once or twice a year in the county. According to the Devon Moth Group database, the best ever year here for Clifden Nonpareil was 2007, when there were three sightings. Last year there was just one and 2015 yielded two.

However, during September 2017, six records (of a total of seven individual moths) have already been reported in Devon. These have occurred throughout the month (from the 4th to the 27th) and right across the south of the county from Axminster in the east to Bere Alston in the Tamar Valley in the west. One lucky recorder, Nick Roach, found two at once, one in his garden moth trap and another on the wall of his house.

This impressive moth, with a wingspan approaching 10 cm and a stunning violet-blue band on the hindwings (giving rise to the alternative vernacular name of Blue Underwing) is currently colonising several areas of southern England and is regularly caught nowadays in parts of Dorset, indicating the presence of resident populations.

With luck, the big increase in sightings in Devon this autumn may also herald the arrival of local breeding colonies of this wonderful insect.

Clifden Nonpareil (Nick Roach)

Clifden Nonpareil seen near Culmstock on 26th September 2017 (Nick Roach)

Clifden Nonpareil (Nick Roach)

What is flying when?

Different moths fly at different times of the year so there is an ever changing line-up of species for moth recorders to enjoy as the weeks go by. While the peak in species richness happens in the first half of the summer, there are plenty of autumn species (and even a few winter specialists) to look forward to in the next few months.

The time of year, therefore, provides an important clue to help with the identification of moths that you might see. While UK field guides to moths give general information about the flight periods of each species, there may be differences between the overall UK situation and the timing in Devon.

Using data from the Devon Moth Group database, Phil Dean has created two really useful resources about the timing (phenology) of moths in the county. One shows the main flight period (in months) for each macro-moth species and the other lists the macro-moth species likely to be on the wing in Devon in each month of the year.

Flight period information about Devon moths can be found here.

Barred Sallow (Iain Leach)

Barred Sallow (Iain Leach)

Sponsor a moth

Members of Devon Moth Group have been working hard over recent years to ensure that Devon is well recorded for the forthcoming Britain and Ireland moth atlas. It promises to be a landmark publication and now Butterfly Conservation are offering the chance to sponsor a moth in the new book. All the money raised will be used to publish the atlas.

Each species will have only one sponsor and there are two ways to try to get your name against your favourite species, while contributing to a worthwhile cause.

1. Auction – moth sponsorships are being auctioned online in six batches, each lasting a month. The first auction is live now and you can bid for the right to sponsor species such as Gold Spot, Oak Beauty, Delicate, Four-spotted Footman and even the humble Common Marbled Carpet. Each sponsorship has a reserve price of £25, £50 or £100 depending on the species. At the end of the month, the highest bidder for each species will win the right to sponsor it in their own name or to dedicate it to someone else.

2. Reservation – if you don’t want to take a chance in the aution and have your heart set on sponsoring a particular species, you can reserve it in advance by paying double the reserve price.

You can find out more and see a listing of all the species, when they will be auctioned and which ones have already been reserved on the Butterfly Conservation website.

The first auction will finish on 31 May, so if you want to support this great fundraising cause have a look online soon.

Emperor Moth (Iain Leach)

First field meeting of year

Devon Moth Group’s first field meeting of 2017 takes place on Saturday evening (20th May) at Blackberry Camp. Moth traps will be run from dusk onwards to find out which moth species live at this wooded Iron Age hill fort located between Honiton and Sidmouth. Group members and members of the public are equally welcome. Full details of this event and others arranged for this summer and autumn can be found on the Events page.

Moth trapping (Patrick Clement)

Moth trapping (Patrick Clement)

Field meetings for 2017

The programme of Devon Moth Group field meetings for 2017 has been published. Full details of the seven confirmed meetings can be found on the Events page.

The field meetings enable Group members to record moths in new locations and prime wildlife habitats across the county, from Blackberry Camp hill fort near Sidmouth to Dunsdon nature reserve near Bude and Wembury Point near Plymouth. This adds to our knowledge of moth distributions across the county and ultimately contributes to their conservation.

The events also provide fantastic opportunities for people new to moths and moth recording to see a wide variety of these amazing creatures in the company of friendly experts. Most of the events take place at night, but some are morning sessions viewing moths caught the night before.

Group of people gathered around a moth trap in the evening.

Members of Devon Moth Group during a moth trapping evening.

New macro-moth checklist published

A list of all the species of larger (macro-) moths that have ever been recorded in Devon has been produced and is now available online. The list includes a total of 661 species, some residents others immigrant visitors, which comprises around two-thirds of the total number of macro-moths ever recorded in Britain and Ireland.

South Devon (Vice-county 3) has a total of 657 species recorded, but 26 of these have not been seen since at least 1960, so are either extinct former residents or rare migrants.

North Devon (Vice-county 4) has a shorter list of 575 macro-moth species with 21 not recorded since 1960.

While some moths have been lost from Devon, new species continue to be recorded, either as immigrants from overseas or due to spread from existing populations in neighboroughing counties. Recent additions include Jersey Mocha (Cyclophora ruficiliaria), first recorded in 2011, and Sombre Brocade (Dichonioxa tenebrosa), first seen in 2015, both of which may now be established in the county.

The new checklist was produced by Devon Moth Group Council member Phil Dean, assisted by County Recorder Barry Henwood, using information from the Group’s sightings database and from the 2001 book The Moths of Devon by Roy McCormick.

Scarce Silver-lines (Patrick Clement)

2015 Annual Report published

Devon Moth Group members should have now received their copy of the 2015 Annual Report, which was published in late March.

Drawing on 42,000 moth records submitted during 2015, the Annual Report presents an overview of important sightings, analysis and a comprehensive species list.

Perhaps reflecting the lacklustre weather from late spring to early autumn, 2015 didn’t seem to be a vintage year for our resident moths. However, it was certainly an excellent year for immigration. Major early summer influxes of species such as Striped Hawk-moth, Small Mottled Willow and Bordered Straw, were accompanied by rarities such as Purple Marbled and Many-lined. The excitement continued in July and August with records of Jersey Mocha, Spurge Hawk-moth, Orache Moth, Splendid Brocade and Four-spotted. By the high standards of 2015, September was relatively quiet, but October yielded the first ever Devon record of Tunbridge Wells Gem and rarities such as Flame Brocade, Crimson Speckled and Clifden Nonpareil. And then the year ended on a high, during the unseasonally warm December (17.2°C was recorded at Teignmouth on 16th December), with the first ever county records of Syncopacma polychromella and Cornifrons ulceratalis, as well as sightings of Euchromius ocellea and Spoladea recurvalis among impressive numbers of more common immigrants.

DMG Report cover 2015_1

Mid-winter migrants

2015 was an astonishing year for migrant moths in the county and concluded in style with the appearance of another species new to Devon. The incredibly mild, and often strong, southerly winds that dominated December’s weather continued to bring a host of migrant moths to our shores.

One very small visitor was of particular significance. Syncopacma polychromella, is a tiny but distinctive Gelechiid micro-moth with a wingspan of only 7mm or so.It occurs in southern Europe, Africa and the Middle East and has only been recorded in Great Britain on a handful of occasions prior to December, and never in Devon.

That all changed on 16 December 2015, when visiting moth recorder Dave Grundy caught a S.polychromella at Prawle Point, the first ever Devon record. Amazingly, the following night, two more examples were caught in the county: one by Mike Braid at Chittlehampton, south of Barnstaple, and thus the first ever record of this species in VC4 (North Devon) and the other by Richard Fox at Abbotskerswell near Newton Abbot. These latter two records were both from garden moth traps.

The three Devon records of S.polychromella formed part of an unprecedented influx of this species into Britain during the week before Christmas. In all, over 60 sightings have been reported so far, mainly from south-coast counties but also from inland locations such as Surrey and north Wiltshire.

Just goes to show that you should never pack your moth trap away for the winter!

Syncopacma polychromella (Abbotskerswell 17 Dec 2015) (Richard Fox)

Syncopacma polychromella (Abbotskerswell 17 Dec 2015) (Richard Fox)

Syncopacma polychromella (Chittlehampton, 17 Dec 2015) (Mike Braid)

Syncopacma polychromella (Chittlehampton, 17 Dec 2015) (Mike Braid)

Tunbridge Wells in Devon!?

Migrants have dominated the Devon moth news during 2015 and recent months have been no exception. The undoubted highlight of the autumn was Devon’s first ever Tunbridge Wells Gem (Chrysodeixis acuta), shown in the photo below. This is a rare immigrant that had been recorded on only 20 occasions ever in the whole of Britain and Ireland prior to 2015.

This exciting new addition to the Devon moth list was caught by Phil Barden on the coast near Noss Mayo on 7 October 2015.

Tunbridge Wells Gem (Phil Barden)

Tunbridge Wells Gem (Phil Barden)

Moth Night 2015

This year’s Moth Night celebrations take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week (10-12 September), coinciding with the annual autumn arrival of immigrant moths. Across Devon and the rest of the UK, moth-traps, wines ropes and bedding plants will be deployed by thousands of people keen to see the amazing variety of moths that visit our shores or live year-round in our gardens and countryside.

For some, the focus will be on rare immigrant moths, such as the Golden Twin-spot and Clifden Nonpareil, borne in from hotter parts of Europe and even Africa on warm winds. Immigrant moths will come to moth-traps, but can also be attracted using wine ropes or ‘sugar’ bait, which provide a cheap, simple alternative. And, if you are not lucky enough to spot a rare migrant, spectacular local moths, such as Red Underwing and Old Lady, are also fond of these baits.

The Convolvulus Hawk-moth, on the other hand, has a particular penchant for Nicotiana flowers. Ahead of Moth Night 2015, some moth recorders have stocked their flower beds with Nicotiana ‘Sensation Mixed’, hoping to tempt this mighty migrant to their patch. With its 12cm wingspan, the Convolvulus Hawk-moth is one of the largest moths seen in Britain, yet it is capable of pin-point precision flight as it hovers to drink nectar from the deep Nicotiana flowers using its amazingly long proboscis. There have been lots of Convolvulous Hawk-moth sightings in recent weeks across the South West and right up into Scotland.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation)

Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation)

Aside from immigrants, there are many stunning autumn moths to admire at Moth Night public events or to search for yourself. Some are beautifully coloured with yellows, oranges and pinks to blend in with autumn leaves. Whatever you find, please log all your Moth Night sightings so that your records can increase our knowledge, inform moth conservation and be shared with County Recorders.

Please also keep your eyes peeled for moths marked with a dab of coloured paint on the wing. These are part of a Moth Night experiment to learn more about how far moths travel. In the days leading up to this year’s event, moths will be marked harmlessly at designated locations, in the hope that some will be caught by recorders taking part in Moth Night. If you find a marked moth, please photograph it and contact the Moth Night website or phone 01326 290287.

Of course you don’t have to do any of these things! Moth Night is what you choose to make it; a perfect excuse to go out and record moths somewhere new, perhaps filling a gap for the forthcoming national moth atlas, or organise an event to introduce people to moths for the first time. Devon Moth Group has two official Moth Night events, both at south coast locations where the chance of seeing exciting migrants is greatest, so why not come along (details of Devon events).

Moth Night is organised by Atropos and Butterfly Conservation, in association with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and an array of prizes are awarded for particularly unusual sightings. Further information about how to take part, public events, bait recipes and more can be found at on the Moth Night website.