Small Eggar caterpillars

Small Eggar is a scarcely seen moth in Devon. The adult moths fly in late winter, a time of year when moth recorders tend not to be out and about. However, the colourful caterpillars live in groups and construct a characteristic silken ‘tent’ in hedgerows in spring and summer, and are more easily recorded. Nevertheless, we rarely receive more than a couple of records of this species each year.

Last weekend, David and Sue Mentz spotted a Small Eggar nest and caterpillars about 2m up in a hedge near Ide, on the outskirts of Exeter. One of their images is shown below.

If you spot Small Eggar caterpillars, please let us know, but be aware that there are other moth caterpillars that live in silken nests (e.g. Lackey), so photographs of the caterpillars would be very useful to confirm your sighting.

Small Eggar caterpillar (David & Sue Mentz)

Small Eggar caterpillar (David & Sue Mentz)

Moths out in force for Parke event

The Devon Moth Night event at the National Trust’s Parke Estate in Bovey Tracey on Friday 21 June was blessed with reasonable weather and a bumper crop of moths.

So far, 2013 has been characterised by pretty poor night-time conditions and moth populations seem to be at a very low ebb, perhaps due to the washout weather of 2012. Hopes were not very high, therefore, as a dozen of us met Fred Hutt, the National Trust Ranger for Parke, for our second field event of the season.

However, we needn’t have worried. Traps were set in a sheltered woodland on a hillside and almost at once the moths started to arrive. Roy McCormick, leading the event, was kept busy as new species were rapidly added to the list. Those fairly new to moth recording were thrilled to see lots of colourful species, including Lime (image below), Poplar and Elephant Hawk-moths, Buff-tip, Green Arches, Lobster Moth and other ‘crowd pleasers’. The more experienced members weren’t missing out either, with Ruddy Carpet, Beautiful Carpet, Poplar grey and the spectacular micro-moth Schiffermuellerina grandis.

Lime Hawk-moth (Dave Green)

Lime Hawk-moth (Dave Green)

In all 89 species were recorded in a few hours before the rain really set in and we packed up for the night.

The full species list for the event is here (in pdf format) Parke NT Ledge Wood 21 6 2013

Invertebrates of SW England – free event in Plymouth

With the weather only fit for ducks at the moment, why not come along to a free day of talks about South-west England’s fantastic insects. The event, jointly organised by Buglife and BENHS, takes place in Plymouth this Saturday (18 May 2013) from 10.00am until 4.00pm.

Devon Moth Group Chairman, Richard Fox, will be talking about the State of Britain’s Larger Moths and there’ll also be a talk about the Sandhill Rustic moth by Adrian Spalding. Other talks will cover oil beetles, the amazing invertebrates found on our cliffs and even the topical issue of whether we should be eating insects!

The full programme and other event details can be found at http://bit.ly/17Z50bl

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Are there tigers and elephants in your garden?

Climate change hasn’t brought tropical animals to our gardens just yet, but big surprises lurk out there in the darkness. Spectacular Garden Tigers, bright pink Elephant Hawk-moths, and intercontinental Humming-bird Hawk-moths provide a touch of the exotic to our garden wildlife.

They might be unseen, but there are lots of moths out there in our gardens, whether you live in the middle of a town or in the heart of the Devon countryside. Hundreds of species can be seen in a single year just in your garden, compared with just a handful or two of butterfly species and a few dozen birds. So moths make up a dazzling diversity of wildlife right on your doorstep.

Find out more about the marvellous moths that live in our Devon gardens come along, this Thursday (28th March) to a free talk by Barry Henwood, County Moth Recorder. See here for details

Garden Tiger (Chris Manley)

Garden Tiger (Chris Manley)

Gathering in the moth records

One of the main activites of Devon Moth Group is recording where different moth species occur within the county. This then improves our knowledge and provides the foundation for conservation of rare or threatened species. Over the years, we’ve amassed an amazing database with over 500,000 records (sightings) of moths.

Despite the poor weather in 2012, recording by members and visitors continued and an impressive total of 35,279 records were submitted by just under 100 recorders to Barry Henwood, the County Moth Recorder. These have now been checked and added to the database. Many thanks to everyone who contributed records to this fantastic total – especially in such a wet year! If you have not yet passed on your Devon moth sightings for 2012, please do so. They will be added to the database and put to use to help study and conserve moths in the county.

The records already received have been analysed and will appear shortly in our Annual Report for 2012. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of this year’s report. If you are a member, you’ll receive your copy in the post early in April. Even better, come along to our next indoor meeting (the last of the season) on Thursday 28th March in Kennford, nr Exeter, to get your copy early and to hear an excellent talk on Garden Moths by Barry Henwood.

DMG Annual Report 2012 cover_1

New report shows nationwide moth declines


The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013 report published at the beginning of February revealed dramatic declines in moth populations. Analysis of 40 years worth of nightly moth count data from the Rothamsted Insect Survey showed that the total abundance of larger (macro) moths (all species lumped together) has decreased by 40% in southern Britain since the late 1960s. Devon moth recorders contributed to the report through the National Moth Recording Scheme and via several Rothamsted Insect Survey traps in the county.

Two thirds of the 337 common and widespread moth species analysed had decreased in abundance, with many familiar garden moths undergoing severe declines. Numbers of the Small Square-spot decreased by 87% over the 40 years (1968-2007), those of Heart and Dart by 76% and Garden Carpet by 75%. The most severe decline, a 99% decrease, was suffered by the V-moth. This once widespread ‘garden’ moth is now thought to be extinct in Devon and several other counties in southern England.

The main cause of the declines is thought to be the loss of wildlife habitats such as hedgerows and flower-rich field margins as a result of the intensification of agriculture and urbanisation. Reduced woodland management is also believed to be a factor, leading to the loss of open sunny habitats such as glades.

Some species have bucked the trend however. An amazing 27 new moth species have colonised Britain this century and others have increased their previous distributions, perhaps in response to climate change. Here in Devon, we’ve seen species such as the Vine’s Rustic, Jersey Tiger and Dingy Footman become much more widespread in recent decades and new species such as Portland Ribbon Wave become established.

The full report can be viewed or downloaded online from the Butterfly Conservation website.

Pale Brindled Beauties wanted for research

Devon Moth Group was recently contacted by Louise Reynolds, a PhD student at the University of Liverpool. Louise is researching the evolutionary genetics of melanism in moths and hopes that moth recorders across Britain will be able to help in the study. She is particularly interested in the Pale Brindled Beauty and is appealing for moth-ers to help collect specimens.

If any members are interested in assisting, please get in touch with Louise by e-mail and she will send out a collecting kit.

More details can be found here

New Year moths

Happy New Year! And what a start it has been – dry days and mild nights have made for favourable conditions for moths, butterflies and other wildlife. Let’s hope the weather has made a New Year’s resolution and the seemingly endless rain that blighted 2012 is at an end.

Moths keep going right through the winter here in Devon and after Winter Moths and December Moths last month, January is bringing some new species out. Brindled Beauties, Spring Ushers and Dark Chestnuts are on the wing, in small numbers at least, and the first Epiphyas postvittana of the year have already started to appear in garden traps.

What’s more, with warm air coming from the south for the past few days (and nights!), there are migrant moths arriving. Seems amazing for the beginning of January, but immigrants such as Dark Swordgrass, Nomophila noctuella and Painted Lady butterfly have been recorded in southern England in recent days.

Well worth dusting off the moth-trap if you’d put it away for the winter, and please let us know about any recent moth sightings in the comments field below.

Dealing with difficult moths

Many larger moths are easy to identify, some are tricky and a few are just plain difficult. At the beginning of the month, experts from Devon Moth Group held a training workshop to teach advanced identification skills to fellow enthusiasts.

Led by County Moth Recorder, Dr Barry Henwood, and micro-moth experts Bob Heckford and Stella Beavan and kindly hosted by Devon Wildlife Trust, the event was a great success.

Ten moth recorders learnt how to use microscopes to examine minute details of the moths’ anatomy in order to determine species’ identification. Such techniques require a lot of practise so the workshop is just the starting point for the attendees.

Being able to correctly and accurately identify species is the cornerstone of efforts to understand the changing distribution of moths in Devon and conserve those species that are at risk.

Moth identification workshop (Barry Henwood)

Moth art in the Blackdown Hills

Two artists, Jon England and Karin Krommes, are taking part in a series of exhibitions by Blackdown Hills Artists and Makers across the Blackdown Hills in November. Their work looks at the topography and ecology, including moths, of the Blackdown Hills’ three World War II airfield sites.

It can be seen at the Nissen Hut, Cherry Hayes Farm, Slough Lane, Smeatharpe, Devon EX14 9RD, for the next two weekends (10/11th Nov & 17/18th Nov) from 10am – 4pm. For more info on the project please visit: www.bhaam.org.uk

Exhibit from ‘Skills Unearthed’ project by Jon England and Karin Krommes