Amazing Autumn moths

The Swallows may have flown and butterflies and dragonflies are fluttering to the end of another year’s activity, but autumn is an exciting time for moths. Many of our most beautiful and intricately marked species are on the wing at this time of year.

Some autumn moths are beautifully camouflaged to match the changing leaves. The yellows, oranges and pinks of species such as the Centre-barred Sallow, Pink-barred Sallow (below), Barred Sallow and Feathered Thorn, enable these moths to blend in perfectly among the autumn leaves.

Pink-barred Sallow (David Green)

The Angle Shades moth takes the subterfuge one step further, being not only coloured like autumn leaves but also folding its wings in such a way as to resemble a curled dead leaf. This moth is often encountered during the day as it tends to rest in exposed positions, such as on walls and fences.

Perhaps most glorious of all, the wonderfully-named Merveille du Jour, blends in perfectly among lichen-encrusted branches and rocks. It is on the wing now and regularly seen in moth traps in woodlands and gardens across Devon. Well worth keeping the moth trap going during warmer autumn evenings.

Merveille du Jour (Patrick Clement)

Little and Large – moths to look out for this week

Two moths currently around in Devon demonstrate the amazing size range of these fascinating insects.

Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner Cameraria ohridella (Brian Bewsher)

Cameraria ohridella, Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner, caught at light (Brian Bewsher)

One, Cameraria ohridella the Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner, is tiny, measuring only about 4mm from head to tip of its wings. Although sometimes caught in moth traps (including at this time of year), it is the blotchy leaf mines created by the moth’s larvae in the leaves of Horse Chestnut trees that are the most obvious sign of this species recent arrival in Devon.

The Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner was first recorded in Britain in London in 2002, but has spread extremely rapidly both west and northwards. The first Devon sighting was in 2007.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Brian Bewsher)

Convolvulus Hawk-moth rescued from a garden pond near Bovey Tracey (Brian Bewsher)

At the other end of the spectrum is the Convolvulus Hawk-moth. This giant has wings over 10 times the length of those of the Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner. Not only does the Convolvulus Hawk-moth have an impressive wingspan of around 11cm, it is also capable of long-distance migration. From its permanent range in Africa, some Convolvulus Hawk-moths fly northwards each year to breed in Europe. The best chance of seeing this moth in Devon is in the autumn and several have been sighted in the past week.

Tiverton rare moth find

An extremely rare immigrant moth, Diplopseustis perieresalis, was found by Andrew Cunningham in his garden at Tiverton on Sunday night (2 Sept 2012). It is thought to be only the 17th ever record for Britain, the second ever for Devon and is a new species for North Devon (Vice-county 4).

Diplopseustis periersalis (Andrew Cunningham)

Diplopseustis perieresalis (Andrew Cunningham)

This pyralid moth is found widely across eastern asia, Australia and New Zealand, where it is thought that the larvae feed on rushes. In western Europe, the first sighting was in the year 2000 in Portugal, and the species has first occured in the UK (on the Isles of Scilly) in 2001. Further British sightings followed. The first mainland record was from Exeter, when Graham and Jean Jarvis found one in their garden trap in November 2007.

It is not clear how this moth managed to spread from the far east to western Europe, but it seems that it is established somewhere in the region and further immigration into Britain is likely in the future.

Field meeting at Hittisleigh Woods

Devon Moth Group’s final field meeting of this so-called summer took place at Hittisleigh Woods on 24 August 2012. The dubious weather made mothing difficult and led to a lower than average turnout of participants. However, the moths did turn up with 60 species recorded in all, during quite a short trapping session.

The full list of moths recorded can be found here.

A full write-up of the event will be included in the next Devon Moth Group newsletter.

Migrants around!

Despite, or perhaps because of, the poor summer and succession of weather fronts sweeping in from the south-west, there are quite a lot of immigrant moths around at the moment. Many people have been catching good numbers of common migrants such as Silver Y, Udea ferrugalis and Nomophila noctuella, but there are more exciting immigrants around too.

Mike Braid recently caught a Beautiful Marbled near Chittlehampton in North Devon (VC4) (see image below), Richard Billington had a Striped Hawk-moth at Wembury, near Plymouth and Oliver Woodland recorded a Delicate and a Cosmopolitan at Membury, near Axminster. There have also been a number of Cydia amplana caught in the County.

Beautiful Marbled (Mike Braid)2

Beautiful Marbled (Mike Braid) caught in North Devon on night of 23 Aug 2012

Micro-moth new to Devon

Ethmia quadrillella, a smart-looking black and white micro-moth in the family Elachistidae (formerly in family Ethmiidae), was recorded by Peter Vernon at Colyford on 17th August 2012. This is a new county record for Devon – the species never having been recorded here before.

This moth is a scarce species (specifically listed as Nationally Scarce B) found as a resident mainly in eastern England from Kent up to Yorkshire, where it is typically found in wetland habitats. However, it is also known to occur as an occasional migrant or wanderer, so it is highly likely that this Devon individual had travelled either from eastern England or from Continental Europe. The sighting came during a period of considerable moth immigration.

Ethmia quadrillella (Peter Vernon)

Rare Small Eggars spotted

The Small Eggar is a moth that appears to have declined greatly in Devon, and nationally, over recent decades. In the past three years, only four records of the species have been submitted to Devon Moth Group.

It was good news therefore, last week, when Mike Finn reported finding and photographing a larval nest of Small Eggar caterpillars near Sidmouth. (click on photos below for larger images)

Small Eggar moths fly very early in the year, typically between January and March, and are rarely seen or recorded. The distinctive caterpillars and their communal nest are much more easily spotted, usually in hedgerows or scrub, during spring and summer.

We’d be very grateful for any further sightings.

Small Eggar larvae and larval nest

Small Eggar larvae & larval nest

Small Eggar larvae

Small Eggar larvae

Remember to submit your Moth Night 2012 records

Moth Night 2012 (Thursday 21-Saturday 23 June) has been and gone in a whirl of wind and rain. However, with three nights and three days to record on, most people will have found some reasonable conditions.

Please remember to visit the Moth Night website and follow the link to register and submit all your sightings via the new online recording system.

Over 3000 sightings have already beeen submitted across Britain and Ireland, but there must be plenty more Devon records still to come.

Although the official deadline isn’t until the end of November, getting your sightings in early will help the Moth Night organisers and ensure that you don’t forget.

Many thanks for sending in your sightings!

Moth Night 2012 event at Paignton Zoo

Moth Night 2012 event at Paignton Zoo

Get involved in Moth Night 2012

This year’s national celebration of moths and moth recording takes place this week. For three days and nights, from Thursday 21st – Saturday 23rd June, moth recorders and the public will be out and about looking for moths across Devon, and the rest of the UK.

The theme this year is the moths of brownfield sites, so some people will search the abandoned quarries, disused railway lines and other wildlife-friendly brownfield sites in the county. Such sites are important for moths, butterflies and other wildlife, but generally under-recorded and often threatened with redevelopment.

Disused quarry

Disused quarry rich in wildlife

Anyone can get involved to help improve our knowledge of moths in the county and Moth Night 2012 is a great opportunity to make a start. Note down your sightings of moths, day or night, whether from your garden, a brownfield site or out in the countryside, and submit them to Moth Night via their easy-to-use website.

You can also come along to one of the events taking place in the county, where experts will be catching moths, to find out more about these beautiful insects.

For a list of events that are taking place, as well as how to submit your sightings, visit www.mothnight.info

Moth Night 2012 is organised by the wildlife magazine Atropos and the charity Butterfly Conservation, in association with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

More Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets discovered

A second colony of Zygaena lonicerae, Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, has been found in Devon at Mincinglake Valley Park, Exeter by Sam Stripp and her son Tim.

Mincinglake Valley Park

Mincinglake Valley Park, Exeter in Devon

After reading about the first discovery of this beautiful day-flying moth in Devon in 2011 (near Sampford Peverell), they decided to pay closer attention to Burnet moths. Shortly afterwards, whilst dog-walking in Mincinglake Valley Park, Exeter, they were surprised to find a host of adult burnets on thistle flowers. A few individuals were potted up to try to confirm their identity, before being released unharmed the following day.

Distinguishing adults of the Five-spot Burnet, which is the usual one in Devon, from the Narrow-bordered Five-spot, which is widespread over much of the rest of Britain, is very difficult and the Mincinglake moths remained unidentified.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet larva

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet larva

However, when released, it was discovered that one of the moths had laid eggs in the pot. These were cared for by the Stripps and, in due course, larvae emerged which could be positively identified as being Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets (larvae of which have much longer hairs than the other species).

Devon now has two known locations for Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, but surely more must remain as yet undiscovered.