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)

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.

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)

Shining Marbled – new for Devon

An incredibly rare immigrant moth, the Shining Marbled Pseudeustrotia candidula, only once seen in Britain before 2012 was caught by Allan Jenkins at Chardstock, north of Axminster on 18th August 2012. The specimen is shown below.

This is the first time that the Shining Marbled has ever been recorded in Devon.

The moth, which is native to central and eastern Europe, was first seen in Britain in 2006 in Herefordshire. There have been no other records until this year, when a handful of Shining Marbleds have been sighted across southern England (including the Devon example). Although the moth was caught in August, this highly significant record has only recently been reported to Devon Moth Group.

Shining Marbled

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.

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.

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