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)

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)

Looking for Larvae

Captivated by caterpillars? Love larvae? Then our next indoor meeting is the place for you, as Barry Henwood (Devon County Moth Recorders) will give a talk entitled “Looking for Larvae”. This is the last indoor meeting of our winter programme and takes place on Thursday 26th March at the Kenn Centre, Kennford (www.kenncentre.co.uk) 19.30 for 20.00 start. All welcome.

Puss Moth larva (JohnBebbington)

Puss Moth larva (John Bebbington)

The pollinator nightshift

The public, the media and even our politicians have been greatly concerned in recent months about the decline of bees, largely because of the importance of this group of insects as pollinators. However, bees aren’t the only pollinators. At night, moths take over as the premier plant pollinators.

Most moths visit flowers to drink nectar and, in doing so, act as pollinators. Some plants are particularly attuned to nocturnal moth pollinators, only producing nectar and scent at night, while others actually close their flowers during daylight hours.

A newly published review in the scientific journal Ecological Entomology considers case studies from Britain and around the world where moths have been identified as pollinators. It concludes that the role of moths as pollinators has been under-appreciated; moths were found to be important pollinators of hundreds of plant species in 75 different plant families and many diverse habitats. The significant decline of moths recorded over recent decades in Britain and other countries may therefore create a major problem for plants.

The review can be read in full at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/een.12174/full

Small Elephant Hawk-moth with pollinia (pollen parcels) of the Greater Butterfly Orchid attached to its head (John Bebbington)

Small Elephant Hawk-moth with pollinia (pollen parcels) of the Greater Butterfly Orchid attached to its head (John Bebbington)

Ringed Border seen in Devon!!!

An extremely rare migrant moth, the Ringed Border, was discovered by Devon Moth Group members at our field meeting at Parke near Bovey Tracey on Friday night. This is the first time the moth has ever been seen in Devon and possibly only the third ever sighting for mainland Britain.

Although there have been a number of common immigrant moths arriving into Devon during the recent spell of hot weather, the stunned moth recorders, led by former Devon County Moth Recorder Roy McCormick and National Trust ranger Fred Hutt, could hardly believe their eyes when the moth was spotted at the light traps just after midnight. The only previous British sightings were of one in Somerset in 2009 and one in Hampshire in 2010. The amazing find just proves that you never know what you’ll find in your moth trap!

Ringed Border caught at Parke on 25 July 2014

Ringed Border caught at Parke on 25 July 2014

Sloe Pug spreading in Devon?

Sloe Pug Pasiphila chloerata has an interesting history in Britain. Due to its close similarity to the very common Green Pug P. rectangulata, Sloe Pug wasn’t discovered in Britain until 1971, although it had undoubtedly been resident for a long time.

It is now known to be a widespread moth, found as far north as Cumbria, but it does not seem to occur in the far west of England or Wales.  There are very few Devon records and until recently it was thought to be confined to the far eastern edge of the county along the Dorset border.

However, last year confirmed records of Sloe Pug were received from Exmouth and  Orley Common, Ipplepen (near Newton Abbot), greatly extending the known range of the moth westwards.

Most recently, Barry Henwood, the County Moth Recorder, caught a Sloe Pug (shown below) in his garden at Abbotskerswell (only a few miles from Orley Common) on 1st June 2014, raising the possibility that the moth is spreading and may now be more widespread in the county.

Sloe Pug in Devon (June 2014) (Barry Henwood)

Sloe Pug in Devon (June 2014) (Barry Henwood)

It is possible to distinguish Sloe Pug and Green Pug on external characters. The adults of both species are greenish, fading with age. When fresh, Green Pug is brighter green. The first difference to notice is that the postmedian line of the Green Pug has a jagged appearance (with two strong angulations), whereas the same line on Sloe Pug is more of a gentle curve. Sloe Pug has a brick-red ‘belt’ on the base of the abdomen, which Green Pug does not have.

Once you think you have a candidate for Sloe Pug, put it in a jar and look through the glass at the underside of the hindwing. There the post-median line forms an acute angle in Green Pug but an obtuse angle in Sloe Pug.

Further Devon records accompanied by good photos of upper-side and under-side (through glass) would be very welcome.