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.

Eggciting moths

The Small Eggar Eriogaster lanestrisis a particularly prized spring moth in Devon. Not only is it an attractive species (see pic below), it is also a scarce moth in the county and a difficult one to see as it flies early in the year.

There are only eight previous records of adult Small Eggars in the Devon Moth Group database this century; sightings of the caterpillars which live in large silken nests on bushes and trees are more common.

This year, amazingly, Small Eggar adults were recorded in two different places in mid-Devon on the same night (31 March) by Group members. Paul Butter recorded one in his moth trap near Okehampton, while Stella Beavan found two in her trap at Zeal Monachorum.

Just goes to show that there are great rewards for those who keep recording moths through the colder months of the year.

Small Eggar (Stella Beavan)

Small Eggar (Stella Beavan)

Annual report for 2013 published

Devon moth report 2013 front cover_2Devon Moth Group’s report on moth goings on in the county during last year has been published and is being circulated to members.

It reports on a year of two contrasting halves – a cold first six months with disappointing moth numbers and then, starting with the heatwave in July, am excellent second half of the year with bumper catches in moth traps and an exciting autumn immigration that bought scarce, exotic moths to our shores.

Nearly 43,000 moth records were submitted for 2013 by Group members and other recorders – a big increase on the number for the wet summer of 2012 and the second highest annual total ever received by Devon Moth Group. Many thanks to everyone who let us know about their sightings!

The Annual Report contains a full list of all the moth species (micros and macros) recorded in Devon during 2013 together with commentry on notable sightings and migrants by the County Recorder, Barry Henwood, and micro-moth expert Bob Heckford.

Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner invasion

One of the most noticeable of all new species that have arrived and colonised Britain this century has been Cameraria ohridella, the Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner. It was first recording in Britain in 2002 in London but has spread like wildfire since then, reaching Devon in 2007.

Cameraria ohridella (Dave Green)

Cameraria ohridella (Dave Green)

A new study, published this month in the international journal Public Library of Science One, shows the rapid spread of the micro-moth in the UK using information from members of the public. Interestingly, the study recorded a response by parasitiods to the arrival of C.ohridella. The full report is available to read here.

Not surprisingly, given the very obvious feeding damage caused by the moth, the public and media have been very concerned about the welfare of British Horse Chestnut trees. However, another scientific study published last year looked at the impacts of C.ohridella on the health of infected trees. The news is rather surprising and can be found here.

At this time of year, C.ohridella is in the pupal stage, hidden away among the dead leaves around the Horse Chestnut trees that they inhabit, but come early summer their distinctive leaf mines will be visible on trees across the County.

Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner damage (Richard Fox)

Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner damage (Richard Fox)

Indoor meetings get off to a shining start

Although moths fly throughout the year, opportunities for fieldwork are inevitably more limited in the winter. Therefore, Devon Moth Group organises a series of indoor meetings for members and guests.

Our first meeting of the winter, about how butterflies and moths use light to create colour on their wings, was extremely illuminating! (sorry about the pun!). Professor Pete Vukusic, an eminent physicist from Exeter University, gave us a fascinating micro-scopic tour of Lepidoptera wings explaining how the incredibly complex, minute structures on the surface of scales serve to create the appearance of colour without the use of any coloured pigments. It was a brilliant and accessible talk by a leading researcher in this field. The Prof will also go down in Devon Moth Group history for bringing more equipment to one of our indoor talks than anyone else ever!

Prof Peter Vukusic

Prof Peter Vukusic

The next indoor events is our Christmas Dinner, followed at the end of January by our AGM and what promises to be an amazing talk by artist, film-maker, naturalist, broadcaster & photographer John Walter.

See our Events page for more details

Migrant moths

Autumn is typically an exciting time of the year for those interested in moths. Although the great diversity of British moths that are around during the warm summer months is starting to fade, it is the peak time of year for moth immigration.

In good autumns, such as in 2011, huge numbers of moths can arrive in Britain from southern Europe or even North Africa, borne in on warm southerly winds. While some of these are common and familiar migrants such as the Silver Y, Dark Swordgrass and Humming-bird Hawk-moth, other much rarer and more exotic-looking species can arrive, such as the sinister Death’s Head Hawk-moth, the stunning Crimson Speckled, Dewick’s Plusia and Purple Marbled.

The number of exicitng immigrant moths has started to rise in Devon and neighbouring counties in recent weeks with, for example, sightings of the very rare Rosy Underwing in Dorset and Cornwall. This species had only been recorded 10 times ever in Britain prior to this year, but there have already been three sightings in recent weeks (two in south Dorset and one on the Lizard, Cornwall).

I’ve not been lucky enough to see anything so rare (although with moth recording one always lives in hope) but have seen several immigrant Vestal moths in my garden in the last two weeks (one shown below). It’s well worth putting your moth trap out at night between the showers and also keeping your eyes peeled during the day as species such as Convolvulus Hawk-moth and Crimson Speckled are often spotted by day.

Vestal (Richard Fox)

Vestal (Richard Fox)

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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