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.
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
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
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.
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)
Two moths currently around in Devon demonstrate the amazing size range of these fascinating insects.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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) caught in North Devon on night of 23 Aug 2012
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.