Marvellous migrants

2015 is shaping up to be a record year for moth immigration into Great Britain. Although the peak time of year for moth arrivals is autumn, there have already been substantial influxes from southern Europe.

Three species, in particular, have featured prominently both here in Devon and across the south during May and June; Bordered Straw (Heliothis peltigera), Small Mottled Willow (Spodoptera exigua) and Striped Hawk-moth (Hyles livornica). More recently, Small Marbled (Eublemma parva) has arrived in (relative) abundance. None are rare visitors, but the numbers seen so far this year, particularly of the first two species, are likely to break previous records.

Many moth recorders in Devon will have recorded at least one Bordered Straw and Small Mottled Willow this year, but only a lucky few have seen the stunning Striped Hawk-moth. One recorder, Mark Marshall, has had a great run of fortune, recording two Striped Hawk-moths and an Orache Moth (Trachea atriplicis), a scarce immigrant, at his home near Blackawton in the South Hams.

There’s little sign of an end to the migrant activity so keep recording and good luck!

Striped Hawk-moth at Blackawton 13 June 2015 (Mark Marshall)

Striped Hawk-moth at Blackawton 13 June 2015 (Mark Marshall)

Bordered Straw at Abbotskerswell on 4 June 2015 (Richard Fox)

Bordered Straw at Abbotskerswell on 4 June 2015 (Richard Fox)

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)

Accent Gem – 2nd British record

An ultra-rare immigrant moth, the Accent Gem Ctenoplusia accentifera, has been spotted in Devon. This African species has only been recorded in Britain once before , way back in 1969 in Kent, so the discovery is very significant.

Devon Moth Group member, Dave Wall, found the moth in his garden moth trap in Exmouth on 29 October, during a major period of moth immigration to the southern coast of Britain that accompanied very mild weather and southerly winds. In fact, in the same moth trap, Dave also caught two Palpita vitrealis and three Vestal Rhodometra sacraria, quite exciting immigrant moths themselves.

This is the second extremely rare migrant moth caught in Devon in recent months. Back in July, Group members found a Ringed Border Stegania cararia, which was also a species never seen before in Devon and was only the third known British record.

Accent Gem caught at Exmouth 29 Oct 2014 (image by Barry Henwood)_1

Migration month

Autumn can be a time of great excitement for Devon’s moth recorders as moth migrate northwards from the continent and arrive on our shores. In some years, little arrives but in others (most recently 2013 and 2011) an amazing variety of common, scarce and downright rare immigrant moths come in, to the delight of wildlife enthusiasts.

So far this year, most of the migrant moth excitement has been among moth recorders on the east coast of Britain. However, the South West hasn’t missed out entirely. Perhaps the pick of the crop so far have been two records of the large and dramatic Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini) – a moth that would feature on most moth recorders’ bucket lists. The first was caught by visiting moth expert Dave Grundy at Prawle Point on 27 August, while the second came to Mike Lockyear’s moth trap in Crediton on 17 September. Both are shown below. The species has also been reported from other locations around the English coast from Dorset to Northumberland in the past few weeks.

A range of other immigrants have been seen in Devon in recent weeks including the massive Convolvulous Hawk-moth, Delicate, Vestal, Scarce Bordered Straw and Ostrinia nubilalis.

With mild conditions forecast for the week ahead, it would be well worth looking out for rare visitors to our county.

Clifden Nonpareil (Dave Grundy)

Clifden Nonpareil (Dave Grundy)

Clifden Nonpareil (Mike Lockyear)

Clifden Nonpareil (Mike Lockyear)

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

Moth Night 2014

Moth Night is the national celebration of moths and moth recording that takes place over three days and nights each year. It’s the perfect excuse to do something special, whether that is recording moths in a new location or organising an event for family, friends or the general public.

This year’s event takes place on Thursday 3rd – Saturday 5th July and the suggested theme is woodland moths. Woodland is the richest habitat for moths, harbouring two thirds of the UK’s larger moths and supporting many rare and specialist species. However, many Devon woods have never been surveyed for moths and this vital habitat faces mounting pressure from urban development, changing management and the arrival of a succession of potentially devastating tree diseases (most recently Ash Dieback).

Moth Night 2014 is a chance to go out into the woods (with permission of course) and record the dazzling diversity of moths that occur there in mid-summer. You don’t have to focus on woodland, though; Moth Night is what you chose to make it. Wherever you record moths for Moth Night 2014, as well as enjoying the spectacle, please submit your moth records via the easy-to-use online recording system at www.mothnight.info – that way you’ll be contributing to improved knowledge of moth distributions and, ultimately, to their conservation. All records will be passed back to the County Recorder too.

There are many public events taking place accross Britain to mark Moth Night and to give people a first hand experience of our marvellous moths. Devon Moth Group is running two such events, at Halsdon nature reserve on Thursday night (3rd July) and at Becky Falls on Saturday night (5th July).

More information about Moth Night, including public events that are taking place this year, can be found at www.mothnight.info

Moth Night 2014 flier_1

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)