Tunbridge Wells in Devon!?

Migrants have dominated the Devon moth news during 2015 and recent months have been no exception. The undoubted highlight of the autumn was Devon’s first ever Tunbridge Wells Gem (Chrysodeixis acuta), shown in the photo below. This is a rare immigrant that had been recorded on only 20 occasions ever in the whole of Britain and Ireland prior to 2015.

This exciting new addition to the Devon moth list was caught by Phil Barden on the coast near Noss Mayo on 7 October 2015.

Tunbridge Wells Gem (Phil Barden)

Tunbridge Wells Gem (Phil Barden)

Moth Night 2015

This year’s Moth Night celebrations take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week (10-12 September), coinciding with the annual autumn arrival of immigrant moths. Across Devon and the rest of the UK, moth-traps, wines ropes and bedding plants will be deployed by thousands of people keen to see the amazing variety of moths that visit our shores or live year-round in our gardens and countryside.

For some, the focus will be on rare immigrant moths, such as the Golden Twin-spot and Clifden Nonpareil, borne in from hotter parts of Europe and even Africa on warm winds. Immigrant moths will come to moth-traps, but can also be attracted using wine ropes or ‘sugar’ bait, which provide a cheap, simple alternative. And, if you are not lucky enough to spot a rare migrant, spectacular local moths, such as Red Underwing and Old Lady, are also fond of these baits.

The Convolvulus Hawk-moth, on the other hand, has a particular penchant for Nicotiana flowers. Ahead of Moth Night 2015, some moth recorders have stocked their flower beds with Nicotiana ‘Sensation Mixed’, hoping to tempt this mighty migrant to their patch. With its 12cm wingspan, the Convolvulus Hawk-moth is one of the largest moths seen in Britain, yet it is capable of pin-point precision flight as it hovers to drink nectar from the deep Nicotiana flowers using its amazingly long proboscis. There have been lots of Convolvulous Hawk-moth sightings in recent weeks across the South West and right up into Scotland.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation)

Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Mark Parsons/Butterfly Conservation)

Aside from immigrants, there are many stunning autumn moths to admire at Moth Night public events or to search for yourself. Some are beautifully coloured with yellows, oranges and pinks to blend in with autumn leaves. Whatever you find, please log all your Moth Night sightings so that your records can increase our knowledge, inform moth conservation and be shared with County Recorders.

Please also keep your eyes peeled for moths marked with a dab of coloured paint on the wing. These are part of a Moth Night experiment to learn more about how far moths travel. In the days leading up to this year’s event, moths will be marked harmlessly at designated locations, in the hope that some will be caught by recorders taking part in Moth Night. If you find a marked moth, please photograph it and contact the Moth Night website or phone 01326 290287.

Of course you don’t have to do any of these things! Moth Night is what you choose to make it; a perfect excuse to go out and record moths somewhere new, perhaps filling a gap for the forthcoming national moth atlas, or organise an event to introduce people to moths for the first time. Devon Moth Group has two official Moth Night events, both at south coast locations where the chance of seeing exciting migrants is greatest, so why not come along (details of Devon events).

Moth Night is organised by Atropos and Butterfly Conservation, in association with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and an array of prizes are awarded for particularly unusual sightings. Further information about how to take part, public events, bait recipes and more can be found at on the Moth Night website.

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