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)

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)

Happy New Year!

With few moths on the wing in winter, this is a time to look back on the past year and, most importantly, for sorting out all those moth records. Moth recording is a key activity for Devon Moth Group and something that anyone can help with. The rationale is simple – a knowledge of which moths live where in Devon and how they are faring is the foundation upon which all efforts to conserve and protect these fascinating creatures are built. Please submit all your 2013 moth records (by spreadsheet) to the County Recorder, Barry Henwood, as soon as possible. If you don’t have a computer, we can still accept paper records, thanks to the sterling work being done by Assistant County Recorder Geoff Wisdom. Records are always welcome at any time of year, but if you want your records to appear in the 2013 Devon Moth Group Annual Report then please ensure that you’ve forwarded them to Barry by Sunday 19th January 2014. More information on how to submit your moth records

2013 proved to be a year ‘of two halves’ to use the footballing cliche. The coldest spring for 50 years, following on from the dreadful weather of 2012, severely depressed moth numbers during the first half of the year. However, all changed with the onset of the heatwave in July and moth populations rocketed, leading to some memorable nights’ trapping. Autumn was exciting too, with a huge influx of migrant moths from warmer parts of Europe. These included enormous numbers of Vestals (see image below), as well as much rarer species such as the Crimson Speckled and Clifden Nonpareil. Let’s hope that 2014 continues in the same vein!

Vestal (Chris Manley)

Vestal (Chris Manley)

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)

Moth bonanza at Marsland

Our recent field meeting at Devon Wildlife Trust’s Marsland nature reserve near Bude coincided with one of the best periods for moth trapping since the last decent summer, back in 2006.

A fantastic 98 species were identified during the evening – remarkable after very poor moth numbers during the first 6 months of this year.

These included lots of pretty species such as Ghost moth, Peach Blossom, Large Emerald (below), Poplar and Elephant Hawk-moths, Buff-tip and the stunning Garden Tiger.

Large Emerald (Chris Manley)

Large Emerald (Chris Manley)

The full species list for the event is here (in pdf format) Marsland moth records 13 July 2013

Small Eggar caterpillars

Small Eggar is a scarcely seen moth in Devon. The adult moths fly in late winter, a time of year when moth recorders tend not to be out and about. However, the colourful caterpillars live in groups and construct a characteristic silken ‘tent’ in hedgerows in spring and summer, and are more easily recorded. Nevertheless, we rarely receive more than a couple of records of this species each year.

Last weekend, David and Sue Mentz spotted a Small Eggar nest and caterpillars about 2m up in a hedge near Ide, on the outskirts of Exeter. One of their images is shown below.

If you spot Small Eggar caterpillars, please let us know, but be aware that there are other moth caterpillars that live in silken nests (e.g. Lackey), so photographs of the caterpillars would be very useful to confirm your sighting.

Small Eggar caterpillar (David & Sue Mentz)

Small Eggar caterpillar (David & Sue Mentz)