Are there tigers and elephants in your garden?

Climate change hasn’t brought tropical animals to our gardens just yet, but big surprises lurk out there in the darkness. Spectacular Garden Tigers, bright pink Elephant Hawk-moths, and intercontinental Humming-bird Hawk-moths provide a touch of the exotic to our garden wildlife.

They might be unseen, but there are lots of moths out there in our gardens, whether you live in the middle of a town or in the heart of the Devon countryside. Hundreds of species can be seen in a single year just in your garden, compared with just a handful or two of butterfly species and a few dozen birds. So moths make up a dazzling diversity of wildlife right on your doorstep.

Find out more about the marvellous moths that live in our Devon gardens come along, this Thursday (28th March) to a free talk by Barry Henwood, County Moth Recorder. See here for details

Garden Tiger (Chris Manley)

Garden Tiger (Chris Manley)

Gathering in the moth records

One of the main activites of Devon Moth Group is recording where different moth species occur within the county. This then improves our knowledge and provides the foundation for conservation of rare or threatened species. Over the years, we’ve amassed an amazing database with over 500,000 records (sightings) of moths.

Despite the poor weather in 2012, recording by members and visitors continued and an impressive total of 35,279 records were submitted by just under 100 recorders to Barry Henwood, the County Moth Recorder. These have now been checked and added to the database. Many thanks to everyone who contributed records to this fantastic total – especially in such a wet year! If you have not yet passed on your Devon moth sightings for 2012, please do so. They will be added to the database and put to use to help study and conserve moths in the county.

The records already received have been analysed and will appear shortly in our Annual Report for 2012. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of this year’s report. If you are a member, you’ll receive your copy in the post early in April. Even better, come along to our next indoor meeting (the last of the season) on Thursday 28th March in Kennford, nr Exeter, to get your copy early and to hear an excellent talk on Garden Moths by Barry Henwood.

DMG Annual Report 2012 cover_1

New report shows nationwide moth declines

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.

Pale Brindled Beauties wanted for research

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

New Year moths

Happy New Year! And what a start it has been – dry days and mild nights have made for favourable conditions for moths, butterflies and other wildlife. Let’s hope the weather has made a New Year’s resolution and the seemingly endless rain that blighted 2012 is at an end.

Moths keep going right through the winter here in Devon and after Winter Moths and December Moths last month, January is bringing some new species out. Brindled Beauties, Spring Ushers and Dark Chestnuts are on the wing, in small numbers at least, and the first Epiphyas postvittana of the year have already started to appear in garden traps.

What’s more, with warm air coming from the south for the past few days (and nights!), there are migrant moths arriving. Seems amazing for the beginning of January, but immigrants such as Dark Swordgrass, Nomophila noctuella and Painted Lady butterfly have been recorded in southern England in recent days.

Well worth dusting off the moth-trap if you’d put it away for the winter, and please let us know about any recent moth sightings in the comments field below.

Dealing with difficult moths

Many larger moths are easy to identify, some are tricky and a few are just plain difficult. At the beginning of the month, experts from Devon Moth Group held a training workshop to teach advanced identification skills to fellow enthusiasts.

Led by County Moth Recorder, Dr Barry Henwood, and micro-moth experts Bob Heckford and Stella Beavan and kindly hosted by Devon Wildlife Trust, the event was a great success.

Ten moth recorders learnt how to use microscopes to examine minute details of the moths’ anatomy in order to determine species’ identification. Such techniques require a lot of practise so the workshop is just the starting point for the attendees.

Being able to correctly and accurately identify species is the cornerstone of efforts to understand the changing distribution of moths in Devon and conserve those species that are at risk.

Moth identification workshop (Barry Henwood)

Moth art in the Blackdown Hills

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:

Exhibit from ‘Skills Unearthed’ project by Jon England and Karin Krommes

Shining Marbled – new for Devon

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.

Shining Marbled

Amazing Autumn moths

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)

Little and Large – moths to look out for this week

Two moths currently around in Devon demonstrate the amazing size range of these fascinating insects.

Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner Cameraria ohridella (Brian Bewsher)

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 (Brian Bewsher)

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.