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.

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)

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)

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.