September has been an amazing month for one rare moth in Devon. Catocala fraxini, which has the wonderful english name Clifden Nonpareil (nonpareil meaning unparalleled or beyond compare), is a rare immigrant species, usually only seen once or twice a year in the county. According to the Devon Moth Group database, the best ever year here for Clifden Nonpareil was 2007, when there were three sightings. Last year there was just one and 2015 yielded two.
However, during September 2017, six records (of a total of seven individual moths) have already been reported in Devon. These have occurred throughout the month (from the 4th to the 27th) and right across the south of the county from Axminster in the east to Bere Alston in the Tamar Valley in the west. One lucky recorder, Nick Roach, found two at once, one in his garden moth trap and another on the wall of his house.
This impressive moth, with a wingspan approaching 10 cm and a stunning violet-blue band on the hindwings (giving rise to the alternative vernacular name of Blue Underwing) is currently colonising several areas of southern England and is regularly caught nowadays in parts of Dorset, indicating the presence of resident populations.
With luck, the big increase in sightings in Devon this autumn may also herald the arrival of local breeding colonies of this wonderful insect.
Clifden Nonpareil seen near Culmstock on 26th September 2017 (Nick Roach)
2015 was an astonishing year for migrant moths in the county and concluded in style with the appearance of another species new to Devon. The incredibly mild, and often strong, southerly winds that dominated December’s weather continued to bring a host of migrant moths to our shores.
One very small visitor was of particular significance. Syncopacma polychromella, is a tiny but distinctive Gelechiid micro-moth with a wingspan of only 7mm or so.It occurs in southern Europe, Africa and the Middle East and has only been recorded in Great Britain on a handful of occasions prior to December, and never in Devon.
That all changed on 16 December 2015, when visiting moth recorder Dave Grundy caught a S.polychromella at Prawle Point, the first ever Devon record. Amazingly, the following night, two more examples were caught in the county: one by Mike Braid at Chittlehampton, south of Barnstaple, and thus the first ever record of this species in VC4 (North Devon) and the other by Richard Fox at Abbotskerswell near Newton Abbot. These latter two records were both from garden moth traps.
The three Devon records of S.polychromella formed part of an unprecedented influx of this species into Britain during the week before Christmas. In all, over 60 sightings have been reported so far, mainly from south-coast counties but also from inland locations such as Surrey and north Wiltshire.
Just goes to show that you should never pack your moth trap away for the winter!
Syncopacma polychromella (Abbotskerswell 17 Dec 2015) (Richard Fox)
Syncopacma polychromella (Chittlehampton, 17 Dec 2015) (Mike Braid)
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)
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.
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 (Mike Lockyear)
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
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)
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.
Two moths currently around in Devon demonstrate the amazing size range of these fascinating insects.
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 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.
An extremely rare immigrant moth, Diplopseustis perieresalis, was found by Andrew Cunningham in his garden at Tiverton on Sunday night (2 Sept 2012). It is thought to be only the 17th ever record for Britain, the second ever for Devon and is a new species for North Devon (Vice-county 4).
Diplopseustis perieresalis (Andrew Cunningham)
This pyralid moth is found widely across eastern asia, Australia and New Zealand, where it is thought that the larvae feed on rushes. In western Europe, the first sighting was in the year 2000 in Portugal, and the species has first occured in the UK (on the Isles of Scilly) in 2001. Further British sightings followed. The first mainland record was from Exeter, when Graham and Jean Jarvis found one in their garden trap in November 2007.
It is not clear how this moth managed to spread from the far east to western Europe, but it seems that it is established somewhere in the region and further immigration into Britain is likely in the future.