A new macro-moth species for the county is always an exciting event, especially for the lucky person who finds it. But the Maize Wainscot (Sesamia nonagrioides) found in Chris Vincent’s moth trap in Plymouth on 7th September, was particularly special as this species, resident in south-west Europe and Africa, had never been seen before on mainland Britain. Indeed, the only previous sighting of Maize Wainscot anywhere in the British Isles was on St Agnes, Scilly, in 2011.
Amazingly, a second Maize Wainscot was caught at the other end of Devon on the following night. Sarah Patton, a Sussex moth recorder on holiday in Devon, caught one in Branscombe on the night of 8th September.
Striped Hawk-moth (Hyles livornica) is an uncommon migrant moth in Devon, with 72 sightings on the Devon Moth Group database, the most recent from 2015. This visitor from warmer parts of continental Europe is usually seen here in the summer. However, the warm southerly winds that brought Saharan dust to our shores last week, also encouraged some early migrants northwards! Jayne Wraxall found and photographed this one on the side of the road at Exwick on 3 April.
Striped Hawk-moth found in Devon on 3 April 2021 (Jayne Wraxall)
Our AGM and Winter Meeting was held online this year as a result of the ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
The meeting included a shortened version of our normal AGM proceedings, which was then followed by the main event, an entertaining talk by Dr Tom Prescott, Senior Conservation Officer with Butterfly Conservation Scotland. Tom presented the talk from his home in the Highlands on the subject of Burnets, Beauties and Glories – Conserving Scotland’s Rare and Threatened Moths. It was a fascinating and inspiring talk, with plenty of stunning moths and beautiful Scottish scenery.
If you are missing moths now that the nights have turned cold, here are a couple of talks about moths that you can watch in comfort.
The first is by Devon Moth Group committee member Phil Dean and is about the moths found in Devon’s meadows (as part of the Moor Meadows initiative). Watch Moths of the Meadow on You Tube.
The other is by Douglas Boyes, a PhD student studying moths, and is a talk given to the Natural History Society of Northumbria about moth species that are doing well in the UK, bucking the general trend of wildlife decline. Watch Bucking the trend: why are some British moths on the rise? on You Tube.
Dawlish Warren is a well-known site in south Devon for many naturalists, with a national reputation and indeed international designations for some of its plants and birds. Other species groups however have not been overlooked with more than 4100 species recorded on site, including 668 moths. This latter total includes 47 Nationally Scarce species (recorded in fewer than 100 GB 10km squares).
For those that are unfamiliar with the Warren, the recording area is only 210ha in size so this is clearly an exceptional site, even more so when you consider terrestrial habitats only account for around 75ha. It is the diversity of habitats squeezed into a small space that delivers this abundance of life.
The south-west corner of the recording area is marked by Langstone Rock, a 15m high red sandstone headland with habitat very distinct from the Warren. Heading north-east, the base of the spit has largely suffered from tourism development and ‘hard-engineered’ sea defences and offers little special habitat for Lepidoptera, excepting the mines of Phyllocnistis xenia on the introduced White Poplars, but the abundance of Red Valerian does mean this is a favoured area for nectaring Humming-bird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum and Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria.
The remainder of the spit is semi-natural. The depressed central area of the spit becomes flooded in winter, supporting willow-birch-alder scrub with ponds, small areas of flower rich dune slack and marshy grassland. The scrub held the first Devon colony of Cream-bordered Green Pea Earias clorana, whilst Puss Moth Cerura vinula caterpillars are regularly found and Lunar Hornet Moth Sesia bembeciformis and Red-tipped Clearwing Synanthedon formicaeformis have also been recorded. This area is also a good source of leafminers and case-bearers with scarcer species such as Stigmella prunetorum & Coleophora coracipennella on Blackthorn and C. binderella on Alder.
Red-tipped Clearwing at Dawlish Warren (Alan Keatley)
The ponds and associated reeds host a good selection of wainscots with Fen Arenostola phragmitidis, Obscure Leucania obsoleta and Twin-spot Lenisa geminipuncta notable and three species of China-mark also recorded.
The grasslands are often full of Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendula and Yellow Belle Aspitates ochrearia, with Prochoreutis myllerana, P. sehestediana and Red Sword-grass Xylena vetusta also present.
The majority of the Outer Warren is a mix of semi-fixed dune grassland and bramble scrub with a mobile dune ridge, with areas of embryo dune now largely restricted to Warren Point. It is these areas that hold most of the rarer species including Anerastia lotella and Bryotropha umbrosella both at their only VC3 location. Other range restricted species can often be numerous including Synaphe punctalis and Pediasia contaminella.
Anerastia lotella (Patrick Clement)
The fixed grassland on Warren Point holds the bulk of the site’s remaining populations of Cinnabar Tyria jacobaeae and Brown-tail Euproctis chrysorrhoea. Caterpillars of the latter species can appear in large numbers and often attach themselves to humans when searching for new areas to defoliate. This rather irritating habit led the Dawlish Warren Recording Group to sponsor this species in the recent national atlas!
The dunes hold specialised species such as Beautiful Gothic Leucochlaena oditis, Shore Wainscot Mythimna litoralis, Sand Dart Agrotis ripae, Archer’s Dart A. vestigialis and Crescent Dart A. trux, whilst areas of Pellitory-of-the-wall hold both Cosmopterix pulchrimella and Bloxworth Snout Hypena obsitalis. Stands of Prickly Saltwort on the foredunes host the only Devon population of Gymnancyla canella.
Gymnancyla canella (Patrick Clement)
The Inner Warren (no public access) has been a golf course for over 100 years and historically has been stable, supporting fixed-dune grassland with strips of rare dune heathland. The estuarine side of the spit supports an area of saltmarsh and thereafter expanses of estuarine mudflats. The Golf Course roughs support a similar range of species noted above, as well as populations of Opostega salaciella and Aroga velocella, the latter at its only site in Devon. The saltmarsh also has a range of specialist species including Plain Pug Eupithecia simpliciata, Coleophora maritimella, Phalonidia affinitana and Ancylosis oblitella.
In addition to the wealth of resident species, Dawlish Warren is also well placed to receive migrants and in the right conditions large numbers of Plutella xylostella, Nomophila noctuella and Silver Y Autographa gamma can be flushed during the day. Other migrants such as Humming-bird Hawk-moth and Convolvulus Hawk-moth Agrius convolvuli, Small Marbled Eublemma parva and Tebenna micalis have been recorded breeding.
More infrequent migrants include Ni Moth Trichoplusia ni, Vestal Rhodometra sacraria, Scarce Bordered Straw Helicoverpa armigera and Striped Hawk-moth Hyles livornica, with rarer species still including Diasemiopsis ramburialis, Spurge Hawk-moth Hyles euphorbiae and Crimson Speckled Utetheisa pulchella. Other visitors may or may not have travelled as far with Scarce Merveille du Jour Moma alpium, Double Line Mythimna turca, White Satin Moth Leucoma salicis and Water Ermine Spilosoma urticae all recorded, along with the first Devon record of Rosy Wave Scopula emutaria and the third of Elegia similella.
Despite all this there is still much to discover on site with new species recorded every year. In 2019, these included Stigmella anomalella, Phyllonorycter messaniella, P. rajella, Zelotherses paleana, Acentria ephemerella and Muslin Moth Diaphora mendica all presumably overlooked residents. Even with the relative lack of trapping in 2020, six further species have been found, including Red-tipped Clearwing, Agonopterix ocellana and Pammene aurana.
Many thanks to all those who have submitted records and photos over the years. The full species list can be found on the Dawlish Warren Recording Group website. If anyone has Dawlish Warren photos of species to illustrate the website please get in touch via [email protected]. Permission to run a light trap or pheromone lure on the Warren must first be sought from Teignbridge District Council or Dawlish Warren Golf Course.
The highlight of this autumn’s immigrant moths was the first Blair’s Wainscot (Sedina buettneri) ever recorded in Devon. It was caught by Richard Cottle on the night of 20th October in his garden trap at Ide, near Exeter. Richard reported that, in the morning gloom, he nearly dismissed the moth as a small individual of the widespread species Large Wainscot (Rhizedra lutosa), but thought it didn’t look right and thankfully potted it to have a proper look.
Blair’s Wainscot is a rare species in Britain, restricted to several river systems in Dorset and probably also occurs on the Isle of Wight. In addition, it has occasionally been recorded on the coast of south-east England and such moths are presumed to have been immigrants from continental Europe. There was considerable immigrant moth activity this autumn, at the time of the Devon record, so it is assumed to be a visitor. However, there is a slight but tantilizing possibility that the species might be established somewhere in the upper Exe Estuary.
Blair’s Wainscot recorded in Devon (Richard Cottle)
A stunning and rare Beautiful Marbled moth (Eublemma purpurina) was recorded this week in a garden in Exwick, Exeter by Adrian Colston. This species is a scarce immigrant from continental Europe, with only around 50 ever recorded in Britain. The Exwick sighting is only the third ever in Devon, after one near Ottery St Mary in 2006 and the other near Chittlehampton in 2012. It is also a very early sighting, as the vast majority of previous British sightings have been made between August and October. Hopefully this is a good omen for a summer of exciting and beautiful moths!
The Devon Moth Group Annual Report for 2019 has been published and distributed to Group members. It summarises 80,000 moth records (c.17,000 for micro-moths and c.63,000 for macro-moths) for the county last year from 286 recorders. The records have been compiled and verified by the County Moth Recorder, Dr Barry Henwood, and his fantastic team: Phil Barden, Darryl Rush, Phil Dean, Kim Leaver and Bob Heckford. Four new micro-moth species were recorded in Devon during 2019: Ectoedemia heringella, Parectopa ononidis, Monochroa palustrellus and Cochylidia implicitana. In addition, the first modern day record of Small Ranunculus was made when the moth was spotted in a pedestrian subway in Exeter. All the records will be shared with the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre and the National Moth Recording Scheme run by Butterfly Conservation. Many thanks to all the recorders who submitted sightings of moths in Devon during 2019.
A new, up-dated micro-moth checklist for Devon is now available on the Devon Moth Group website. This list, expertly produced by Devon Moth Group members Stella Beavan and Bob Heckford, includes over 1,000 species of micro-moths that have been recorded in the County. It has now been updated with recently added species and changes in scientific names, and has been reordered into the correct taxonomic order according to the Agassiz, Beavan & Heckford Checklist of the Lepidoptera of the British Isles.
The list provides a fantastic resource for anyone recording moths in Devon and DMG is extremely grateful to Stella and Bob for all their hard work creating, revising and maintaining it.
Among the larger moths, the pugs are notoriously tricky to identify. Some species are very distinctive, being boldly patterned and coloured, but others are definitely a challenge. Help is at hand, thanks to the publication of a new book, The Pug Moths of Devon by Phil Dean of Devon Moth Group.
Although not primarily intended as an identification guide, the new book will certainly help. It contains a detailed account of each pug moth recorded in Devon, including taxonomy, distribution maps, flight charts, and a colour photo of the adult (see example below). The Pug Moths of Devon is based on 34,000 records extracted from the Devon Moth Group database and is published in A4 format with 64 pages.