A rare Bedstraw Hawk-moth (Hyles gallii) caterpillar was spotted in an Exmouth garden on 1st October. This impressive caterpillar, which can grow to 8cm in length, was feeding on Fuschia leaves. Adult moths of this species are scarce immigrants to Devon from continental Europe and two had been seen in early August, one in Chudleigh and the other in Seaton. Given the timing, the Exmouth caterpillar is probably the offspring of a female Bedstraw Hawk-moth that arrived on the south coast as part of the summer influx. (Photo by Jan Gannaway)
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.
Devon Moth Group members should have now received their copy of the 2015 Annual Report, which was published in late March.
Drawing on 42,000 moth records submitted during 2015, the Annual Report presents an overview of important sightings, analysis and a comprehensive species list.
Perhaps reflecting the lacklustre weather from late spring to early autumn, 2015 didn’t seem to be a vintage year for our resident moths. However, it was certainly an excellent year for immigration. Major early summer influxes of species such as Striped Hawk-moth, Small Mottled Willow and Bordered Straw, were accompanied by rarities such as Purple Marbled and Many-lined. The excitement continued in July and August with records of Jersey Mocha, Spurge Hawk-moth, Orache Moth, Splendid Brocade and Four-spotted. By the high standards of 2015, September was relatively quiet, but October yielded the first ever Devon record of Tunbridge Wells Gem and rarities such as Flame Brocade, Crimson Speckled and Clifden Nonpareil. And then the year ended on a high, during the unseasonally warm December (17.2°C was recorded at Teignmouth on 16th December), with the first ever county records of Syncopacma polychromella and Cornifrons ulceratalis, as well as sightings of Euchromius ocellea and Spoladea recurvalis among impressive numbers of more common immigrants.
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!
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.
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.
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.
2015 is shaping up to be a record year for moth immigration into Great Britain. Although the peak time of year for moth arrivals is autumn, there have already been substantial influxes from southern Europe.
Three species, in particular, have featured prominently both here in Devon and across the south during May and June; Bordered Straw (Heliothis peltigera), Small Mottled Willow (Spodoptera exigua) and Striped Hawk-moth (Hyles livornica). More recently, Small Marbled (Eublemma parva) has arrived in (relative) abundance. None are rare visitors, but the numbers seen so far this year, particularly of the first two species, are likely to break previous records.
Many moth recorders in Devon will have recorded at least one Bordered Straw and Small Mottled Willow this year, but only a lucky few have seen the stunning Striped Hawk-moth. One recorder, Mark Marshall, has had a great run of fortune, recording two Striped Hawk-moths and an Orache Moth (Trachea atriplicis), a scarce immigrant, at his home near Blackawton in the South Hams.
There’s little sign of an end to the migrant activity so keep recording and good luck!
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.
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!