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)
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!
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.
Clifden Nonpareil seen near Culmstock on 26th September 2017 (Nick Roach)
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!
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.
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.