One Million Moth Records

Devon Moth Group is celebrating the collection of one million moth sightings across the county.

The Group, which collects and checks all sightings of moths and their caterpillars reported in the county, has amassed the impressive total since its formation in 1997. The records date back to the mid-19th century and provide a long-term view of the changing wildlife of Devon.

The landmark millionth record was of a V-Pug, a small green moth with a characteristic black v-shaped mark on its wings, which was spotted by Devon Moth Group member Kevin Johns in his Newton Abbot garden.

V-Pug (Phil Dean)

V-Pug (Phil Dean)

Moth recording plays an important role in conservation as the information gathered shows which species are flourishing and which are in danger. The sightings then identify parts of Devon where threatened and declining moths still remain so that conservation action can be targeted effectively. All of the records gathered are shared with the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, Devon Wildlife Trust and the UK-wide National Moth Recording Scheme.

Around 1,700 moth species have been recorded in Devon, some two-thirds of the total for Britain. These include nationally important species such as the rare Scarce Blackneck, Beautiful Gothic and Devonshire Wainscot.

The V-Pug, which has the scientific name Chloroclystis v-ata, is a widespread species in Devon. Its unobtrusive caterpillars feed on the flowers of a wide variety of plants including Bramble, Dog-rose, Elder, Hawthorn and Hemp-agrimony. V-Pug moths are often found in gardens, where they are beautifully camouflaged resting against mottled foliage and algae-covered bark.

Gardeners can do a great deal to help moths, including planting a variety of moth-friendly flowers for nectar, especially native plants, keeping a few areas rough and untidy, and avoiding the use of insecticides wherever possible.

Kevin Johns, who has been a regular contributor to the Devon moth database, was delighted to learn that his V-Pug record turned out to be the one that passed the million mark. He said that it was “a brilliant surprise, really quite special”. Being retired, Kevin has many interests, moths being just one of them. He describes his garden as a small courtyard with a few shrubs and flower beds, but importantly says it is close to mature woodland which means that a good number of moths are attracted to his light-trap to be noted and released unharmed. “I’m really pleased with what I get”, he added.

Kevin Johns garden with moth-trap

Garden where the millionth moth record was made (Kevin Johns)


All the records submitted by volunteers in Devon are collated by the County Moth Recorder, Barry Henwood, who in turn passes them on to the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre whose manager, Ian Egerton, explains, “Devon Biodiversity Records Centre is a partnership-led organisation set up to gather information on Devon’s species and habitats. We ensure that biodiversity information feeds into decision-making locally and nationally, and over the last 25 years, our efforts have been underpinned significantly by the county’s huge network of volunteer recorders. Their passion and interest in specific species has created much of the data we now hold, and the level of knowledge and expertise within groups such as the Devon Moth Group, is key to supporting a conservation sector which could not operate without them”.

Sadly, moths, like so much of our wildlife, are in serious decline. For example, populations of the V-Moth (not to be confused with the V-Pug) have crashed by 99% in Britain since the 1960s, while the stunning Garden Tiger, once a familiar sight to naturalists, has slumped by 92%.

How to get involved in moth recording

Moth Night 2019

Moth Night, the UK’s annual celebration of moths and moth recording, takes place on the nights of Thursday 26th – Saturday 28th September 2019. People in Devon and across the country are being asked to keep a particular eye out for the spectacular Clifden Nonpareil, a.k.a. Blue Underwing, which has recolonised southern Britain recently after going extinct in the 1960s.

In the last two years, this impressive moth, with a 12cm wingspan and bright blue stripe on its black hindwings, has been spotted across Devon during September, so Moth Night 2019 is the prefect opportunity to try to find one.

Devon Moth Group is holding a public event at Meeth Quarry Devon Wildlife Trust reserve on Friday night with hopes of seeing this special species.

This is the 20th anniversary of Moth Night so organisers Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology hope that it will be the biggest yet. You can take part by attending an event, running a moth trap at home or, even better, in a new location or by searching for moths using a torch, ivy blossom or ‘sugar’ (more information on how to find moths). Please submit any moth sightings from the three nights (26-28 September), whether from your garden or further afield, via the Moth Night website. Good luck!

Moth Night 2019 flier

Moth Night 2019 flier

Box-tree Moth arrives in Devon

The first examples of Box-tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis have been recorded in Devon. Former County Moth Recorder, Roy McCormicl, caught the first in his Teignmouth garden moth-trap on 3rd July 2018. Remarkably, a second one (image below) was caught only a couple of nights later (on 5th July 2018), by Graham Davey in Tavistock. The appearance of two individuals in such a short space of time but 30 miles apart, strongly suggests that these moths arrived under their own steam, either dipersing from elsewhere in southern England or immigrating from continental Europe.

Box-tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis (Graham Davey)

Box-tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis (Graham Davey)

The eventual arrival of this Asian species in Devon was expected, as it is spreading rapdily westwards and northwards across Britain, after the first record in Kent in 2007. The following year, it was recorded in Surrey and Sussex and by 2010, had been seen as far afield as Cambridgeshire and Gloucestershire. Since then, Box-tree Moth, caterpillars of which feed on (and can defoliate)the shrub Box, has been found in many counties, including Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset, sometimes seemingly as a result of natural spread, but often as a result of the horticultural trade. It is well established in the London area and can be very abundant; over 800 were recorded in a light-trap on one night in Putney recently.

Box-tree Moth is also present in continental Europe, where the first reports came from Germany in 2007. Since then it has been observed in Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. It is quite possible, therefore, that Box-tree Moth sightings, including those in Devon, may relate to immigration.

Thanks to Mark Parsons, Butterfly Conservation, for additional information about the spread of Box-tree Moth.

Moth Night is here

Moth Night, the annual celebration of moths and moth recording, has come around again and takes place on the three days and nights of 14 – 16 June 2018.

The UK-wide event, organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, will focus on pyralid moths (the families Pyralidae and Crambidae), the first time that micro-moths have been the official theme of Moth Night in its 20-year existence.

Over the past 30 years, some 28 new species of pyralid have been recorded in Britain, some the result of natural migration, others accidentally imported e.g. with plants for the horticultural trade. Eight of these have already become established in Britain, including Evergestis limbata, which has colonised parts of Devon. First recorded in Britain in 1994 on the Isle of Wight, the first Devon record was in 2004 in Kingsteignton. Since then, this pretty yellow and brown moth has been found all along the Teign Estuary from Teignmouth and Shaldon to Kingsteignton, as well as at Exmouth and around Newton Abbot. How much further has it got? Keep a look out for it for Moth Night and submit any sightings at www.mothnight.info

Evergestis limbata (Les Evans-Hill)

Evergestis limbata (Les Evans-Hill)

Aside from new species, there are plenty of native pyralid moths to look out for in Devon this week. These include the Mint Moth Pyrausta aurata, a little purple and gold jewel of an insect found fluttering in the daytime in herb patches and flowerbeds, the distinctive, black and white spotted Small Magpie Anania hortulata and common immigrants such as the Rusty-dot Pearl Udea ferrugalis.

Pyrausta aurata (Patrick Clement)

Mint Moth (Patrick Clement)

Small Magpie (Iain Leach)

Small Magpie (Iain Leach)

Moth Night activities don’t have to focus on pyralids, of course. There are hundreds of different moth species on the wing in Devon at this time of year and records of any and all of them seen on the three days and nights of Moth Night 2018 are very welcome.

Why not take the opportunity to get out and record moths somewhere new, or introduce family or friends to the wonders of moths? On the Friday night or Saturday morning, you are very welcome to attend the Devon Moth Group field meeting at the Norman Lockyear Observatory near Sidmouth (see Events).

Please submit all your sightings via the online recording form on the Moth Night website, so that we can build up a picture of all the activity and records during the event (all records are subsequently passed on to County Moth Recorders).

Record year

The Devon Moth Group Annual Report for 2017 has now been published and distributed to members. The report summarises a record-breaking number of sightings – nearly 64,000 moth records for the year submitted by over 220 Devon naturalists and visiting moth enthusiasts.

Highlights included records of three micro-moth species never previously recorded in the county, Lyonetia prunifoliella, Tuta absoluta and Coleophora alcyonipennella, the best ever year for Clifden Nonpareil and the joint best year for Jersey Mocha, both of which may now have colonised parts of Devon. Other exciting sightings included the first Large Red-belted Clearwing record for 20 years, the second and third ever Devon records of Little Thorn, the second ever record of the immigrant Golden Twin-spot and the first North Devon record of Mere Wainscot since 1960!

Many thanks to everyone who sent in 2017 sightings and to Barry Henwood, the County Moth Recorder, and his team of helpers for collating and verifying all the data! All of the records are shared with the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre and the National Moth Recording Scheme.

Annual Report 2017 cover

Devon Moth Group Annual Report 2017

Records resolution

Happy New Year from Devon Moth Group!

There are still a few moths on the wing, even at this time of year, including the aptly named Winter Moth (see image below taken on the evening of 29th December 2017), but mainly this is the season for sorting out and submitting all your moth records from the year gone by.

Any sightings of moths in Devon are useful and will, after checking, go into the Devon Moth Group database to increase knowledge and support the conservation of these important insects. All of the data are also shared with the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, Devon Wildlife Trust and the National Moth Recording Scheme run by Butterfly Conservation.

So if it is not too late for New Year’s resolution, why not make it your mission to submit some sightings. There is information about how to log and send your moth records and, if you get them in before 14 January, your records will feature in the 2017 Devon Moth Group Annual Report. If you can’t make that deadline, just forward your records on when you can – we’ll always be grateful to receive them!

Winter Moth on window

Winter Moth on window (Richard Fox)

The Moth beyond compare

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 (Nick Roach)

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

Clifden Nonpareil (Nick Roach)

What is flying when?

Different moths fly at different times of the year so there is an ever changing line-up of species for moth recorders to enjoy as the weeks go by. While the peak in species richness happens in the first half of the summer, there are plenty of autumn species (and even a few winter specialists) to look forward to in the next few months.

The time of year, therefore, provides an important clue to help with the identification of moths that you might see. While UK field guides to moths give general information about the flight periods of each species, there may be differences between the overall UK situation and the timing in Devon.

Using data from the Devon Moth Group database, Phil Dean has created two really useful resources about the timing (phenology) of moths in the county. One shows the main flight period (in months) for each macro-moth species and the other lists the macro-moth species likely to be on the wing in Devon in each month of the year.

Flight period information about Devon moths can be found here.

Barred Sallow (Iain Leach)

Barred Sallow (Iain Leach)

Sponsor a moth

Members of Devon Moth Group have been working hard over recent years to ensure that Devon is well recorded for the forthcoming Britain and Ireland moth atlas. It promises to be a landmark publication and now Butterfly Conservation are offering the chance to sponsor a moth in the new book. All the money raised will be used to publish the atlas.

Each species will have only one sponsor and there are two ways to try to get your name against your favourite species, while contributing to a worthwhile cause.

1. Auction – moth sponsorships are being auctioned online in six batches, each lasting a month. The first auction is live now and you can bid for the right to sponsor species such as Gold Spot, Oak Beauty, Delicate, Four-spotted Footman and even the humble Common Marbled Carpet. Each sponsorship has a reserve price of £25, £50 or £100 depending on the species. At the end of the month, the highest bidder for each species will win the right to sponsor it in their own name or to dedicate it to someone else.

2. Reservation – if you don’t want to take a chance in the aution and have your heart set on sponsoring a particular species, you can reserve it in advance by paying double the reserve price.

You can find out more and see a listing of all the species, when they will be auctioned and which ones have already been reserved on the Butterfly Conservation website.

The first auction will finish on 31 May, so if you want to support this great fundraising cause have a look online soon.

Emperor Moth (Iain Leach)

First field meeting of year

Devon Moth Group’s first field meeting of 2017 takes place on Saturday evening (20th May) at Blackberry Camp. Moth traps will be run from dusk onwards to find out which moth species live at this wooded Iron Age hill fort located between Honiton and Sidmouth. Group members and members of the public are equally welcome. Full details of this event and others arranged for this summer and autumn can be found on the Events page.

Moth trapping (Patrick Clement)

Moth trapping (Patrick Clement)