Early arrival

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)

Moth talks

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.

Happy watching!

The Moths of Dawlish Warren

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)

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)

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)

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.

Kevin Rylands, Dawlish Warren Recording Group

Annual report for 2019 published

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.

Devon Moth Group Annual Report 2019

Devon Moth Group Annual Report 2019

The Pug Moths of Devon

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.

Copies cost £7.00 (+ £3.00 p&p) and can be obtained by emailing [email protected]

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

Rare Bedstraw Hawk-moth caterpillar spotted

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)

2019 field meetings

The programme of Devon Moth Group outdoor meetings for the coming months is now available on the Events page.

Eight field meetings have been organised by our volunteer leaders and partner organisations. All of the events involve night-time moth trapping and are a great way to see new species, to experience the excitement of nocturnal moth recording in the company of experts and to help improve knowledge of the distributions and changing fortunes of Devon’s moths.

Moth Night 2012 event at Paignton Zoo
Devon Moth Group field meeting

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).