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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.