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Moth Report 2013

By Philip Strickland, Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s moth recorder.

All photographs copyright Philip Strickland.

With around 95% of Ireland’s moth species flying at night, moths are elusive and most nocturnal species are rarely seen by most people, unless specialist light trapping equipment is used. Their nocturnal habits mean that it is harder to monitor moth populations and make ourselves aware of their conservation status. In this article, Philip Strickland summarises the 2013 moth trends.

Moth recording in Ireland usually kicks off with the first mild nights in March or April. However last year with the prolonged cold spell numbers were extremely low everywhere in Ireland during the whole of spring. This trend continued into early summer and this was especially evident during the annual BioBlitz event on 24th and 25th May. At this event four different sites in Ireland were intensively trapped and all sites yielded disappointing results. Species such as the day flying Emperor Moth and the nocturnal Hebrew Character were well down in numbers compared to more favourable years.

Emperor Moth

The advent of June brought some relief from the cold weather and a corresponding upturn in moth activity. The day flying Narrow-bordered Bee-Hawk-moth was recorded in good numbers around the bogs of Kildare while new sites for the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet were found in a few different counties. Unlike the Six-spot Burnet moth which is especially found in coastal areas the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet is found inland, in wet grassland and fens and is much less common. The two species look very similar but habitat preferences help to distinguish the species.

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth.

Nocturnal species such as the Green Silver-lines, Beautiful Snout and True-lovers Knot were recorded in good numbers from several sites throughout Kildare.

The hot days and balmy nights of July were a godsend. After dusk it began ‘snowing’ moths around the traps and by dawn they were crammed full of exciting finds. On a good day in July it was possible to record over a hundred different species between daytime searches and light trapping at a single site. These high numbers, in terms of both different species and actual quantities trapped were mirrored by recorders throughout the country. The micro moth Endotricha flammealis was recorded for the first time in Ireland on the 18th July at a coastal site near Courtown, Wexford. The scarce but highly distinctive Hypercallia citrinalis was found at its usual haunt in The Burren along with large numbers of Transparent Burnets and Least Minors.

Garden Tiger.

Beautiful Snout.

Endotricha flamealis.

August continued to provide great ‘mothing’ weather being generally warm and dull. On the 5th of the month a Beautiful Hook-tip was trapped in Maynooth and this proved to be the first ever Irish record. Several Old Ladys were seen in the same town on the night of 7th August. Large numbers of Silver Ys and Six-Spot Burnets were seen by day in early August throughout the country.

Hypercallia citrinalis

Beautiful Hook-tip.

Death's-head Hawkmoth.

Favourable south easterly winds in autumn resulted in lots of migrants, and it proved to be the best year for them since 2006. In September and October there were records for Bedstraw Hawk-moth and Death’s-head Hawk-moth (a large, impressive, powerful species that squeaks like a mouse if disturbed and is able to enter hives to feed on honey unmolested by bees ) along with large numbers of more common migrants such as the Vestal, Rush Veneer and the Diamond-back Moth. The second Irish record for the Silver-striped Hawk-moth was recorded in Dublin on the 6th November while on the 8th a Stephen’s Gem was trapped at Murlough, Co. Down which was a first for Ireland.

The Vestal.

With over 1300 different species of moths in Ireland it is quite difficult to accurately say how they all fared in 2013. The warm weather in July and August certainly saw excellent numbers recorded however as is the case with butterflies, the conservation and management of suitable habitat is the most vital element in protecting the welfare of our moths. In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of people actively moth trapping and recording data for a central database. This is beginning to give a better indication of what species are present here and what we may need to do in order to ensure that we protect them.