Giant Palm-Sized Moths Invade Britian

Conservationists are calling on Britons to record sightings of a massive continental moth whose tongue is longer than its body.

The palm-sized Convolvulus Hawk-moth migrates from southern Europe to Britain in early autumn and has already been sighted widely across the UK in recent weeks, with a record number expected this year.

The Convolvulus, which is one of the largest moths in Europe, drinks nectar from tobacco plant flowers using its 7.5cm-long proboscis and also feasts on wine.

Every year, several hundred of the moths are spotted and numbers are believed to be increasing, with some seen as far north as North Yorkshire and Shetland.

As part of this year’s Moth Night celebrations, experts at Butterfly Conservation are urging members of the public to look for the Convolvulus and other migrant species to help build a clearer picture of moth migration into the UK.

“It has already been an amazing year for moth immigration and such activity usually peaks in early autumn,” said Richard Fox, head of recording at Butterfly Conservation.

“With migrants such as the massive Convolvulus Hawk-moth mixing with beautiful home-grown autumnal species, Moth Night is a great opportunity to discover the hidden wonders of our nocturnal wildlife at a public event or even in your own back garden.”

Crimson Speckled MothCrimson Speckled Moth  Photo: Robert Thompson / Butterfly Conservation

Around 40 species of migrant moths have appeared in the UK for the first time in the last 15 years with a small number becoming established, such as the black-spotted Chestnut.

Other species that were long considered occasional migrants have now also become established UK residents in recent years, such as the Tree-lichen Beauty, Oak Rustic, Sombre Brocade, Blair’s Mocha, Flame Brocade and Clifden Nonpareil.

Continental swallowtail butterflyContinental swallowtail butterfly  Photo: Neil Hulme / Butterfly Conservation

The apparent increase in migrant records could reveal important information about the effects of climate change on UK moth populations.

Migrant moths will come to moth-traps, but can also be attracted by hanging out ropes soaked in alcohol, preferably wine – in a practice known as wine roping.

Long-tailed-Blue butterflyLong-tailed-Blue butterfly  Photo: Neil Hulme / Butterfly Conservation

Another moth-attracting technique, known as sugaring, involves painting a mixture of sugar, syrup and beer onto a post or tree trunk.

The Convolvulus has a 12cm wingspan, but is capable of pin-point precision flight as it hovers to drink nectar from deep tubular tobacco plant flowers using its long proboscis.

Queen of Spain fritillaryQueen of Spain fritillary  Photo: Peter Eeles / Butterfly Conservation

Other moths to look out for include the Death’s-Head Hawk-moth, which is a historical omen of death, which reportedly sent King George III mad and appeared in the film Silence of the Lambs.

The Crimson Speckled moth, which is usually found in North Africa and Southern Europe, is another species to spot after higher than average numbers were recorded along the south coast last year.

Clifden Nonpareil mothClifden Nonpareil moth  Photo: Mark Parsons / Butterfly Conservation

Last year also saw the largest number of Vestal moths entering the UK for half a century.

The delicately patterned Vestal is typically found in North Africa and Southern Europe and last autumn it was found as far north as Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Rosy underwing mothRosy underwing moth  Photo: Mark Parsons / Butterfly Conservation

Moth Night, which runs from Thursday until Saturday, is organised by UK charity Butterfly Conservation and Atropos, the UK journal for moth and butterfly enthusiasts.

Mark Tunmore, editor of Atropos, said: “We will be remaining extra vigilant at Atropos’s headquarters in Cornwall over the Moth Night period.

“For many decades this area has been a famous location for visiting moth enthusiasts, hoping to see some of the rarer visitors to our shores at this time of year.

“One of the great things about moth recording is that immigrant species have the potential to turn up anywhere in the UK so you don’t have to live in the south or even at the coast to have a chance of observing something unusual and I encourage everyone to get involved, wherever they might live.”

Red Admiral butterflyRed Admiral butterfly  Photo: Neil Hulme / Butterfly Conservation

Moth recorders at UK migration hotspots have been colour marking some moths caught in the days leading up to Moth Night and organisers will be asking people to keep an eye out for marked moths in the hope that it might reveal more information about insect migration. Anyone who finds a marked moth is asked to record it online.

at a glance

What is the Convolvulus Hawk-moth?

  • A large species of moth with a wingspan of more than 10cm
  • It is an annual migrant to the UK from southern Europe and North Africa, with influxes peaking in September
  • It hovers in front of garden flowers to drink their nectar and can be spotted at dusk
  • The most effective plant to attract this moth is the Tobacco Plant Nicotiana ‘Sensation Mixed’
  • There are other species of Nicotiana which are attractive to UK moths but not to the Convolvulus Hawk-moth

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