Belfast Telegraph

It's big, it's ugly and when it hits you, you'll know about it - giant moths spotted in Northern Ireland

BY LINDA STEWART

They're on the march – so watch out!

The enormous elephant hawk- moth has descended on Northern Ireland.

And they're big, furry and pack a punch if they fly into you.

But we do have a temporary reprieve. At the moment their huge caterpillars are showing up in gardens and patios everywhere, but they won't transform into adult moths until next summer.

Butterfly Conservation has recorded six sightings in the past three days of the caterpillars, which resemble an elephant's trunk with eye-spots.

The out-sized variety is one of a number of migratory moths and butterflies that have made the long journey from the Continent this summer, drawn by the unusually warm weather.

There's a good chance of spotting its equally huge cousin, the hummingbird hawk-moth. Spokeswoman Catherine Bertrand explained: "This is the lovely thing about migrants – you don't have to be a scientist to see them.

"They can turn up anywhere, even your garden."

Moths are often seen as the poor cousins of butterflies but are much more diverse, with more than 1,000 species in Ireland alone, according to Butterfly Conservation.

And this week provides the perfect opportunity to investigate our moths, with the fine weather bringing them out in their hordes.

Butterfly Conservation is running a series of events around the country until tomorrow for Moth Night, a celebration of these often spectacular insects. You can keep your eyes peeled for the fluttering adults that fly by day or night, but watching out for the caterpillars may prove as rewarding as they come in all shapes and sizes.

Catherine added: "Moths and butterflies are easiest to see in their adult form but at this time of year there are several crazy caterpillars that are easy to find and easy to record.

"Caterpillars are the stage in which many of our butterflies and moths spend the majority of their lives, feeding hungrily every day in order to have enough energy to develop further into their adult form.

"At this time of year many caterpillars, almost fully grown and very vulnerable, go wandering about to try and find somewhere safe to pupate.

"Pupation involves the forming of their chrysalis in which they will stay, gradually going through the change from a caterpillar into an adult butterfly or moth, emerging next year.

"Caterpillars form one of the most important parts of the diet of many of our bird and mammal species.

"Only a tiny number from any batch of butterfly or moth eggs survive to become an adult which can lay eggs itself – most are picked off by predators, disease and growth problems before even reaching the chrysalis stage."

Anyone can have a go at Moth Night – just turn on the outside light and see what shows up. Photos can be shared with Butterfly Conservation on Facebook to get help with identification.

If you see any of the caterpillars or moths, you can also report your sightings to Butterfly Conservation at www.bcni.org.uk ->sightings ->submit a sighting.

FACTFILE

The hummingbird hawk-moth is an immigrant species which sometimes occurs in large numbers. There was a large influx in the summer of 2000, when moths were observed in parks and gardens all over Britain. The species was again quite common in 2006. This distinctive insect flies in the sunshine and hovers in front of flowers, sipping the nectar with its long proboscis, very much like the hummingbird from which it takes its name. The larvae feed on straw, and some of these may hatch and give rise to autumn adults in an influx year.

 

 

All a-flutter over our beautiful butterflies making a comeback

 

And they're back! It's been a horrendous few years for butterflies, but many much-missed species are showing up in our gardens again.

Butterflies are a kind of barometer for the countryside – if they do badly, then it shows there's something wrong, according to Butterfly Conservation.

So it's good to see some of our most colourful garden denizens making an appearance again after a cold, wet 2012 – the worst year on record for butterflies.

Catherine Bertrand of Butterfly Conservation says butterflies were already struggling due to habitat loss and development, but the cold weather of 2010, 2011 and 2012 pushed them into severe decline.

"In 2013 it's a different story. Despite the exceptionally long and cold winter, we have been experiencing one of the longest consistent spells of warm weather in over a decade," she said.

At the moment volunteers across Northern Ireland are on the final leg of the Big Butterfly Count and are spotting all sorts of butterflies that have been absent for the last few years, including the clouded yellow, the silver-Y moth, the red admiral and the painted lady.

And Catherine is calling on people across Northern Ireland to get involved in the butterfly hunt during the final weekend of the Big Butterfly Count.

"Help us keep track of their progress by taking 15 minutes in the sunshine and log your sightings as part of Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count www.bigbutterflycount.org."

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