Another micro-moth added to Assynt list

June 17th 2024

Another micro-moth added to Assynt list

It was only last month that Field Club Secretary, Gwen Richards posted her own report of a micro-moth new to the North West Highlands.

Last Friday, 14th June 2024, we were just getting ready to go out. That got delayed when Avril noticed a small, colourful moth on the inner surface of a plastic tree guard that we use to keep the sheep away from our plants.

At first, we thought it was an early Magpie moth, Abraxas grossulariata. However, when we partially opened the guard for a better look it was clearly too small. In addition, it lacked the typical yellow band on the forewings.

Lots of Assynt’s wildlife is new to us so a few photographs were taken to hopefully help us identify the moth later on.

Home again and we went to our well used copy of Townsend and Waring’s ‘Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland’. No luck! It wasn’t there!

That guide book only covers the macro-moths so perhaps our specimen was a micro-moth? We don’t have any sort of guide to these much smaller moths. If you read Gwen’s article, you’ll realise that more often than not a guide book won’t help anyway.

Next search

Next thing to try was the moth section on the website of Butterfly Conservation.

Here’s their introduction to micro-moths-

“There are more species of micro-moths in Britain and Ireland than larger (macro-) moths. Some are very small and difficult to identify (hindered further by a lack of identification guides for some groups) and are the preserve of experts. However, many micro-moths are distinctive and can be readily identified even by novice moth recorders.’  

It’s great that, with those last three (maybe five) words they recognise folk like us exist!

A quick search of their ‘A-Z of moths’ and we had our answer. It was a micro-moth, the Small Magpie, Anania hortulata.

What next? As we had never heard of this moth it would be interesting to know how often it had been recorded in Assynt. Our first search in this regard is always the NBN Atlas Scotland.

The answer there was ‘never’! Always exciting. Next was to contact the County Moth Recorder, Graham Crittenden who is based in Melvich. Graham replied the next day.

“Yes, it’s a Small Magpie one of the larger and glitzier micro moths. The NBN maps are not up to date and although the micro moth field guide map shows Small Magpie in VC108 there isn’t actually a documented record. Strangely, I had one in my trap on 1 June so your one is the second for the VC. There are only a handful of records north of Inverness so it’s certainly not a common moth up here.”

For us a very exciting find and it was fun to know it took the County Recorder to keep us from having the first VC (vice-county) record. It is however the first Assynt record.

Vice-county?

VC you might well be asking? Vice-counties are the “standard geographical area for county based […] recording”. For a clear and fuller insight here’s an item on Wikipedia. Assynt lies within VC108 West Sutherland.

Last thing. Remember the NBN maps/records are not up to date being possibly a couple of years ‘behind’.  A useful comparison can still be made concerning the number of records UK wide. Scotland currently shows 378 records of the Small Magpie moth while the total for the UK is 22648.

Perhaps these two very recent northerly records are in some way connected with climate change?

David Haines

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