Sunday 23 October 2016

Nature lovers use alcohol and tobacco to lure huge continental hawk-moth

Published 10/09/2015 | 00:09

The convolvulus hawk-moth migrates from southern Europe (Keith Baldie, Butterfly Conservation)
The convolvulus hawk-moth migrates from southern Europe (Keith Baldie, Butterfly Conservation)

The age-old lures of alcohol and tobacco are being employed by nature lovers as part of a bid to attract a huge continental moth whose tongue is longer than its body.

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The convolvulus hawk-moth, which has a 12cm (5 inch) wingspan, migrates from southern Europe and a few hundred are spotted each year in the UK, mainly in the late summer and early autumn.

Moth-lovers are hoping to lure the hawk-moth to their gardens with the nectar of the deep tubular flowers of tobacco plants, which the moth likes to feed on using its 7.5cm (3 inch) proboscis as it hovers with pinpoint precision.

It is just one of a number of exotic moths which people may spot during the "moth night" celebrations over the next few nights, which organisers Atropos and Butterfly Conservation hope will help build a better picture of moth migration in the UK.

Alongside traps luring moths with light, moth-lovers are employing some more boozy attractions, including "wine roping", hanging out ropes soaked in alcohol such as wine, and "sugaring" which involves painting tree trunks or posts with sugar, syrup and beer.

Among the species that could be seen are around 40 species of migrating moths which have appeared in the UK for the first time in the last 15 years, with some such as the black-spotted chestnut becoming established here.

Other species which were long considered occasional visitors to the UK have also become established, including the tree-lichen beauty, oak rustic, sombre brocade and Clifden nonpareil.

The changes to moth migration could reveal important information about the impacts of climate change on populations of the insects, experts said.

Butterfly Conservation's head of recording Richard Fox said: "It has already been an amazing year for moth migration and such activity usually peaks in early autumn.

"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."

Even if people do not have moth traps or their alcoholic alternatives, they can just go out into the garden to the plants and flowers that attract bees and butterflies during the day and have a look at the moths making up the "pollinator night shift", he said.

Mark Tunmore, editor of Atropos, said: "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."

Spectacular immigrants people should look out for include the death's-head hawk-moth and the crimson speckled moth.

Moth-recorders have been colour-marking some moths at migration hotspots in the days leading up to moth night, which runs from September 10-12, and people are being asked to look out for marked moths which could provide more information about migration.

:: For information about events and to report a marked moth, people can go to

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