Rare flame brocade moth is established in the UK

Flame brocade moth (Image: Michael Blencowe) The location of the new colony is being kept under wraps in order to protect the rare moths

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The charity Butterfly Conservation says that the rare moth typically found in the Mediterranean has become established in the UK.

The flame brocade moth appears to have started a new colony on the south coast of England.

Researchers from the charity have attributed the arrival of an unusually high number of migrant species to the recent warm weather.

They described this year's migration season as the best in years.

MOTH OR BUTTERFLY?

Cinnabar is an unusually colourful moth (Image: Les Hill)
  • Moths and butterflies both belong to the order Lepidoptera - but if you look closely, it is relatively easy to spot the difference
  • Moths tend to have thick, fuzzy bodies, whereas butterfly bodies are usually thin and smooth
  • Butterflies are active during the day but moths get busy at night; there are exceptions though, such as the hummingbird hawk moth, which flies both day and night
  • Butterflies tend to be more brightly coloured than moths, although there are some very colourful moths, such as the cinnabar (pictured)

Some of the insects will have flown for three or four days to get to the UK, on the back of a helpful southerly tailwind.

The organisation's head of moth conservation, Mark Parsons, said: "Autumn is usually a good time for immigrant species, but it's the sheer number and diversity this year that's special."

The flame brocade, perhaps the most significant arrival, was first spotted by chance in a back garden in Sussex.

Michael Blencowe, BC's officer in the county said: "I'd never seen one of these moths before so I grabbed my net and went off to find out if there were any others about at a suitable site nearby.

"I saw 10 that night and there have been recordings of 20 or more there every night since"

In the past just a few flame brocades have been spotted on UK shores; this is the largest number seen in the country for 130 years. It has led experts to suggest that there may now be a moth colony on the site.

Strange visitors

In Dorset, the moth made famous by the film Silence of the Lambs has been seen at an RSPB nature reserve. The death's head hawk moth has a striking skull-like pattern on its thorax.

Large numbers of vestal moths and several crimson speckled moths have also been flying around the south coast of England and Wales. And the extremely rare tropical species, Spoladea recurvalis, has been recorded this year for the first time ever in Ireland, and for only the second time in Scotland.

It all adds up to the best year for migrating moths since 2006, which contrasts with a rather more bleak picture for the UK's native species.

Overall numbers of have fallen by a third in the last 35 years. Their natural habitat is slowly being eaten away by development and commercial farming.

There will be more on this story on Autumnwatch which begins on Friday at 2030 on BBC Two.

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