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Moths by Pete

I have been recording moths since 1989 regularly running a UV actinic light trap at my previous home in Cottingham until we sold the house in 2002, and in my present garden at Yew Cottage, Kilnsea, near Spurn Head from 2001 until the present. In addition I used to regularly empty the MV Robinson trap at Tophill Low Nature Reserve from 1990 to 2000. I have also run Heath traps or sugared from time to time at Spurn/Kilnsea since about 1990 and occasionally recorded moths from other sites such as North Cliffe Wood, Beverley, and Hollym. Click here to view my moth lists for Cottingham, Tophill Low, and Kilnsea at Yew Cottage. Over such a relatively long period, it would be difficult to know where to select highlights. I have been fortunate to record several new [VC 61] vice county species and two new species for Yorkshire, namely Ptycholomoides aeriferanus taken at UV light at Cottingham on 8th July 1992 and Coleophora taeniipennella taken at MV light at Tophill Low NR on 9th July 1998. Another memorable moth, also taken in the Robinson trap at Tophill Low NR, was Beautiful Hook-tip on 16th July 1997; it was the first to be taken in Yorkshire since Porritt (1883-6).

Spurn and Kilnsea Area Moths

Most of my mothing these days has centred on the Spurn Head and Kilnsea area. Spurn is one of the most important sites in Yorkshire for the recording of moths and butterflies. Several factors contribute to this importance: firstly its geographical position at the extreme south-east corner of the county makes it a natural entry point where those species which are extending their range northwards into Yorkshire and beyond as a result of climatic warming are able to gain a foothold prior to further expansion; secondly its exposed coastline makes it a natural landing place not only for bird migrants and vagrants but also for moths and butterflies flying in from across the sea; thirdly the peninsula combines a blend of habitats—including sand dunes and saltmarsh—that is unique in Yorkshire; and finally, the area has been particularly fortunate in attracting the interest of naturalists, including entomologists and lepidopterists, from as far back as the late nineteenth century whilst detailed moth and butterfly recording has been carried out in the area on a regular and systematic basis over the last three decades.







Our Moth Page

Most of the moths taken at Spurn are resident species that live on the peninsula, their caterpillars feeding on the plants that grow there. The bulk of these moths are relatively common and may be found elsewhere in Yorkshire. However since Spurn is the only area in Yorkshire where reasonably large areas of sand dunes and saltmarsh are found in close proximity, many species of moth which are dependent on these habitats and their plants, are restricted to Spurn (or at least found only in large numbers there) in their Yorkshire distribution pattern. Such ‘Spurn specials’ are the Sharp-angled Peacock (Semiothisa alternata), Star-wort (Cucullia asteris), Sand Dart (Agrotis ripae), Crescent Striped (Apamea oblonga), Lyme Grass (Chortodes elymi), and Saltern Ear (Amphipoea fucosa paludis), to name some of the more well-known ones.


Spurn is a notable site for immigrant species. Among the more common species of macro-moth, Silver Y (Autographa gamma), Dark Sword-grass (Agrotis ipsilon), and Pearly Underwing (Peridroma saucia), are recorded regularly every year. The Silver Y, especially, can sometimes be taken at light or seen feeding on flowers during the day in very large numbers. As with birds, large influxes of immigrant moths and butterflies of one or more species may occur when the conditions are right. For example, on 10th August 1988, some 200 butterflies comprising nine species were recorded as moving down the peninsula in one hour. In years of high immigrant activity, common species such as Silver Y and the micro-moths, Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) and Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella), have been recorded flying or resting during the daytime in their thousands. Even the less common immigrants such as Bordered Straw (Heliothis peltigera) are occasionally recorded by day in good numbers; for example on 24th August 1996, 16 Bordered Straw were seen feeding on flowers along the peninsula with Silver Ys. These numbers, however, were totally eclipsed in 2006, which saw a huge influx, nationally and locally,  of both Bordered Straw and its cousin, Scarce Bordered Straw (Helicoverpa  armigera). In the Spurn and Kilnsea area, south of Long Bank, an astonishing total of no less than 140 Scarce Bordered Straws and 55 Bordered Straws were recorded at light during that year! Other less common macro-moth immigrants recorded regularly, if only in single figures, are Gem (Orthonama obstipata), Vestal (Rhodometra sacraria), Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), Convolvulus Hawk-moth (Agrius convolvuli), Delicate (Mythimna vitellina), and Great Brocade (Eurois occulta). Also on the list are such comparative rarities as White-speck (Mythimna unipuncta), White-point (M. albipuncta), Spotted Clover (Schinia scutosa), Pine Hawk-moth (Hyloicus pinastri), Bedstraw Hawk-moth (Hyles gallii), Death’s Head Hawk-moth (Acherontia atropos), and even greater rarities such as Eastern Nycteoline (Nycteola asiatica)*, Golden Twin-spot (Chrysodeixis chalcites), Ni Moth (Trichoplusia ni), Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini), Purple Cloud (Actinotia polyodon), and Blackneck (Lygephila pastinum).



A species which was formerly regarded as an immigrant at Spurn, the Brown-tail (Euproctis chrysorrhoea), began to be recorded in very high numbers from 2004. Since that year it has become a (most unwelcome) resident species and has occurred in ever increasing numbers to reach almost plague proportions with its caterpillars’ webs festooning every bush of sea buckthorn on the Point and along the peninsula. It has become a real problem for both residents and visitors as the caterpillars’ hairs are toxic, and cause painful rashes when in contact with human skin .


Perhaps one of the most surprising moths ever to be caught at Spurn was the Maori (Graphania dives), a New Zealand moth, not previously recorded in Britain, which was caught at Spurn by day in July 1950. This was almost certainly an accidental introduction and may have come off a ship passing in the Humber. Such shipborne introductions are always possible, if unlikely, for a maritime site such as Spurn, and it is interesting to conjecture what other exotica might be forthcoming.

* This was the first specimen to be correctly identified in the UK.


Peach Blossom - Herald - Yellow Belle
Bordered Straw - Bedstraw Hawk-moth - Delicate
Brown-tail larvae - Adult moth
Sea buckthorn with larval webs