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Moth new to Britain found in Berkshire

On 8 October 2009, Julian Dobbins from Upper Bucklebury got in touch to say that his daughter, Katie (age 6) had found a moth in their house that looked unusual. Julian posted the details on iSpot, and after some searching I came to the conclusion that this was something very unusual indeed.

The moth is very distinctive and I became convinced it must be the Euonymus Leaf-notcher, Pryeria sinica, a species native to Asia, but also introduced to the USA since 2001. I requested help from Martin Honey at the Natural History Museum, who was able to confirm the species (and also got additional confirmation from a colleague in Taiwan, where the moth is native). It is in family Zygaenidae, related to our more familar burnets and foresters. We will be writing up the full details for publication in the Entomologist's Gazette, and Katie's moth is being passed to the Natural History Museum for their collections.

We don't of course know whether this is the first sign of a species about to colonise the UK, or whether it just got imported with a plant as a one-off. So, please do keep a look out for any more of these moths. They are day-flyers, and in both Asia and the States their flight-period is October-December. Caterpillars feed on Euonymus (Spindle) shrubs (and maybe also the less familiar Celastrus, Oriental Bittersweet), forming fairly obvious colonies in the spring.

Some of Julian's photos are shown above. A possible sighting in Spain from last June has subsequently come to light on the Back Garden Moths website, and there is more about the moth on these American links:
I only know of one other instance of a moth new to Britain being found in Berkshire: the Cameo, for which the first (and so far only) record was at Cockpole Green in 1979.

Thanks to Katie for being such an observant wildlife-watcher, and to Martin Honey for confirming the identification.

The Open University press office have made good use of the story and so far it's been picked up by the Express, Mail and Mirror. As usual the papers have their own perspective on this, and according to taste the moth is either the "UK's rarest moth" or the next major pest outbreak.

FURTHER COVERAGE: Independent, Daily Telegraph, Newbury Weekly News, Reading Post

Photos © Julian Dobbins