New Moth Species Found At Murlough Nature Reserve

Murlough Nature Reserve is a favourite area for mothers in Northern Ireland.

Murlough Nature Reserve is a favourite area for mothers in Northern Ireland.

New moth species recorded for the first time in Northern Ireland:

  • The False Cacao moth was recently identified at Murlough National Nature Reserve, the first recording of this species in Northern Ireland
  • The discovery brings the species count for moths and butterflies at the reserve to 793, the largest number of moths and butterflies recorded at a site in Northern Ireland.
  • Of the 793 recorded species, 36 were new to Northern Ireland, four were new to Ireland and at least 15 are migrant moths from southern Europe, the Tropics and North America.

The recent identification of the False Cacao Moth at Murlough National Nature Reserve (NNR) in County Down reinforces the reserve’s position as the site with the most recorded species of moths and butterflies in Northern Ireland.

Only Crom Estate in Fermanagh comes close, but it’s still around 190 species behind Murlough NNR’s impressive total.

Murlough NNR is a fragile 6000-year-old sand dune system cared for by the National Trust and managed as one of Ireland’s finest nature reserves.

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The False Cacao moth discovered at Murlough Nature Reserve. (Image courtesy of the National Trust).

The reserve boasts a diverse range of fauna and supports over 790 species of butterfly and moths[1] including the UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) priority species, the marsh fritillary butterfly.

Andrew Crory started moth trapping here when he was a seasonal warden at the reserve in 2000. Today he works as a Nature Reserves Manager for Ulster Wildlife but he continues to volunteer for the National Trust at Murlough NNR, and as an expert moth trapper he also holds the title of Northern Ireland Moth Recorder.

Andrew’s latest discovery of the False Cacao Moth brings the species count for moths and butterflies within the boundary of Murlough NNR to 793.

Murlough Nature Reserve is very well populated with a wide range of species of moths.

He said: “During the summer season I can see over 100 species (and many hundreds of individuals) in the one trap each day,” Andrew explains.

“I can spend an hour or more recording every moth by species and their number. It can lead to a few headaches, as moths can be tricky to identify!”

Andrew has found and identified many interesting moth species, some of real conservation importance and quite a few that are new to Northern Ireland (or Ireland as a whole).

Andrew Added: “Every year new species are added to the site – some of these have always been there but went un-recorded, but others have travelled from far afield.

“Amazingly, Murlough NNR has had migrant moths from southern Europe, the Tropics and even one from North America – Stephens’ Gem – brought here by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and still the only Irish record.

“At the time I started to compile the list of moths for Murlough NNR there were around 250 species recorded – not bad that over 500 more have been recorded since, give me another 20 years and I’m hoping that figure will be closer to 900.

Moth species numbers are still growing

“It’s important to note that this hasn’t been all my own work – I’ve had a lot of help from my moth friends, moth experts and sightings from the public.

“It’s a group effort. All of the National Trust rangers at Murlough NNR over the years have given me so much help, but particularly Patrick Lynch, the current Murlough NNR Area Ranger.”

Andrew explained that geographically, Murlough NNR acts as a barometer for what species are going to colonise Northern Ireland.

He said: “Murlough is in the south-east of Northern Ireland which means that it often picks up species moving north naturally, for example colonising, as well as oddities that are brought by the wind from far off places.

“A good example of a colonising species is Dingy Footman.  First recorded in Northern Ireland at Murlough NNR back in 2018, just a few days ago it was seen for the first time in Co. Armagh.

“Among the 23 species of butterflies found at Murlough NNR the Marsh Fritillary is the most endangered. The reserve is one of the last strongholds of this butterfly which thrives here thanks to the abundance of Devil’s Bit Scabious, their caterpillars’ food source. 

“The best time to spot the Marsh Fritillary butterfly at Murlough NNR is during July, but if you’d prefer to go in search of Murlough’s moths then it’s best to visit during May to July.

“A number of National Trust staff and volunteers are keen mothers and the information they gather is fed into a national database. 

“This enables the Trust to see how moth populations are changing, how effective the land management regimes are and what effect issues such as climate change, pollution and pesticides are having on these wonderful and important creatures.

“The most effective way to catch moths, so information about them can be recorded, is by using a light trap,” Andrew added.

Rosemary Mulholland, ranger at Derrymore, Newry is also a keen mother and explained the process. “When the lights are switched on at dusk, moths are attracted to the light, they fly round and round in ever decreasing circles and then fall down the funnel and into the traps. 

“Inside the traps we place some empty egg cartons for the moths to settle on.  They will then sit there until morning when we can take them out, identify and count them and then they are released unharmed.

“Moth trapping can be done as often as you like, all year round.  In winter there are only a few species of moths about, but as long as it is not too wet, very windy or really frosty, there are always going to be a few on the wing.”

For more information on moths, including where to spot moths and tips on how to start mothing yourself, visit:

Out of the 793 species at Murlough:

  • 365 are ‘Macro’ moths
  • 405 are ‘Micro’ moths
  • 23 butterflies
  • 36 were new to Northern Ireland
  • Of those 4 were new to Ireland
  • At least 15 species of migrant moths e.g. from southern Europe, the Tropics and one from North America have occurred. The Stephens’ Gem recorded at Murlough was the 6th record for this side of the Atlantic.