Feb 032020
 

Lempke’s Gold Spot from Rathlin

Lempke’s Gold Spot – First confirmed Irish records

Hazel Watson

I have been lucky enough to live on Rathlin Island for nearly three years now and, with my husband Ric Else. We have been recording moths whenever the weather allows. In this time we have managed to record 337 species, and 143 of these were new for the island’s all-time moth list, which now stands at 376 species.

Before we arrived, moth recording on Rathlin had only been very sporadic and many of those moths we’ve recorded here for the first time are relatively common and widespread species that have presumably been here all along. While it is always rewarding to add new species to the list, we had yet to discover anything of real national significance. But the morning of 23rd July 2019 was to bring us a real find, and it was one we could so easily have missed!

Lempke’s Gold Spot (left images) & and Gold Spot (right images)

That morning I had struggled to drag myself out of bed and was lagging behind the others. Still half asleep and with a mug of much-needed coffee in hand, I stumbled over to the mothing station where Ric was already getting on with the business of looking through the moth trap, assisted by a few of the keen RSPB volunteers from the cottage next door. Overnight the trap had been out in a nearby garden, where the McFauls very kindly provide excellent habitat for moths and moth-ers alike.

My eyes had barely begun to focus properly when I glanced down at a moth on an eggbox that had already been examined. In my drowsy state I could have been still dreaming, but something about the Gold Spot caught my eye. Could it possibly be….? “Isn’t that a Lempke’s Gold Spot?” I said to Ric, who surely thought I was delirious, but humoured me by having another look. We all peered closely at the moth in question. The two Gold Spot species are almost identical, but the apical streak of this one was undeniably blunt-ended – a feature of Lempke’s Gold Spot. “Surely THAT IS A LEMPKE’S!” I proclaimed triumphantly, suddenly wide awake as the penny was starting to drop that this was potentially a very exciting find. Ric had to admit it did look promising. We potted the individual for closer scrutiny later, as there were still plenty of other moths to look at in the trap. Each egg box was examined in turn, revealing a total catch of 98 individual moths of 37 species, and despite a few other goodies including our first Cloaked Minor, nobody cared much because Gold Spots were all we were interested in by this stage. In our catch we had turned up another two Gold Spots – one with typical markings and, quite unbelievably, a second that also looked a good candidate for Lempke’s. How thrilling, if this is what they really were!

Lempke’s Gold Spot (Rathlin 2019)

By this time we were running late for work, so it wasn’t until later that we could have a closer look at the two possible Lempke’s Gold Spots. Having spent the day chilling out in the fridge, both cooperated obligingly for forewing measurements, and with both at 15mm they fitted exactly within the published range for Lempke’s and at the smallest end of the range for Gold Spot (all the Gold Spots we have measured have been 16–18mm). After poring over many online images of wing markings, we felt confident that our two were consistent with Lempke’s and others who viewed our photos agreed. However, for positive identification, and as a potential national first, the specimens would have to be kept and sent away for confirmation under the microscope. As moth lovers, it is bittersweet to make an exciting find like this and have to preserve them as specimens, but it is necessary for the scientific record. We laid these two beautiful creatures to rest in the freezer, and we were delighted when Dr Ken Bond requested the specimens to be sent over from Rathlin.

Mothing at Kinramer Cottage, Rathlin, Co.Antrim

We were even more delighted a few weeks later when Ken performed the dissection and confirmed that both specimens were certainly Lempke’s Gold Spots, one male and one female. He also confirmed that these would be considered the first and second verified records of the species anywhere in Ireland.

We are thrilled to have found an Irish first on Rathlin, but  we’re sure there are plenty more discoveries to be made on this exciting island.

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