Mar 182022

On the 22nd of June 2021 I was targeting a small stand of Elm (which I had found earlier in the year) for Clouded Magpie Abraxas sylvata, a species I have only seen once many years ago and was keen to find again. The trees are on both sides of the road at the southern end of Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow (just south of the roadside carpark). My plan was to do a short session of approximately two hours using a 125MV trap west of the road (which I would stay with during the session) and a 20W Actinic CFL trap to the east of the road (T302816). As it turned out, it was a relatively quiet session for moths with the MV getting 72 moths of 38 species and none of my target so I decided to finish at 1.5 hours duration. I then went over to the actinic and went through that trap. Again, nothing major regarding moth numbers or apparently anything of great interest. The last moth at the bottom of the last egg tray, which I nearly missed, was an almost black pug, from what I could see in the torch light. With a hint of green, my initial thought was an extremely dark Green Pug Pasiphila rectangulata at which point I nearly chucked it into the undergrowth but thought better and potted it for later examination.

As it was after 1am and a “school” night, I forgot all about it when I got home. After work the following day, I remembered that I had a moth potted up still in my bag. On looking more closely, I again narrowed it down to a dark Green Pug but the outer edge of the dark bar didn’t have the kink it should have. The abdomen didn’t look right either. Bilberry Pug Pasiphila debiliata was also quickly eliminated owing to the complete lack of its foodplant in the region and being familiar with it, the lack of the classic black dots demarcating the cross bar. Even though the illustration of Sloe Pug in Waring and Townsend didn’t particularly look right, two features did match….that of the un-kinked outer edge of the crossbar and the pink bars on the abdomen. But of course, I knew that couldn’t be possible as we don’t have it in Ireland! Next port of call was Lepiforum (German moth website) which to my amazement had near perfect matches of my moth under Sloe Pug. With confidence levels rising and excitement levels off the scale…..dare I hope! I then posted it on the MothsIreland (FaceBook page) where the general consensus was that I was probably correct but would need to have it examined critically by Ken Bond owing to its significance. Needing people with direct experience of the species, I posted it on “Pugs in Flight tonight” (UK FaceBook group dedicated to pugs), where it was given the thumbs up too. A few months later it was confirmed by Ken Bond as Ireland’s first Sloe Pug.

Having looked again at the trapping site, there is plenty of its foodplant, Blackthorn, quite close by. I did trap again a little south at Buckroney where there is a big patch of the foodplant but no luck. As it is apparently only an occasional visitor to light traps, I won’t give up hope of finding more in future. I plan to target it again this year in an effort to try and find out if it was a once off wanderer or part of an embryonic colonization or perhaps even a long-overlooked resident. According to the Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths, it was not recorded in the UK until 1971 but has been found widely since but again it’s not known if it was overlooked or colonized rapidly.

Thanks to all on the various groups and websites for help and comments and Ken Bond for dissection of this first Irish record. I urge people to target Blackthorn during May- early July to see if this may in fact be an overlooked species.

Christian Osthoff

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