Autumn brings rare butterflies and moths to UK shores

It has been an epic year for the convolvulus hawkmoth, with dozens sighted for the first time
2022-09-29 05:00

Summer butterflies have just about disappeared in the autumn rains. But there’s always an autumnal surprise when rare butterflies – and moths – are blown on to our shores.

My mother recently sent me a photo of a hefty moth resting on washing drying on her line. To our amazement it was a convolvulus hawkmoth, a rare migrant usually spotted in gardens close to the south and east coast (Mum is half-a-mile from the sea). This striking insect has an unusually long proboscis so it can feed – like a miniature hummingbird – on tubular flowers such as petunia and tobacco plants unreachable to other moths.

When you spot a rarity, you’re usually not alone and 2022 has been an epic year for this hawkmoth, with some “moth-ers” recording dozens in their gardens for the first time. The southerly winds that have brought the “Connie” have also swept in long-tailed blues, a tiny, vivacious Mediterranean butterfly that is becoming a regular visitor to the south coast.

Most spectacularly of all, Rowena Castillo-Nicholls last week photographed an American painted lady on the Roseland peninsula in Cornwall. This butterfly is found on the Canary Islands but about only 100 have been recorded in Britain over the centuries: the previous Cornish sighting was in 1876.