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The Briefing

Micro moth that’s a master of camouflage found for the first time in Ireland at Giant’s Causeway

by National Trust

20/11/2018

A camouflaged species of micro moth has been announced by the National Trust as the first of its kind to be found in Northern Ireland, likely reaching the West coast by being buffeted by strong winds across the Irish Sea.

The 5mm white–speckled smoke micro moth (Narycia duplicella) baffled experts when it was spotted in staff offices next door to Giant’s Causeway.

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A member of the bagworm family, the caterpillars weave a protective case of silk and attach material from their immediate surroundings to create near perfect camouflage, making them almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

Its life cycle from egg to flying moth is usually a year and the caterpillar pupates for a month, usually in May, before emerging as a minute moth.

It is the first of its kind to be discovered on the island of Ireland and it was discovered by  eagle eyed Dr Cliff Henry, area ranger for the National Trust on the wall of his office at Innisfree Farm, next door to Giant’s Causeway last month. 

He said: “Few other insects can match moths for disguise. I only spotted it when a speck of green on a clean part of the wall caught my eye. When I took a closer I look I realised the speck was moving!  A tiny 4mm caterpillar was hauling its little camouflaged house up the wall.

“These micro moths are normally found on a tree trunk or fence. Our office wall is the perfect spot for them as it’s shaded, north facing, and has the right lichen and algae that they feed on.

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“The caterpillar emerged from eggs laid by its mum earlier this year. It’s incredible to think that these moths could have travelled –assisted by the wind – 15 miles or more across the sea from Scotland to arrive on the Causeway Coast.”

After the initial find, it took a while to identify the caterpillar, which is a native of England, Wales and Scotland.

When he couldn’t find the species on Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland’s moth species list, Dr Cliff sought second opinions from experts in Belfast and England who through microscopic investigation, and sharing photographs were able to confirm its identity.

Chairman of Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland, Adam Mantell said: “It’s fantastic to have a new species of moth confirmed in Ireland, something which doesn’t happen every day. It shows that we still have much to learn about our native species and demonstrates the value of recording what we see around us.”

Dr Cliff added: “It’s hard to exactly say why it has turned up at the Causeway or for how long it’s been here. The most likely scenario is that it has been here under our noses for years. It’s just lucky I was in the right place at the right time to see it.”

The sighting will now be fed into the global database via CEDaR (Centre for Environmental Data Recording), which helps us get a picture of how all wildlife is doing. The National Trust also carries out butterfly, bumble bee and bird surveys each year.

Dr Cliff concluded: “Creatures like moths are important to track and monitor, as they are part of the ecosystem and the more we understand, the more equipped we are to help encourage healthy, sustainable environments. 

“As the UK’s largest conservation charity, restoring and looking after nature is at the heart of everything we do.  So this is a very exciting discovery for us and we’ll be keeping a close eye on these micro moths to ensure that they thrive in what is a new habitat for them.”