How Hawk-moth distribution has changed since ‘Morley’ - Jon Nicholls

The baseline for moth records in Suffolk is “The Lepidoptera of Suffolk” edited by Claude Morley in 1937. The following are some observations of how the moths reported by Morley are doing today.

The Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth has not been confirmed in the county for the last ten years, yet Morley claims it was “ often quite common on scabious at Tuddenham”.

The Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth was found, by Morley, at several locations throughout the county including “ Bentley Woods, Hollesley, Aldeburgh, Dunwich, Fritton, Stowmarket, Whelnethan, Tuddenham and Newmarket”. It is now seen only rarely (see previous account of this species by Neil Sherman) by those who recognise the important signs in honeysuckle leaves - so can we do any better this year in finding this under-recorded moth?

The Humming-bird Hawk-moth was” Occasionally observed hovering at flowers from August to late October, but nearly always singly”. This description seems still to fit this species today.

The Small Elephant Hawk-moth is reported as “Sometimes not uncommon in sandy districts, but always uncertain in appearance. An extreme rarity around Ipswich, nor does it occur on the clay of High Suffolk” This is still an infrequent moth, that is rarely seen but has had a relatively good year in 1998.

The Elephant Hawk-moth is  seen far more frequently than the above species. Morley  saw the moths “ headquarters as the broad marshes of the Gipping valley, it was also plentiful at Sudbury, Martlesham, Beccles, Oulton marshes and Bury”. Its distribution in the county seems to be more widespread these days.

This year has been very good for the Privet Hawk-moth, with several recorders remarking on the numbers found at light. Morley remarks that, in 1935, it was “astonishingly rare in our county, it used to be plentiful but I never see it now” It is now a regular Hawk, seen every year, and its status is not in question.

The Death’s Head Hawk-moth, on the other hand has not been confirmed in the county for some years (See Stan Dumican's account in the Records section of this newsletter!) . Morley reports that “ it is found almost annually at Stowmarket and there was a great influx in 1933”

The Oleander, Striped, Spurge and Bedstraw were all “ very rare” as they are today.

The Convolvulus was reported as “ periodical and sometimes common , unobserved occurrences are doubtless innumerable” This would seem to be unlikely today were it is extremely scarce.

The Poplar Hawk-moth is one of the most common in the county and Morley found it “ by no means infrequent” also.

The Eyed Hawk-moth was “ a good deal less common than the Poplar Hawk-moth, but very generally distributed”. Again this would seem to be its distribution  around Suffolk today.

The Lime Hawk-moth was “ rarely seen outside towns, where it flies to light in Ipswich, Beccles and Gorleston”  It would now seem to be more widespread but it is still commonly found in towns feeding on lime trees.

This is just a selection of the wealth of observations to be found in ‘Morley’.  Some of them are suspect and some are difficult to interpret due to the changes in name that have occurred since then, Morley only uses Latin names. Nonetheless there is a lot of similarity between the his records and the situation today which is in some ways reassuring. On the other hand many significant changes have also occurred that can give a real insight into how the last one hundred years have changed the flora and fauna of Suffolk.