Formby Butterflies and Moths

Male Emperor Moth

The Sefton Coast has for very many years been of great interests to those interested in natural history. There are few places in Britain which can show such extensive areas of natural sand dunes and sand dune succession. This makes for a very specialized area and with it comes highly adapted plants and animals.

The world of butterflies is available to  all who walk the Sefton Coast with their eyes open. Over the spring and summer months in most years twenty different species of butterflies can be seen out of the sixty six or so which are seen as British.  With a little luck a further  three occur here.

Moths in general are thought to be night fliers but in fact well over 200 of the 1,050 species recorded on the coast are day flies. The Liverpool World Museum houses a very comprehensive collection of some 120,000 moths and over 97% of all known British species and a complete collection of all British butterflies. Literature in their Entomology Library and data on the specimens show clear evidence of records going back to the late 1800s of moths seen locally. Formby, over the years has had amongst its residents many eminent and nationally known entomologists.

Whilst it is true that most butterflies and some moths are seen flying in the summer months there are six  butterflies can be seen now. Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae, Peacock Inachis io  and Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta which have successfully hibernated and are now enjoying the spring sunshine. Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines, Comma Polygonia c-album  and very soon the first generation of Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus will be joining them. Around thirty different species of moths are out now but most will not be seen during  the daytime. A cursory look on the wall near a security light or against a lighted window may well be rewarding. The number seen will rise rapidly as summer approaches.

However a spectacular day flying moth may be seen at the moment along the length of the coast and also on the heather areas off Larkhill Lane and Freshfield Dune Heath.  This is Emperor Sturnia pavonia, the female with a 80mm wingspan and  the male, smaller, but usually seen flying strongly in the sunshine looking for a freshly emerged female. The eggs are laid on heather Calluna vulgaris or bramble Rubus fruticosus on which the larvae will feed during the summer months before spinning a cocoon in which the pupae overwinters to create the next generation. RBW.