I’ve been considering for a while writing a short series of blog posts about the extinct wildlife of the UK. Anyone interested in reading about British bears, wolves, boar, lynx, beavers and the like should prepare to be disappointed, as I’m probably going to start with less acknowledged groups such as moths and other wispy little things. I’ll probably get bored before I get as far as animals with bones and stuff.
Also, just so you’re aware, I’ll be eschewing my normal italics (I am James, I normally write in italics) because otherwise it would mess up all my lovely quotes. Anyway, here is No. 1 in my series:
1: The Spotted Sulphur
Extinction is a sorry business. I mean, look at that moth. Gorgeous isn’t it? The Spotted Sulphur, Emmelia trabealis, was restricted to the Breckland of south Norfolk and north Suffolk. With a wingspan of 20 -22mm, it wasn’t a massive beastie, but its jazzy colouration is certainly a feast for the peepers. Its larval foodplant was (and presumably still is in the rest of its European range) Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, and it flew in a single generation from May – July.
The earliest UK record was at Margate, Kent in 1782, and this, along with other south-coast records, seem to imply that it used to occur as a migrant. Possibly it will do one day again in future – I suppose it depends on the abundance of European populations.
It was last recorded in Britain on the 25th June 1960, at Mildenhall in Suffolk. I don’t know specifically why it died out, but its ‘decline was probably due to afforestation and other land-use changes, but some of its habitat and foodplant still remains. One must note, however, that in Breckland it was at the extreme north-western limit of its range’ (Heath, 1983). Species at the extremes of their range are usually more vulnerable… Possibly some alteration in climate, coupled with the habitat destruction mentioned above, did in the Spotted Sulphur? Aha! I’ve just found a quote that seems to support my conjecture – ‘during the 1950s and 1960s… the climate again deteriorated. Several moths that had colonised southern England during the preceding period of favourable weather, now became extinct’ (Hawksworth, 2001). I bet I could have been a proper scientist.
Hawksworth, D. L. (2001) The Changing Wildlife of Great Britain and Ireland, Taylor & Francis Ltd., London.
Heath, J. (1983) The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland: Noctuidae (Cuculliinae to Hypeninae) and Agaristidae, Harley Books, Essex.