Tiree’s rarest resident found again after 12 years

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The Tiree Twist has distinctive colourings. Photograph: Anne Stanley
The Tiree Twist has distinctive colourings. Photograph: Anne Stanley

The Tiree Twist (Periclepsis cinctana) is a small, colourful, day-flying moth with a wingspan of just 14-18mm.

Despite its small size, the moth is a distinctive creamy white with a contrasting brown head, shoulders and band across the wing.

It formerly occurred in the UK in Kent but has not been seen there since around 1950 and is now believed to be extinct. Remarkably, in 1984, it was found on Tiree and the island remains its sole location in the UK.

However, the moth had not been seen on the island since 2007, so concerns were growing as to whether it was still present or had also become extinct.

On Wednesday June 26, a party of six from Butterfly Conservation Scotland boarded the ferry to Tiree with the sole mission of finding the moth. The group were ably joined on the island by an elite group comprising Tiree ranger Stephanie Cope, John Bowler, the RSPB’s man on the island, Anne
Stanley, the island’s vet, along with a visiting school group from Wilder Ways in Fife.

The group gathered on Balephetrish Hill, the site where the Tiree Twist was first discovered and the location where it was last sighted.

After a quick briefing, the search began. In less than an hour, the first Twist was found and the mission was declared a success.

The sighting of others soon followed with a total of six to 10 adults being seen at the base of a rocky outcrop. They were all in pristine condition showing that they had only recently emerged indicating the start of their flight season.

Now that it is known that the moth is still alive and well on the island, the next step is to see how widespread it is.

The adult moths are on the wing from around mid-June to mid or possibly late July. So islanders and visitors are asked to keep their eyes peeled for this rare and beautiful moth.

It is thought to be associated with areas of Dark Hornblende, a mineral that is found in some of the rocks on the island. Areas rich in outcrops of Dark Hornblende are likely locations to search.

The ultimate quest will be to find the caterpillars, which have never been found in the wild in Britain and probably live within a silken tube or tent and feed on kidney vetch, bird’s-foot trefoil and other low-growing plants.

Now plans for another quest are being hatched. For more information about the Tiree Twist, contact Tom Prescott, Butterfly Conservation Scotland (Email: tprescott@butterfly-conservation.org or call 01540 661469.)