The re-discovery of the White Prominent

The White Prominent moth Leucodonta bicoloria was one of those mysterious iconic species which was thought to be extinct in both Britain and Ireland.  Until that is, a team led by Allen and Mellon Environmental re-discovered the species in the birch woods around Caragh Lake in County Kerry.

 The team proudly displaying the first White Prominent for 70 years

The team proudly displaying the first White Prominent for 70 years

In June 2008 the team, supported by The Heritage Council, were exploring areas where the species had last been seen 70 years ago when they came upon an area of mature birch trees on Robert's Island on the eastern shore of Caragh Lake.  The area was within the grounds of the Ard na Sidhe hotel who kindly gave permission for the team to place moth traps around the island.  It was 7th June- a muggy night and the team was optimistic.

Next morning, the team of Dave Allen, Clive Mellon, Paul Waring, Mark Telfer and Maurice Hughes were ecstatic when a White Prominent was found on a bracken frond at the first trap.  Six more were found that morning and the White Prominent was back on the map.  Watch this short video of the dramatic discovery, with footage and narration by Dr. Paul Waring.

The discovery had been made possible by detailed research into the history and ecology of the species, a little luck in finding the island as the day wore on and the good offices of the hotel staff.

The habitat on Robert's Island did not look perfect and the team was certain that the species must occur elsewhere in the area.  So in 2009, again with support from The Heritage Council, the team set off to Kerry to find out more about the species range and ecology.  A reconnaissance trip in March brought us to the nearby Glencar Wood, a primitive expanse of wet mossy woodland with many huge birch trees that we had somehow overlooked the previous year! 

 White Prominent

White Prominent

We returned in June, adding Dennis Weir, Angus Tyner and Matthew Tickner to our team and a battery of light traps to sample the wood and surrounding area.  We were not disappointed with a spectacular catch on the first night including 39 White Prominents in a single trap deep in the woods.  In total we found White Prominents at five woodland sites in the area.  Our final visit was in July to search for larvae and although we only found one, this was an important discovery as the larvae are very seldom found.  However we also trapped several adult White Prominents during this session, confounding our previous knowledge of its flight period! 

Our thanks go The Heritage Council for their support, all the landowners who permitted access to the sites and the staff of NPWS and NBDC who were supportive throughout the project.  If you want to find out more, you can read detailed accounts of all this work in our papers published in Atropos 35, 40 and 42.