Something to Mull Over

In the following article, BCI member Fionnuala Parnell brings us news of a wonderful discovery.

Many of us have a butterfly, moth or larva that we would love to see. After the larva of the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth mine was the Mullein Moth larva. Wishful examination of the Mullein plants in my front garden over the years failed to yield any of the colourful creatures. Because they aren’t present in Ireland that was hardly a surprise.

On Monday 12th July I noticed a large white larva with black and yellow markings feeding on figwort in my garden. A dash to consult my Field Guide to the Caterpillars of Great Britain and Ireland led me to three moths: Mullein, Toadflax Brocade and Striped Lychnis. It seemed I had a Mullein Moth larva! Many photos later which I submitted to the Mothsireland FB page, I got confirmation of Mullein. The Mullein Moth has not been recorded in Ireland since 1952 and then only in locations in coastal County Cork. My garden is large and in rural north Co Dublin surrounded by tillage farms.

The garden is managed for insects and, this year has the best growth of Figwort I’ve ever had. Mullein/Verbascum grows in the front garden. A bigger surprise came on Tuesday evening when another larva was discovered on a poor specimen of Figwort in another part of the garden. That one has gone down into the plant pot not to appear again and hopefully will be ok. The original larva is still happily munching away. I will keep watch on the larva and continue to photograph it as it matures. My neighbours have been in to see this wonder and are now on the hunt in their gardens. This has to be the highlight of the year for me although I still long to see that elusive Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth larva.

Editor’s Note: The Mullein moth was declared extinct in Ireland in the Irish macro-moth red list published in 2016 by the National Parks and Wildlife ServiceĀ  Ireland (Red List No. 9 Macro-moths (Lepidoptera)).

Photos copyright Fionnuala Parnell

Mullein moth larva on figwort
Close up of the feeding larva.
Underside of Mullein larva.