Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Pyrausta sanguinalis – the scarce crimson and gold

Pyrausta sanguinalis

Pyrausta sanguinalis (L., 1767)
Family: Pyralidae

The scarce crimson and gold is one of the UKís rarest moths with a known distribution limited to the north coast of Northern Ireland and the northern tip of the Isle of Man. It is also known from the Burren in the Republic of Ireland. The moth itself is a member of the Pyralid group of moths and is classed as a micro-moth. It is very distinctive with a bright yellow background colour to the forewings with a strong dark pink border and crossline. It can be found relatively easily on warm sunny days by sweeping vegetation in its sand dune haunts.

In brief

  • Restricted to the sand dune systems at Portstewart, The Umbra and Magilligan

  • Its habitat is within the dunes, found mainly in floral-rich colonising blow-outs

  • Best seen on the wing through June into early July

  • It is rare and Northern Ireland is the UK stronghold

  • Threatened by habitat loss and damage

  • A recent survey (2005) has accurately determined its current distribution.

Species description
At rest the moth is roughly triangular in shape and about 1cm long. The forewings are golden yellow in the centre bordered by dark pink, broadest at the end of the wing and with a crossline of the same colour.

Life cycle
Poorly known in Northern Ireland, but the species is known to feed exclusively on Thyme in other parts of itís range. Once thought to be double-brooded, this appears not to be the case in Ireland, with a single generation on the wing in June through to early July. The larvae are said to feed in a silken tube on the flowers of the foodplant, it overwinters as a pupa.

Similar species
Although a number of closely-related species occur within the same habitat type, none are similar enough to cause identification problems.

How to see this species
The species is best seen on warm sunny days in June when it can be easily disturbed from vegetation in recolonising, flower-rich sand dune blow-outs. The known sites are Portstewart and Magilligan-Ballymaclarry Strands and the Umbra, County Londonderry. Relevant access permissions should always be sought prior to visiting any sites.

Current status
First recorded at Portstewart Strand in 1973 and then again in 1992 and 2002. A full Northern Ireland Survey was undertaken in 2005 (Allen & Mellon et al.,2005) when new colonies at Magilligan Strand and the Umbra were discovered. The populations at all three sites appear healthy with 63 individuals being recorded in total. Northern Ireland should be considered as the UK stronghold for this species.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • It is rare and Northern Ireland is the UK stronghold.

It is confined to three adjacent localities in County Londonderry. The only other known extant UK colony is on the northern tip of the Isle of Man. It is extinct at all other former UK haunts.

Threats/Causes of decline
Although its disappearance from former sites is not fully understood the transient nature of its preferred habitat is undoubtedly a major reason. Modern sand-dune systems are subject to a wide array of pressures including high recreational use and development such as golf courses and housing. Sand dune systems are subject to other more natural effects such as erosion and can suffer from over and under-grazing. When referring to the Cheshire site in Day (1903), HB Prince stated that the habitat and foodplant of the moth had been "destroyed by golf". This unfortunately is the case at some other former UK sites.

Conservation of this species

Current action

  • All its sites are under designation of ASSI and SAC

  • Appropriate grazing regimes are being considered at its known haunts

  • Invasive scrub at all sites is currently being controlled

  • Recreation pressure at two of the sites is managed

  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plan for Coastal Sand Dunes.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain viable populations at all current localities

  • Maintain and where possible increase the range and number of colonies within the three known sites (Magilligan-Ballymaclary, Umbra and Portstewart)

  • By 2010, increase the number of viable colonies within each site by 50 per cent

  • By 2007, carry out a resurvey of Bushfoot, County Antrim to confirm presence/absence as this is the most suitable, apparently unoccupied, site.

What you can do

  • Report all moth sightings to the Moth Recorder for Northern Ireland, Andrew Crory, or use the Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland (BCNI) sightings web page at The BCNI database is managed by CEDaR and these records will then be used to update the Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland website.
  • Join Butterfly Conservation. Butterflies and Moths are in serious decline — with your support Butterfly Conservation can take action to reverse this.

Further information

Some nice images and a brief, but out of date, overview of the species

A European site with excellent images

Further information on designated sites

NI Coastal Sand Dune HAP

Allen, D. and Mellon, C. (2005). A Survey of the Scarce Crimson & Gold in Northern Ireland. EHS/Ulster Museum. Publication in prep.

Allen, D. and Tickner, M.B. (2003). Pyrausta sanguinalis in Northern Ireland. Atropos 20: p 63.

Allen, D., Mellon, C. and Tickner, M.B. (2004). A Bio-Survey of Portstewart Strand for the National Trust. Unpublished.

Barrett, C.G. (1904). The Lepidoptera of the British Isles. Geometrina-Pyralidina. Vol 9. London, Lovell Reeve & Co.

Beirne, B.P. (1941). Microlepidoptera of Ireland. Dublin.

Beirne, B.P. (1952). Pyralid and Plume Moths. London, Warne.

Day, G.O., (1903). A list of Lepidoptera found in the counties of Cheshire, Flintshire, Denbighshire, Caernarvonshire, and Anglesey. Proc. Chester Soc. Nat. Sci. 5.

Environment and Heritage Service (2004). Priority Species for Conservation Action in Northern Ireland. Internet publication.

Goater, B. (1986). British Pyralid Moths: A Guide to their Identification. Harley Books, England.

Meyrick, E. (1928). Revised Handbook of British Lepidoptera. London, Watkins & Doncaster.

National Trust (1992). A Bio-survey of Portstewart Strand. Unpublished.

Parsons, M.S. (1993). A review of the scarce and threatened pyralid moths of Great Britain. JNCC, Peterborough (UK Nature Conservation No. 11).

Parsons, M.S. (2005). A BAP Priority Species Review: Pyrausta sanguinalis. Unpublished.

Smith, F.N.H. (1978). Isle of Man Lepidoptera 1977. Entomologists Record and Journal of Variation 97: 83.

Text written by:
Allen & Mellon Environmental Ltd.