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Butterflies and Moths: Submitting Records

Records of all Butterflies and Moths can be sent direct to Dave Emley, County Moth Recorder or c/o Staffordshire Ecological Record

They can be submitted in any format but for large numbers of records computer files would be especially welcome. If you can submit them as a spreadsheet (excel) or as comma (CSV) or tab-delimited text files then so much the better. If you are unsure about file formats then please contact me. Whatever method you choose please include the Bradley checklist code number (these are also given in all the field guides), species name, locality, grid reference, date and name of recorder. A suitable minimal spreadsheet layout would be:

Code Species Name Site Grid ref Recorder Quantity Date

You could add a comments column if you like.

Alternatively, if you are recording from just one site e.g. your garden a more convenient format for inputting records is:

Species name code 10/06/2010 11/06/2010 12/06/2010 13/06/2010
Blood-vein 1682 2 1 1 4

and then just fill in the totals; one row per species. I have written some code which will turn this format into one which MapMate can import.

Basically, as long as you are consistent in the way you send in your records, I can write a conversion programme to handle the data.

Photographs and digital images can be sent to Dave Emley for confirmation.

Using MapMate

MapMate is becoming the standard storage software for lepidoptera and other orders. However, please export your records as an excel or tab-delimited file before sending them in. There are user queries in MapMate to do that.

Rarities and Verification

Interest in butterflies has always been strong but interest in moths has increased dramatically following the publication of Waring's[1] and Skinner's[2] books. The quality of the illustrations is such that many newcomers no longer feel the need to kill specimens for reference, opting sometimes for photographs instead. Whilst this attitude is to be applauded, it must be realised that it is not always possible to identify a moth by comparing it to an illustration. For example, there are a number of species (especially those with melanic varieties) that cannot always be identified without recourse to dissection of the genitalia. There are also rare species that look very similar to much commoner species. In such cases either dissection or comparison with a series of mounted specimens is then necessary to aid identification. In addition, moths, unlike birds and plants, can exhibit so much variation that two members of the same species can, in the extreme, look like quite different species. This range of variation cannot possibly be fully covered in books.

Identification of butterflies is generally straightforward but to help you decide if a moth record needs some sort of confirmation, there are a couple of downloads which give an abundance code to each species ranging from 1 for very common, to 4 for rare and requiring confirmation.

So, before submitting a record of a rarity, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is the moth being claimed inside the current known range within the county? Check the current distribution by using the atlas.
  • Check your moth with a photograph on the UK Moths website.
  • Is the species being claimed within the known national range? Check the national map on UK Moths website or, if it's a macro, on Butterfly Conservation's Moths Count website. If your species is normally only found in the far south, far north or on the coast, then look at it again.
  • As well as comparing the specimen to a photograph, have you checked the text that goes with it? Whilst photographs are good they can't always bring out the subtleties needed to confirm identification.
  • Have you eliminated the possibility of it being a commoner species? Don't forget that many moths are extremely variable and most books only illustrate a few examples of the complete range. There are some common species that still need genitalia examination e.g. Common Rustic and Lesser Common Rustic, Grey and Dark Daggers and the Marbled, Rufous and Tawny Minor complex.
  • Above all do not try and make a species fit the illustration. If you are not sure and don't want to take a specimen, then let it go. A wrong identification is worse than no record at all.
  • Is the habitat where you found the species in keeping with its known preferences? If your specimen was caught on a lowland sandy heath and the species you're claiming is normally only found on the limestone then you could be wrong.
  • Is the food plant of the species found in the locality? Moths and butterflies do fly so it is not impossible for a species to be found in an area where its food plant does not exist but it is something to take into account.
  • Get someone else to have a look at it if possible.

Problems such as those outlined above make the vetting of records not supported by voucher specimens, problematical. It is vital that workers in the future should be able to rely on the data that we provide so the following procedure will be adopted:

  • where a species is quite distinct and is within its expected range and habitat then there will be no problem in accepting the record;
  • new county records must be supported by either a voucher specimen, photograph or some corroboration by a second party;
  • where a moth or butterfly is rare, similar to another, outside its normal range, or one of a difficult group, then some kind of supporting evidence will be needed before the record can be accepted;
  • many moths and butterflies have characteristic larvae and records of these are welcomed, but please include details of the plant on which they were found.


  1. Waring, P and Townsend, M. (2003). Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland British Wildlife Publishing ISBN 0-9531399-1-3
  2. Skinner, B. (1984). Colour Identification guide to moths of the British Isles Viking. ISBN 0-670-80354-5

Printing of this publication for educational purposes is permitted, provided that copies are not made or distributed for commercial gain, and the title of the publication and its date appear. To copy otherwise, or to republish, requires specific permission from the Author or Staffordshire Ecological Record.

Created by SER © 2018 The Wolseley Centre, Wolseley Bridge, Stafford. ST17 0WT Last updated 10/04/2015
Operated by: Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council