Toadflax Brocade in Banstead - a short history
It is not all that long ago that the Toadflax Brocade was considered anything but a very local species. First recorded in the UK in 1939 and as breeding in 1952, colonisation then started in earnest. In the mid-1980s, Skinner considered it 'Well established at Dungeness, Kent and found locally along the coast eastwards to Sandwich and westwards towards Angmering, West Sussex'. Even in the 1998 revision of his book he mentions only 11 other records away from this heartland. Graham Collins 'Larger Moths of Surrey' - published in 1997 - can only lay claim to a single Surrey record, from Bookham Common on 7 July 1970. By the turn of this century moths had started to appear further west along the south coast, and since then they have been recorded as far north as Yorkshire. Of more interest than these isolated wanderers has been the colonisation of London and the Home Counties. Which leads me on to Banstead...
It was in the back garden on 17 August 2009 that I came across a striking larva on Purple Toadflax. Even I was able to put a name to this beast, that of Toadflax Brocade. I had, at that point, not seen the adult moth in the garden, so was then on high alert to rectify the situation. If it had bred in the garden then I had certainly missed them! I didn't have too long to wait, as an adult came to the MV trap on 22 May 2010. In 2011-13 I didn't find any larvae although in each of these years one or two adults appeared at light. Last autumn the three clumps of Purple Toadflax in the garden were alive with the colourful caterpillars - 20 on one clump alone. And, for the past three consecutive nights I have recorded adults. They seem to have happily colonised this small part of Surrey.
The food plant of this species is, not surprisingly, Common, Purple and Pale Toadflax. The early colonists most probably had Common as the only plant of choice. Maybe the colonisation of London has been aided by the ubiquitous nature of Purple. It seeds easily and is a common plant of waste ground. This moth is double-brooded, flying in May-June and again in August. If you have yet to see it, check your nearest clump of Purple Toadflax for the larvae this summer - there will be some nearby!