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"A Nature Observer′s Scrapbook"

Macro Moths, page 2



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Currant Clearwing

Currant Clearwing

Synanthedon tipuliformis


That's not a moth! Its a wasp.
Despite its deceptive appearance, the Currant clearwing is a moth with only a few scales on its wings. It is quite small, only about 10mm long, and can be found flying between May and July around red and black currant bushes.

The larvae is considered to be a pest by fruit growers because between the months of August and May, it burrows into the soft pithy core of the stems of currant bushes.

The female has three yellow body rings whereas the male has four. The abdomen is terminated by a thick tuft of hairs which can form a shallow dihedral 'vee' shape. This particular moth had fringes of white hairs which accentuated the effect.


DateSighting
18.06.2003In the garden, on the blackcurrant bushes.


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Mullein moth caterpillar

Mullein moth

Shargacucullia verbasci


One sees the striking caterpillar more often than the moth. In my area of East Lincs the larvae favour Water Figwort (Scrofularia aquatica), a member of the Mullein plant family, that grows readily in damp roadside ditches. It seems perverse that the caterpillar's brilliant colouring which attracts the eye, is presumably designed to deter predators.
The pupa over-winters in the topsoil in a cocoon of silk interwoven with crumbs of soil. It has been found that it can remain in this state for up to five years before emerging as an adult moth in late April.


Mullein moth Mullein moth

Despite it's remarkable 'mohican haircut', it was some eight years before I found the moth. It's strongly contrasting colours help to 'break up' the moth's shape against background foliage.


I suspect that one reason it took me so long to find the moth is that it appears to fly late at night - way past midnight. It flies early in the year, from April to mid June.


The lower image showing the moth with wings splayed out was taken shortly after the moth had come to rest. As it settles down, it slowly draws its wings tightly in to its body in a 'tent' shape.


The Starwort, Striped Lychnis and Water Betony can be confusingly similar species but, are either quite rare or occasional immigrants and are usually confined to the south coast of the UK.



DateSighting
15.06.2003Roadside ditch, east of meadow.
06.06.2004Early caterpillars found on ditch growing Water figwort.
22.06.2005Caterpillar found on Water figwort opposite front door.
28.06.2006Caterpillar found on Water figwort in roadside ditch by meadow gate.
05.05.2011Adult moth found late at night.


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Privet Hawkmoth Privet Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

Sphinx ligustri

The Privet Hawkmoth is the second largest of the UK moths. Only the Death's Head Hawkmoth is bigger. When attracted to light and it flies into a room - even when you know that it is 'only a moth', there is a definite tendency to stay out of its way as it clatters off walls and ceiling! But, when it settles it is a beauty to behold.

With wings outstretched, as in the upper image, it can have a wingspan of some 100mm, 4 inches. In a more relaxed pose the wings will be held close against the body and will obscure the abdominal markings. Most of the hawkmoths can be quite placid and this one nonchalantly walked onto my finger when I touched its 'nose'.

They fly from late May through to July and are only 'common' southwards from the English midlands, frequent in the Channel Islands and widespread on the continent. The larvae feed on wild and garden privet and saplings of Ash, Lilac and Guelder rose.

The large caterpillars, rather more strikingly marked than the Poplar hawkmoth below, are normally green, with pink and white 'slash' markings, but as they prepare to pupate they take on a brown tint. They then make their way to ground level where they burrow deep into the leaf litter for over wintering protection.



DateSighting
30.06.2006 Attracted to light, flew in through open door.


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Poplar Hawk-moth caterpillar Poplar Hawk-moth

Poplar Hawkmoth

Laothoe populi


This is a big caterpillar. As big as ones little finger. To see one is to be impressed. They feed on poplar, aspen, sallow and willow leaves.

The adult moth is perhaps, the most common of the British hawk-moths flying in open country, after dark, from May to August. It's continental range extends to the Arctic circle.

The specimen shown had a forewing length of 45mm. At rest it is normal for the hind wing to protrude in front of the forewing and if disturbed, the hind wing can be flicked further forward to reveal a bright mark. But, it has to be said, that like most of the hawkmoths, they tend to be very placid and are not easily frightened.

This particular moth was found late at night but 12 hours later was still patiently sitting, quite exposed, on the patio wall.

The pupa over-winters in topsoil below the food plant.



DateSighting
30.08.1999Benniworth Springs, by the southern reservoir.
30.07.2006Adult moth came to conservatory window late at night and remained on the patio wall for over 12 hours.
05.08.2007Attracted to light. Flew indoors and quickly settled.
19.07.20092 attracted to light.
21.07.20091 attracted to light.


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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Macroglossam stellatarum

Although the Hummingbird Hawkmoth is not rare it always causes a bit of a stir when it visits the garden. I do not see it every year in the garden but it is probably more common than I give it credit for because it wastes no time flitting about. It does the rounds of its favourite flowers (Phlox, Honeysuckle, Petunia and Buddleia) feeding on the wing like the Hummingbird, and then it is gone.

When it does rest, it can be very difficult to detect as it's camouflage blends very effectively with walls, banks and wooden fencing. Although not a unique feature, the tufts of feathery hair around the end of the abdomen are quite distinctive.

The majority of those seen will be migrants from the continent although it is reputed to over winter in the South-west UK.

It normally flies from May to late July but early migrants may breed and give rise to a local second generation flying in August and September. The larvae feed principally on the bedstraw family of plants.



DateSighting
10.07.2006 On Phlox, Delphinium and Honeysuckle in back garden.
12.07.2006 Two moths feeding exclusively on Delphinium - and ignoring Phlox.



Lime Hawkmoth

Lime Hawkmoth

Mimas tiliae


The Lime Hawkmoth's wing markings and coloration are quite distinctive. The dark patches on the wings may vary from brown to dark olive green and can be affected by ambient lighting conditions. It is variable in size, the forewing can be anything between 23mm to 39mm in length. A less common variation is pinkish in colour with brick red markings. The only other hawkmoth that it might be confused with is the smaller, grey Willowherb Hawkmoth, generally regarded as an uncommon immigrant.


The Lime Hawkmoth is a widely distributed resident, but not usually in great numbers, in England as far north as Yorkshire and Cumbria and is also found in Wales. It flies nocturnally between May and July and does not feed.


Eggs are laid on the larval foodplants, lime, elm, birch or alder and the caterpillars will feed from June to September. Pupation takes place in leaf litter beneath the foodplant where it will overwinter until the following May.



DateSighting
10.06.2010 Attracted to lighted window.



Elephant Hawkmoth

Elephant Hawkmoth

Deilephila elpenor


The Elephant Hawkmoth is very distinctive with its pink, orange and a hint of olive green forewings and starkly contrasting pink and black hindwings. Despite its common name, with a forewing length of 28mm to 33mm, it is not the largest of the UK Hawkmoths.


It is principally a single generation species flying from May to August but, occasionally, a few late summer fliers suggest that it may sometimes breed twice. It is often seen feeding on the wing, Hummingbird style, from flowers such as Honeysuckle and after dark is frequently attracted to light.


The larvae feed from June to September on a wide range of plants, Willowherbs, bedstraws, fuschias, Himalayan Balsam and others. When searching across bare ground for a suitable pupation site (in leaf litter or loose soil) the caterpillars frequently attract attention due to their large size and prominent 'eye' markings.



DateSighting
11.06.2010 Attracted to lighted window.
20.07.2010 Attracted to lighted window.



Small Elephant Hawkmoth

Small Elephant Hawkmoth

Deilephila porcellus


With a forewing length of only about 25mm, compared to the larger Elephant Hawkmoth's forewing of 33mm, the Small Elephant Hawkmoth is considerably smaller - but that doesn't help much with identification unless you can compare individuals side by side. While both moths have a distinctly pinkish colouration, this one tends to have yellowish markings and lacks a darker stripe running down the back of the abdomen.


It is not as common as its bigger relative and it's distribution is described as 'localised', being confined to rough grassy heathlands and sand dunes. But it can be found in quite large colonies where the conditions suit it. I have seen several dozen on coastal sand dunes.


It is a single generation species normally flying at dusk and early evening between May and July. The larvae feed at night on bedstraws, Rosebay Willowherb and Purple Loosestrife and retreat to ground cover during the day. Pupation occurs in autumn and overwinters in a cocoon at or just below soil level, to emerge the following spring.




DateSighting
26.05.2011 Attracted to moth light at Saltfleetby Coastal Nature Reserve.


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Blood-vein moth

Blood-vein

Timandra griseata


Characterised by what appears to be a continuous reddish line that runs from wing-tip to wing-tip across both upper and lower wings and continues round the trailing edges of the wings. (But not to be confused with the Small Blood-vein whose cross line originates from midway along the wing leading edge.) The general background colour of the wings range from a creamy grey to reddish brown.

The image is of a pristine second generation specimen. Worn individuals can look very bland and threadbare but the prominent line between the wing tips gives the clue to their identity. Forewing length can be 15 to 18mm.

Usually double brooded, from May through to late summer, a third generation is possible in southern UK during August and September. The larvae will feed on dock, sorrel, knot-grass and goosefoot.


Blood-vein larva development

An adult second generation moth that I gathered up to photograph laid 18 white eggs before the photo shoot and I reared those through. During the next few days 15 of the eggs first became creamy before turning a rich pink colour.


Within seven days the 15 viable pink eggs hatched and I thought I had lost them all until I found the tiny larvae dangling on thin strands of silk from the underside of erect Dock leaves. After a slow start the larvae developed healthy appetites and although 4 failed to survive the skin moults normal in most caterpillar development, 10 made it through to start pupatation after 14 days. The remaining slow starter eventually successfully pupated 7 days later.


By which time the main batch of ten were beginning to hatch into third generation adult moths and over a few days all were released and flew successfully. The remaining pupa eventually hatched two weeks later. The plump female was released at dusk and after resting for a few hours was seen to raise her abdomen, no doubt releasing pheromones to attract a male, and flew off at midnight.



DateSighting
28.07.2003Hay Meadow, western hedge.
30.07.2006Strongly marked specimen seen at dusk in Hay Meadow, western hedge.
27.08.2007Attracted to light.
24.07.2009Attracted to light.
31.08.2009Attracted to light.
08.08 - 20.09.20133rd generation life cycle.


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Light Emerald

Light Emerald

Campaea margaritata


There are several 'Emeralds' in the family. The Light Emerald is distinguished by the straight two tone lines which continue across the pale, delicate blue-green fore and rear wings. These cross-lines on the other Emeralds tend to be noticeably curved. And, if your eyesight is really good, there are tiny little orange ticks at the corner of the trailing edge of the wingtip which the other Emeralds do not have.

It is double brooded, the first generation flying from May to August, and the second (only in southernBritain) flying from July to September. The autumn generation over-wintering as caterpillars. The main food sources are deciduous trees such as Hawthorn, Birch, Ash, Horse Chestnut, sallows, etc.


DateSighting
17.07.2003Home.
02.07.2007Attracted to light.
01.07.2009Attracted to light.
19.07.2009Attracted to light.



Large Emerald

Large Emerald

Geometra papilionaria


This isn't the only true green moth seen in the UK but, when it turns up, it is a beauty to gladden the heart. Unlike the smaller Emerald moths which tend to fade with time, the Large Emerald seems to maintain its solid colour throughout its lifespan. There is little colour variation within the species although the white crosslines may appear faint or even be absent in some specimens. With an open wingspan of up to 60mm this is a big moth.

The single generation flies from June to August and is widespread throughout the UK. Eggs are laid in September on birch, alder, hazel or sometimes beech. Immature green caterpillars gradually develop small brown 'warts' which provide excellent camouflage. As they mature their body colour progressively turns to brown. They will feed until leaf fall and then hibernate on the branches and twigs through the winter months. They awaken when leaves start to open and continue feeding until May when they will then pupate in leaf litter beneath the food plant.



DateSighting
23.07.2009 Attracted to lighted window.


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Mottled Umber larva

Mottled Umber

Erannis defoliaria


The evening sunshine made this caterpillar hard to miss as it busily munched its way through the Hawthorn foliage. It was quite active, never finishing off one leaf before it was trying another. The caterpillars feed from April to July on a wide range of deciduous trees and sometimes reach pest proportions in orchards.

The male moths are on the wing from September through to December - but the females are wingless and on hatching from their pupae in the ground they are constrained to climb the chosen food plant to await a passing male. This is not an uncommon occurence in the 'Ennominae' sub-family of the Geometer moths.

An alphabetical search of the 'Common Index' at the following site here at http://www.leps.it/indexjs.htm shows that the colouration and patterning of the male's wings varies considerably, from heavily patterned to drab, from light to dark.


DateSighting
04.06.2003Hay Meadow, southern hedge.



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Cinnabar moth Cinnabar moth caterpillar Cinnabar moth damage

Cinnabar moth

Tyria jacobaea


The Cinnabar moth always strikes me as looking rather sinister with its stark black satin wings and red markings. The hind wings are the same vivid red and show up well in flight. All of which seemingly alerts birds and other would be predators that these moths are toxic. There is only one annual generation, and they fly for three months from mid-May through to mid-August.

The only other black and red moths with which it might be confused are the Burnet moths but, that long red streak on the leading edge of the forewing is a sure identifying feature.

The equally easily recogniseable yellow and black banded caterpillars also flaunt their colours to warn birds that they are inedible.

The main foodplants of the caterpillars are ragwort and groundsel, both rich in alkaloid poisons. The larvae are immune to these toxins which are stored in their bodies and passed on through the pupa stage to the moth, making them the most poisonous moth species in Britain.

Since both adult and larvae have few predators, this should lead to huge larval populations but the caterpillars are so voracious that they tend to eat themselves out of a sustainable food supply. It is not uncommon to see patches of ragwort stripped bare (lower image) and caterpillars wandering around aimlessly looking for alternative sources. Therefore a large caterpillar population one year can lead to many not surviving to pupation due to a lack of sufficient food supply.

The larvae are feeding through the months of July to September and then pupate in a loose cocoon in leaf litter on the ground from September through the winter.

Since the poisons in ragwort are considered to be a danger to grazing animals, cinnabar caterpillars have been considered as a means of ragwort biological control.



DateSighting
30.07.1999Caterpillars, Benniworth Springs, small conservation pond.
08.07.2005Moth in flight mid afternoon in north paddock.
14.07.2005Two moths in flight, late afternoon in north paddock.
02.07.2006Many, many caterpillars feeding on Ragwort at Whisby Nature Reserve.
09.07.2008Caterpillars feeding on Ragwort at Horncastle Community Woodland area.



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Shoulder stripe moth Shoulder stripe moth

Shoulder stripe

Anticlea badiata


This is one of the early moths, the single generation flying between March and May. It comes in a wide variation of colours from pale fawn to vividly contrasting darker forms. The pale band across the centre of the wings, the tiny white chevrons close to the trailing edge and a thin dark streak at the wing tip are all constant indicators.


It is common throughout England and Wales, and in lowland Scotland as far north as Caithness, frequenting hedgerows, scrub and gardens.



Shoulder stripe moth caterpillar ?

The looper type larvae feed on rose species and overwinter as pupae in the soil. Since many caterpillars go through several different moults, they can look different as they stage through to maturity. This link to the habitas.org.uk website shows two different colour forms of the Shoulder Stripe larvae.


So, the best that can be said about the 25mm long caterpillar image shown here is that it is representative of what an immature Shoulder Stripe larva might look like. - At least it was feeding on garden rose and the moths do frequent the garden!



DateSighting
25.05.2004 Caterpillar found on garden rose.
26.03.2005 Attracted to light late at night.
18.04.2006 Attracted to light late at night.
11.04.2008 Attracted to light late at night.
01.04.2009 3 attracted to light late at night.
09.05.2009 1 pale moth attracted to light late at night.
27.03.2010 1 brightly marked specimen attracted to light late at night.


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Common Carpet moth

Common Carpet

Epirrhoe alternata alternata

There are two sub-species of the Common carpet. The one shown here (E. alternata alternata) is well distributed throughout the UK - with the exception of the Outer Hebrides, where the browner coloured E.a.obscurata is to be found.

In the south of England there may be three generations per year, resulting in the moth being seen continuously from May to October. Farther north, to Northumbria, will see two generations flying from May to June and July to September. And north of that will normally only have one generation flying in June to July.

The image does not show a typical resting position. Normally the forewings are swept further back almost covering the hind wings. It is found in a wide range of habitats with the larvae feeding on the bedstraw family of plants (e.g. Cleavers, seen in the image).



DateSighting
02.06.2003 Hay meadow western hedge.
24.05.2005 Hay meadow western hedge.
July 2006 Many specimens with subtle colour variations have been seen - generally brown rather than grey.
22.06.2009Attracted to light at night.
01.09.2009Attracted to light at night.



Wood Carpet moth

Wood Carpet

Epirrhoe rivata

Comparing this image with the Common Carpet, above, it is easy to understand why they might be confused. The Wood Carpet has rather better defined light and dark wing banding, with no fine grey line running through the second broad white band. And it also lacks the fine lacey tracery of the trailing portion of the Common Carpet's wings.

The Wood Carpet is a single generation species, flying in June to August and its UK range extends roughly only as far northwards only as the rivers, Mersey and Humber.

The larvae feed on the bedstraw family of plants, which includes Cleavers, from July to September and then pupate throughout the winter in a cocoon at ground level.



DateSighting
14.06.2005 Found on Cleavers growing through hawthorn hedge.


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Water Carpet moth Water Carpet moth

Water carpet

Lampropteryx suffumata

I have great difficulty in differentiating between many of the carpet moths but, fortunately, this one is quite distinctive. And another good guide is that the single generation is on the wing during April and May - which rules out some of the competition.

They are readily attracted to light as were the two pictured on the right. When released next day onto its larval food plant (cleavers or goosegrass), the upper one posed for the camera in the sun for some time before crawling off to hide.

Although the markings are quite consistent throughout the species there can be some variation in intensity of colouring. When light fell on the lower specimen at certain angles, areas appeared like burnished gold.

It is reported to be 'thinly distributed throughout the UK but may be under recorded due to its early flight period'.



DateSighting
13.04.2005 Came late at night to light indoors
26.04.2008 Came late at night to a lighted window.
09.04.2009 Came late at night to a lighted window.
16.04.2009 Flying at low level under a lighted window.


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Green carpet moth Green carpet moth, faded specimen

Green Carpet

Colostygia pectinataria

Isn't this magnificent. What a beauty. Unfortunately, the Green carpet only looks so stunning for a short time after hatching from the pupa. As it ages, so it starts to fade and the green coloration can become very washed out, as seen in the lower image. That said, the moth can still be identified by the distinctive arrangement of dark line and dot markings.

Whether by chance or design the moth appears to choose a background to suit its colouring. I must have walked past the moth in the upper image, half a dozen times before I spotted it against the jagged nettle leaves. The lower one I saw in flight before it it settled on ivy foliage but even then, against the shiny leaves, the camouflage proved very effective.

In southern Britain there are two generations a year (flying in May / June and August / September) and one in the north (flying in June / August).

The larval food plants include the bedstraw family and possibly white dead nettle.



DateSighting
11.08.2004 Saw it in flight (13.06hrs) but had to hunt for it on the patio wall.
25.05.2005 Found on nettles on a ditch side bank.
31.08.2005 2nd generation, somewhat smaller, flying around patio.
01.06.2006 Two flying by hawthorn hedge at 20.00hrs.
13.06.2007 Faded specimen of first generation on ditch side vegetation.
14.09.2007 3 attracted to light.
27.05.2008 Mid-coloured specimen of first generation seen on local bridleway.
22.06.2008 1 attracted to light.
31.05.2009 1 attracted to light.
20.09.2009 1 attracted to light.


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Silver-ground carpet moth

Silver-ground carpet

Xanthorhoe montanata m.

This species can be quite variable in its wing markings and has beeen split into several sub-species. This image captures a reasonably 'classic' form (X. m. montanata). But the broad central dark band can be diminished to such an extent that only the outline of the band remains defined. The square pale 'neck yoke' appears to remain constant throughout the various sub-species.

This is a single generation species, flying from mid-May to late July and is usually found in sheltered woodland and hedges.

The larvae, from eggs hatched in July/August, live through the winter to the following May, when they pupate in a cocoon in loose earth. The larval foodplants are cleavers, hedge bedstraw and primroses.



DateSighting
06.06.2004 Found on mixed vegetation at base of hay meadow hawthorn hedge.
28.05.2008 Attracted to light.
17.05.2009 Attracted to light.
25.06.2009 Attracted to light.


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Red Twin-spot Carpet Red Twin-spot Carpet Red Twin-spot Carpet

Red Twin-spot Carpet

Xanthorhoe spadicearia

Three images that look as though they could be three different species. But, I have had them confirmed as all being forms of the Red Twin-spot Carpet.


They were all found in the same rural garden - so environment should not account for the differences. The upper two images are of first generation males - so the cause is not due to gender or season. The lower image, however, is of a second generation specimen.


So, perhaps it is all down to chance or hereditory genes. Three dark specimens (middle image) were found in the same location within 48 hours suggesting the possibility that this dark form arose from an isolated common family link.


What it does emphasise is that when it comes to identifying species traits, coloration is less significant than the shape and form of markings.


The 'twin spot' reference in the common name relates to the two small dark marks in the trailing edge corner of the front wing.

The species is quite common throughout the UK. In the southern half of England there are two generations a year, flying April - early June and July - August. Elsewhere a single generation flies from May to July.


The larvae feed on a range of plants including Bedstraws, Ground ivy and Wild Carrot and pupate in leaf litter at the base of the food plant.



DateSighting
15.05.2005 Hay Meadow western hedge
17.07.2005 Attracted to light indoors.
15.05.2006 Hay Meadow western hedge. Same date, same location as in 2005
02.06.2008 Attracted to light.
30.04.2009 Three dark specimens attracted to lighted windows.
31.07.2009 Attracted to lighted windows.


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Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet

Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet

Xanthorhoe ferrugata

The general similarity with the previous species is easy to see - and at first I thought they were one and the same.

However, the main distinguishing features of the Dark-barred Twin-spot are
a) the rather more sombre colouring and
b) the distinct vee shaped notch on the forward edge of the dark band near the outer edge of the wing.

This species also flies slightly later than the Red Twin-spot, in May and June and again in late July and August.

Larval foodplants are the Bedstraws, Ground-ivy and Docks.



DateSighting
28.07.2006 Attracted to light.
28.05.2009 3 attracted to light.
12.08.2009 Another 3 attracted to light.


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Yellow Shell Yellow Shell

Yellow Shell

Camptogramma bilineata


This moth comes in a wide range of colour forms, from bright yellow (more common in the south) through orange to a warm brown. But all forms carry the distinctive pattern of fine wavy lines. Coloration is significantly affected by lighting conditions, the moths appearing much brighter in full sunlight than they do in shade.


There is generally only one generation per year and the moths are seen on the wing, usually in the early evening, from late May to August, around hedgerows, meadows, etc.


The larvae, to be found from July through to May, overwinter low down on the foodplant - of which there is a rich variety; cleavers, docks, sorrels, dandelions, etc., and pupatation takes place underground.



DateSighting
25.07.2004 Seen on western hedge of hay meadow at 19.40hrs.
14.06.2005 Seen on western hedge of hay meadow at 20.00hrs.
18.06.2006 Seen on hawthorn hedge by house at 16.00hrs.
07.06.2008 Attracted to light.
23.06.2008 Attracted to light.
13.06.2009 Attracted to light.
24.08.2009 Day flying in hay meadow.
13.06.2009 Flew indoors at night, attracted to light.



Streamer moth Streamer moth

Streamer

Anticlea derivata


The Streamer moth is one of those 'once seen, never forgotten' moths. It just looks 'a bit different' and there is nothing else quite like it flying in springtime in the UK. Although the pale central area may be whitish grey or pale brown the markings are quite unique. It gets its common name from the dark mark on the forewing that 'streams' away towards the trailing edge of the wing.


The violet/pink flush on the wings is most noticeable in recently emerged examples and as the moth ages it generally becomes more 'washed out' and faded.


It is a single generation species, flying in April and May and generally flies just after dusk rather than late into the night.


Although rare in the Channel Islands it is well distributed throughout lowland UK to the Inner Hebrides and Orkney.


The larvae feed mainly on wild rose, occasionally on Hawthorn and Blackthorn.



DateSighting
26.04.2009 Found at rest under a lighted window.
27.04.2010 Several attracted to a lighted window in the early hours after dusk.




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