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"A Nature Observer′s Scrapbook"

Macro Moths page 3 - The cider party - and more.

Angle shades Angle shades Angle shades Setaceous Hebrew Character Square-spot rustic Flame Shoulder White-shouldered House moth Agonopterix ocellana Setaceous Hebrew Character

The cider party

I happened to be in the garden with a torch one night in mid August and discovered that the fallen apples, already damaged by wasps and birds, had attracted a large gathering of moths, all imbibing the apple juices and apparently 'under the influence'. They seemed oblivious to the light and remained motionless while I rearranged two of the apples to get a better composition, fetched a better light source - and got the camera.

Hovering the mouse over individual moths will identify them.
'Clicking' on a moth will link to its description on this page. To return to this image, please scroll back up to the top of the page or, select 'The cider party' from the lefthand navigation menu.

Angle Shades moth Angle Shades moth Angle Shades immature 26mm larva Angle Shades mature 38mm larva Angle Shades moth pupa

Angle Shades

Phlogophora meticulosa

A moth as uniquely marked as this should, I would have thought, be seen more often than it is. It is classed as 'abundant everywhere' and can be found at all times of the year. Yet, prior to this sighting I had only ever seen one - and that was in broad daylight. On this occasion I saw ten within a range of five yards.

When at rest, unlike other moths, the wings are creased or wrinkled rather than flat open. This characteristic gives the impression that the moth has just hatched from pupation but must help to improve the camouflage when it is resting on bark or fallen leaves.

Although I am now finding them more regularly, I have yet to see one in flight. They seem quite prepared to rest motionless through the day, relying on their excellent camouflage to escape notice.

In the second image, two shoulder tufts of brown hair can just be seen which will help to break up the profile and contribute to the way it merges into the background.

It is thought there may be two generations based on peaks in their numbers during May - June and August - October. Just as the adults are found all year round, so are the larvae. These feed on a wide range of plants, nettle, docks, bramble, birch and oak.

The first larval image is of an immature 26mm larva that was found floating in water at the bottom of a lank overgrown ditch early in November. When rescued from the very cold water it was quite limp and inactive but slowly recovered over a period of four days and was able to clamber around grass and nettle foliage. Its food of choice was Dock and a month later had grown to 34mm. It was observed to remain motionless throughout the day and only eat after dark. Unfortunately it did not survive pupation.

The larvae come in green and brown colour forms and 'plump' up considerably with maturity, as can be seen in the second larval image of a 38mm specimen found in July. This too, fed on Dock leaves and the image was taken during diapause (the dormant state just prior to pupation).

Pupation takes place in loose soil and in the case of this summer specimen lasted just four weeks. But, pupations will be influenced by ambient temperatures and may take longer. Late season caterpillars may even hibernate through the winter, continuing to feed during milder periods before pupating in March/April.

15.08.2003Back garden, ten supping juice from fallen apples late at night.
01.05.2005Basking in the sun on a cupressus hedge for six hours.
02.11.2006Larva found floating in water filled ditch was 'nursed' back to life.
10.05.2007Adult attracted to light on a miserable wet night.
25.07.2007Mature caterpillar found in ditch side vegetation.
31.07.2007Caterpillar retreated below soil level to pupate.
27.08.2007Moth emerged from pupation and released onto Docks.
07.04.2008Larva found on Dog's Mercury. Reared on Dog's Mercury and Dock but preferred the former. No diagonal stripes on abdomen.
03.05.2008Larva (above) retreated underground, spun silk cooon and pupated.
03.06.2008Moth (above) emerged from pupation and released onto Docks.
17.05. - 15.09.2014Moths attracted to light.

Flame Shoulder

Flame Shoulder

Ochropleura plecta

In the party picture at the top of the page, the Flame Shoulder is seen at bottom centre. The adjacent image was taken 3 years later and only 3 metres from the original site.

This is a very common moth and, despite variations in colour intensity, it is easily recognised by the creamy white streak on the leading edge of the forewings. The orbicular and reniform stigma (the pale, oval and kidney shaped marks sometimes quite difficult to identify on other moths) stand out quite clearly.

Flame Shoulder

Colour intensity is related to age. Newly emerged from pupation the wings are a dark walnut brown in sharp contrast with the pale leading edge stripe. With time the dark brown mellows and reveals subtle shades. The second image is of a one day old moth. Over time the colour then gradually fades and an old moth can look quite washed out but, still retains the characteristic pale leading edge to the wings.

The moths are to be found from April to September in Southern UK with numbers peaking in May/June and August due to two generations. Further north a single generation flies from late May to July.

Flame Shoulder larva

The caterpillars feed on a wide range of herbaceous plants including dock and plantain. And the larva in the adjacent image, found under a Hawthorn hedge when only 12mm long, after feeding quite happily on Ground Ivy and Dead Nettle, grew to 32mm within 12 days. Feeding takes place at night and the larvae rest at the base of the food plant during the day, characteristically in a head down position (the image having been rotated through 90 degrees).

Flame Shoulder pupa

Pupation takes place in the soil. The 13mm pupa shown in the lower image was found in an open grassy hay meadow just below the surface in fine grained soil.

A slightly larger, slimmer and darker relative, Ochropleura leucogaster, whilst common in continental Europe, is a rare visitor to southern counties of the UK.

15.08.2003Back garden.
17.07.2006Back garden.
08.06.2008Attracted to light.
01.05.2009Very dark 13mm pupa found just below soil level in a grassy field.
05.05.2009Moth emerged from pupation.
17.08.2009Moth found apparently just emerged from pupation.
16.09.200912mm caterpillar found under Hawthorn hedge.
28.09.2009On a diet of Ground Ivy and White Dead Nettle the same larva now measures 32mm.
02.05. - 17.09.2014Moths attracted to light.

Setaceous Hebrew Character Setaceous Hebrew Character

Setaceous Hebrew Character

Xestia c-nigrum

First, the name. There is another moth called the Hebrew Character (see below). So, 'Setaceous' (bristly) is used to differentiate between them. I presume the 'bristles' refer to the ridge or crest of hair which rises erect just behind the head.

The hebrew character is, I believe, 'lamed', the twelfth character in the hebrew alphabet and refers to the dark shape half way down the wing which looks (vaguely) like an hour glass split down the middle - and is sometimes referred to as a 'saddle' mark. The light peach coloured triangle inset in the saddle is quite distinctive. The latin name - X. c-nigrum or black C, may be more descriptive.

There are two generations. The first, in May and June is less abundant than the second in August which is probably supplemented by migrants from the continent.

Setaceous Hebrew Character larva Setaceous Hebrew Character larva

The larvae feed on a wide range of plants including docks and stinging nettles. But the proboscis of the adult in the upper image is very obviously supping the apple juices. The larvae normally feed at night and return to ground litter cover during the day. Consequently the larvae are not seen very frequently.

The images of the nearly full grown larva (39mm) are of a specimen disturbed while I was weeding near the base of a clump of stinging nettles in late May. The cold and wet spring of 2013 had probably delayed its earlier, normal pupation.

15.08.2003Back garden.
22.08.2007Attracted to light and sheltered indoors from the rain.
27.05.2013Mature 39mm larva found at the base of a clump of nettles.
24.08. - 30.09.2014Moths attracted to light.

male Hebrew character moth

Hebrew character

Orthosia gothica

Although this moth didn't attend the party it is worth placing here as a comparison against the Setaceous Hebrew Character (above).

This species is not quite as well marked as the one above but exhibits the prominent dark mark on the leading edge of the forewing that is close approximation of the Hebrew alphabet character 'lamed' - which explains it's common name. There are several colour variations, ranging from creamy brown, through warm brown to dark brown.

The adults come readily to light, as did both of these. The upper image is that of a male, identified by the feathered antennae.

female Hebrew character moth

The second image is that of a female discretely hiding her simple antennae, who proved to be a surprisingly co-operative photographic model because when disturbed, instead of flying off, she feinged death and just rolled over. She then patiently allowed herself to be placed on a sunlit leaf while I did the business with the camera, before she moved to the shade and safety of the underside of the leaf.

The species generally produces only one generation a year and the adults fly from late March to May - rather earlier than the Set. Heb. character. So although they may look confusingly similar, their flight times are a good indicator of species. However, ...... just to complicate matters, a few of this species may hatch in mild spells during late autumn and winter.

Hebrew character caterpillar

The attractive green and white caterpillars, feed on a diversely wide range of plants including oak, birch, hawthorn and sallow trees, as well as Meadowsweet and Common nettle - that is what the books say.

This mature specimen was found in the middle of a hay meadow in late June, feeding on the seed capsules of Common Sorrel, Rumex acetosa.

Hebrew character cocoon Hebrew character pupa

Towards the end of July, the larva will move to ground level and construct a silken cocoon in loose soil.

Soil particles adhere to the silken fibres and provide excellent camouflage.

A pupa is then formed inside the cocoon where it will remain until the adult emerges in March / April.

28.03.2004 Male came to light indoors.
05.04.2005 Came to light indoors late at night and sheltered from the cold for 4 days.
25.04.2007 Came to light indoors.
01.10.2007 Cocoon and pupa found in soil under nettles.
12.03.2008 Female hatched from pupa and was released.
14.03.2008 Male came to light indoors.
11.04.2008 Male came to lighted window.
13.03.2009 First macro moth of 2009, male came to lighted window.
22.06.2009 Mature caterpillar found on Common Sorrel.
17.03.2010 First appearance in 2010
27.03.2010 Found 10 settled around a lit window.
08.03. - 17.05.2014 Moths attrascted to a lit window.

The square reniform stigma The square reniform stigma Proboscis supping apple juice Square-spot Rustic moth

Square-spot Rustic

Xestia xanthographa

The species is common to most of Britain and flies mainly in August and September. There is wide colour variation within this species, from sandy grey, through brown ochre to almost black.

Many moths have a kidney shaped mark (reniform stigma) roughly two thirds of the way back on the forewing. In this species the mark appears as a pale rectangular shape, hence the reference to 'Square-spot' which is a quick aid to identification. Moving your mouse over the image will identify these marks.
The long proboscis of the moth can clearly be seen supping up the juices of a fallen apple.

Square-spot Rustic larva Square-spot Rustic larva

The caterpillars overwinter from October to May, feeding at night on grasses, plantains and Cleavers. On reaching maturity they will the lie dormant under the soil for several weeks before pupating and eventually emerging as adult moths in late July.

The first caterpillar image is of a 20mm long immature specimen found in March under a tuft of grass. To accomodate their rate of growth, caterpillars may cast their skins four times and each skin change can be accompanied by a variation in coloration.

The second caterpillar image is of a more mature specimen some 30mm long, that was found in late April.

However, a note of caution, the paler, less well marked caterpillar of the Six-striped Rustic moth can sometimes be confused with this species. It shares the same life cycle seasons and habitats as the Square-spot Rustic but is less common.

15.08.2003Moth found in back garden.
17.04.2004Larva found, within 3 meters of where the adult moth was photographed the previous autumn.
30.04.2006Mature larva found at ground level amongst grass and Cleavers. hedge.
05.07. - 21.09.2014Moths attracted to light.

Newly emerged Herald moth Elderly Herald moth Herald caterpillar


Scoliopteryx libatrix

There should be no confusion identifying this moth. There is no other species quite like it in wing colour, pattern or shape. That said, its coloration can appear a little variable depending on lighting and the age of the moth.

The upper image is of a crisp, pristine specimen recently emerged from pupation while the second image is of an elderly, rather worn specimen that has overwintered.

This is generally regarded as a single generation species, the adult being on the wing from late July / August to November, over wintering in sheltered places and re-emerging again from March to June, with larvae to be found May to August.

Whereas the adult moth is unique, the caterpillar is one of many green caterpillars. With experience it is possible to recognise the thin vague lines running down the length of the body and seeing it on one of its foodplants (willow, aspen or poplar) helps to narrow the identity options down.

Perhaps yet another indication of global warming, here in Lincolnshire, I have found larvae feeding in early October. Given that the larvae pupate in the rolled leaves of their chosen foodplant, I suspect that the survival rate for this late generation may not be very good since the leaves will be falling to the ground within the month.

23.04.2004 Worn specimen found on bathroom windowsill.
04.10.2005 Larva happily munching away on garden sallow leaves.
29.07.2008 Adult attracted to lighted window.
05.07.2009 Adult, newly emerged from a pupa that had been found earlier in leaf debris in a tuft of grass, released.

Lunar Underwing moth Lunar Underwing showing underwing lunar mark

Lunar Underwing

Omphaloscelis lunosa

The Lunar Underwing comes in a range of colours from a pale straw brown through rich dark brown to almost dark grey. However, the veining on the wings remains constant and can be in striking contrast to the background.

Unfortunately, the Beaded Chestnut moth has very similar markings and some caution is required to positively identify these two species. The defining differences are that the Lunar Underwing has a more rounded wing tip (fine, if you have the two side by side for comparison) and a dark crescent shaped (lunar) mark on the pale grey hindwing (which is not usually visible at rest). The forewing length of both is of the order of 17mm.

Both are single generation species with slightly different flight seasons. The Lunar Underwing flies from August to October and the Beaded Chestnut from September to November - but the significant overlap and seasonal fluctuations are obviously of little aid to identification.

And, while the Lunar Underwing larvae favour a range of grasses, the Beaded Chestnut larvae favour buttercups, clovers, etc. - which means that both species are likely to be found in very similar habitats.

One weary specimen, found caught up in spiders web, afforded the opportunity to see the lunar, crescent moon shaped mark on the upper side of the hindwing. (Lower image)

14.09.2005 Attracted indoors to light at night, conveniently stayed overnight for a daylight photo session.
21.09.2006 Three specimens, all very similar, attracted to light at night.
22.09.2007 Attracted to light at night.
21 to 25.09.2008 Five specimens, all very similar, attracted to light at night.
17.09. - 15.10.2014 Moths attracted to light at night.

Common Swift, male Common Swift, male Common Swift, female

Common Swift

Hepialus lupulinus

The Common Swift in the upper image is rather more strongly marked than the norm and the way that the moth behaved, staggering about in an uncertain way when found, might suggest that it had only recently emerged from pupation which could account for its crisp, pristine appearance.

On the other hand, the second image is of a moth found three weeks later in the season so, that might suggest some fading through wear and tear - or, that it portrays a paler form with less prominent markings. The upper two images are both of males and serve to illustrate the variation in colour and markings.

There are five UK species of Swift moths of which the Common Swift is the most common (!) It can be found flying from May to July. However, the Swift moths are quite primitive and have no means of feeding so, individual moths may well only survive a few weeks. Forewing length of the males varies between 11 to 16mm and for females, 15 to 20mm.

The larvae feed below ground on the roots of various grasses and herbaceous plants and are widely distributed in urban and rural areas. They may take two years to mature and will pupate underground. The adult moth, flying in May and June, therefore only represents about 8% of its full life cycle.

16.05.2007 Attracted to light but quite wobbly. Could be newly emerged.
07.06.2007 Found at rest on an outside door in early morning sunshine.
26.05.2008 Attracted to light at about 10.00pm.
06.06.2008 Attracted to light at midnight.
14.05. - 23.06.2014 Attracted to light.

Orange Swift moth

Orange Swift

Hepialus sylvina

The Orange Swift shown on the right is the brighter more prominently marked male. The female is duller - and more variable in colour, ranging from a paler orange to mid brown. Both sexes are quite variable in size. Males can be found from 12 - 18mm and females from 15 - 26mm.

The Swifts, from the Hepialus family are considered to be primitive moths. They have very short antennae and no proboscis so cannot feed as adults. Although they may be found on the wing from mid June to mid September, it is unlikely that individual moths survive much more than one month.

The larvae are rarely seen because they live underground, often overwintering twice, feeding on the roots of grasses, bracken and other herbaceous plants.

12.08.2005 Flew indoors at 20.00hrs to escape heavy rain.
20.08.2014 Attracted to light.

Small Bloodvein moth Small Bloodvein moth

Small Blood-vein

Scopula imitaria

The 'common residential' status of the Small Bloodvein in the UK extends as far north as Lincolnshire. Farther north it is only seen in localised pockets.

The moth normally flies at night during July and August - and only during the day if disturbed. In my locality, it seems to have a very short flight period. In 2006 it was only seen between the 5th and 14th of July.

In the wild the larvae are reputed to prefer Privet as a food plant (on which they will overwinter) until pupation in ground litter in May. But in captivity they are known to survive well on a variety of herbaceous plants.

05.07.2006 Found indoors, first sighting of the year.
08.07.2006 Found indoors, released the following morning and quickly found the camouflage of an old brick wall.
14.07.2006 Found indoors, last sighting of the year.
04.07.2009 Attracted to a lighted window.
05.07. - 17.07.2014 Attracted to a lighted window.

Small Fan-footed Wave.

Small Fan-footed Wave

Idaea biselata

This is a small species, and normally seen with wings held out at right angles to the body, giving it a wingspan of about 23-24mm. There is also a grey form.

Distinguishing features include, four small but prominent black dots, one on each wing (the hind wing dots are hidden in this image), the faint cross line that (usually!) neatly bends around each forewing dot and the darker outer band extending across all four wings. There is also a very thin dark streak on the leading edge of the wing at the shoulder.

The single generation flies from June to August and the larvae live August to May, over-wintering in ground litter around their dandelion and plantain food plants.

21.07.2005 Flew indoors, came to rest on bedroom wall.
13.07.2007 Two attracted to light.
02.07. - 30.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Riband Wave moth Riband Wave moth

Riband Wave

Idaea aversata (form remutata)

There are several different 'Wave' moth species and they can be difficult to differentiate. As with most species, it is the markings on the wings which determine the identity.

The 'true' Riband Wave has a distinctive broad dark ribbon running across the wings which is reduced to the two outer thin lines in f. remutata. The colour of the two specimens shown here (and all shades in between) is regarded as within the normal range of variation for the species.

One of the defining features to help with identification of this species is that the third cross line (nearest the trailing edge) on the wings has a distinct forward kink where it meets the wing leading edge. It may not be the definitive feature but, it certainly helps to reduce the alternative options.

The species is common throughout much of the UK with the exception of the Scottish highlands. Although a second generation may occur in southern England, it is generally regarded as a single generation species flying from mid June to August.

The larvae which feed on bedstraws, dandelions and docks, overwinter in a flimsy silken cocoon in ground litter and will emerge to feed again in the spring prior to pupation.

17.08.2005 Disturbed from the shelter of a tree
30.07.2006 Found sunning itself on a wall in early evening.
14.06. to 12.08.2014 Attracted - light.

Barred Straw moth

Barred Straw

Eulithis pyraliata

The unusual resting position of the Barred Straw always gives it an injured appearance. But, once you recognise it, it does make identification easier. The only other moth with a similar 'open wing, tail up' pose is its family relative, the Spinach moth.

The way that the inside edge of the rear wing curls upwards accentuates the raised abdomen and may help with mating pheromone dispersal. Forewing length can vary between 12 - 18mm.

The Barred Straw flies from June through to the end of August and, as with all the members of the Eulithis family, all eggs laid will remain as eggs through the winter, to hatch in April.

The larvae of this species feed on Cleavers, Galium aparine, and other bedstraws. Other Eulithis species have their own specific food plants.

22.06.2003 On Ivy alongside Cleavers in Hawthorn hedge.
02.07.2004 On grass at foot of Cleaver rich hedge.
02.07.2005 On grass at foot of Cleaver rich hedge.
07.07.2006 Attracted indoors by the bedroom light.
18.06 - 21.07.2014 Attracted indoors by the bedroom light.

Spinach moth


Eulithis mellinata

The Spinach characteristically holds its wings in an exagerated outstretched manner which this image does not show to best advantage - the adjacent foliage restricted them somewhat.

It is distinguished from the Barred Straw by the dark shallow 'V' on the forewing. It flies June to August and comes regularly to lighted windows.

Eggs laid in late summer on Black and Red Current bushes will remain over winter until the spring foliage opens for the larvae to feed on.

Because of its chosen foodplant requirements, this is a moth more likely to be found close to gardens and urban environments.

15.06.2004 True to form, found on Blackcurrant bush.

Early Moth, male Early Moth, ventral view

Early Moth

Theria primaria

A moth that lives up to it's name is the Early Moth. In 2008 it was the first macro moth of the year to visit us. It is a single generation flier, the males being on the wing in January and February. The females have tiny little squared off wings and are incapable of flight. They just sit around on bare twigs and wait for the males to find them.

The species is well distributed in the UK as far as southern Scotland. But, because of its early season, is not as well recorded as it might be.

The favoured larval foodplants are Blackthorn and Hawthorn and it is on these bare winter hedges that you will have the best chance of seeing the adults - if you are prepared to prowl the hedges by torchlight. The 15mm males can usually be found from 19.00 to 01.00hrs. But the 10mm females coyly wait until about 22.00hrs before making themselves 'available'.

The male's forewings can be quite plain with just the two prominent dots and faint cross lines. In some areas of south-east England care is necessary in identifying late specimens because the Sloe Carpet moth which also favours Blackthorn, flies in March and April - and can look very similar although it tends to have rather more pointed wings and is rarer.

The male moths tend to feign death when disturbed and in the lower image this enabled me to get a shot of the underside of a different specimen. The coloration is rather bland but it reveals that the hind wings, which are also pale on top, also carry central spots.

The larvae feed from April to May and then enter a long pupal state just below ground until the adults hatch in January and the females make the long climb up to an appropriate courting vantage point.

11.02.2007 Attracted to lighted kitchen window at 21.00hrs.
28.01.2008 Flew indoors, attracted to light.
01.03.2010 Attracted to light.
18.01.2011 Attracted to light.
14.02. - 09.03.2014 Attracted to light.

Buff-tip moth Buff-tip larva


Phalera bucephala

The Buff-tip moth is a large moth, the female can have a forewing length of up to 34mm, and is so named because of the prominent buff coloured markings at the end of the wings and also the front of the head. It is not likely to be confused with any other moth. Although the markings may appear striking against a plain background, in natural surroundings it can easily be mistaken as a short piece of broken twig - the pale grey shading looking remarkably like lichen.

It flies from late May to July, usually nocturnally, and may be attracted to light. It's natural resting position is with wings drawn up tightly in tent fashion.

The larvae, which can grow to 75mm (!), feed on a wide range of tree foliage. Seeming to prefer the sallow willows, they are also found on birches, oaks, hazel, alder, beech, etc.

The larvae hatch from large groups of eggs and initially feed communally, often stripping branches bare, before going off to forage singly. When mature they will pupate underground throughout the winter.

30.08.2005 Eight 50mm larvae found on Goat Willow at Benniworth conservation area.
24.07.2010 Moth attracted to light at the Chambers Farm Wood nature reserve.

Agonopterix ocellana

no common name

Agonopterix ocellana

This is a very poor image enlargement of the moth seen at the top-centre of the large apple in the introductory picture. Relatively common throughout the British Isles, this fairly distinctive Agonopterix overwinters as an adult, often being found in early spring as it awakes from hibernation.

The species is easily identified by the combination of rufous, black and white in the centre of the forewing.

The larva feeds on various willows (Salix spp.), feeding between leaves spun together with silk.

A much better quality image of this moth is to be found here at the UK Moths website.

15.08.2003Back garden.

White-Shouldered House-Moth

White-shouldered House-moth

Endrosis sarcitrella

I am willing to bet that you never even saw this one silhouetted on top of the apple at the top of the page.

Quite why a 'House-moth' was partying outdoors, I know not.

A better image and a description is to be found on the Micro Moths page 'b'.

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