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"A Nature Observer′s Scrapbook"

Macro Moths, page 4

Winter Moth Winter Moth Flightless female Winter Moth

Winter Moth

Operophtera brumata

The winter moth is one of these very variable species that can be confusing to identify. At first glance it can appear to be a bland mid-brown moth. But, there is usually a darker brown band that extends midway across the wings. What makes it even more difficult is that the November Moth and the Autumnal Moth which can be similarly marked, also have brown forms.

With a forewing length of 14mm, the Winter moth is slightly smaller than the other two but, it tends to fly later in the year and is most likely to be found from late November through to January - from which it derives it's common name of the Winter Moth. There is also a December moth but, that is a rather more distinctive dark brown with definitive cream markings.

The female Winter moth (lower image) has tiny vestigial wings making it incapable of flight and it crawls around on the bark of a wide range of broadleaved trees, Oak, Birch, Sallow, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, etc., until a male finds her. She then creeps into a crevice in the bark to lay her eggs. These will overwinter and the larvae will emerge in the spring when the leaf buds begin to break.

For several years I 'lamped' local Hawthorn and Blackthorn hedges at night, hoping to find a male and female in the act of mating. The theory being that that was the only way I would chance upon the well camouflaged flightless female. The idea might have been good but the result was fruitless.

Then, when least expected, on a frosty sunny day in mid January, at mid-day in full view halfway up a white painted wall and 4 metres from a Blackthorn hedge, the wait was over. I was surprised to find that, when disturbed, the female (body length 8mm) was quite active - probably thanks to the warmth of the winter sun. However, when placed in a 'lure cage' (an upturned plastic kitchen seive) no males were lured to her side, but then, it was late in the flight window.

11.12.2006 Male found on garage wall after dark with wings folded upright in butterfly fashion.
11.11.2009 Male attracted to a lighted window.
14.11.2010 Male attracted to a lighted window.
15.11.2014 Two males found attracted to a lighted window.
03.12.2014 Seven males attracted to a lighted indow.
17.01.2015 Flightless female found on white wall, 4 metres from Blackthorn hedge.

Mottled Pug

Mottled Pug

Eupithica exiguata exiguata

The diagnostic characters to look out for in the Mottled pug are, the dark elongated central wing spot, a series of small dark 'ticks' just beyond the spot 'pushing into' and causing a sharp kink in the pale cross band two-thirds of the way down the wing and two pale streaks towards the trailing edge.

The single generation flies in May and June. A similar looking species, the Brindled Pug, rather warmer brown and more mottled, flies earlier from March to April.

Mottled Pug, 22mm larva Mottled Pug, 22mm larva

The larvae feed on Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Dogwood from June to October and then pupate through the winter in loose soil beneath the food plant until emerging in May.

The young caterpillars are very thin, almost thread like, and are very difficult to spot on foliage since they remain motionless during the day and feed at night. When at rest, the larvae adopt a classic 'looper' caterpillar posture of grasping a stem or leaf with their claspers and single pair of prolegs and holding their body straight out at an angle from their foothold, very effectively creating the illusion of a small leaf stalk.

They have a continuous red line down the middle of their back that breaks up into little yellow centered ovals as they mature. Their early stages of development is very slow and might account for their lengthy 4 to 5 month larval state.

It is only in the latter stages that they show signs of bulking up. The larva images are of 22mm mature caterpillars. Their crinkled skin is an indication of their maturity and they also become more active and restless as they prepare for pupation.

Mottled Pug, 9mm pupae

They will make their way to the base of the food plant and seek out an area of loose fine soil. They then appear to rest in a torpid, dormant state for some ten days, losing body mass and shrinking noticeably before slipping below the surface soil particles to pupate.

The distinctive green and brown pupae seen here are of two 10mm caterpillars found on 26 August. They both grew to 22mm and the first to pupate burrowed 20mm below the soil surface on 24 October while the second made little effort to burrow and pupated in the loose surface soil on 04 November.

06.10.2005 Larva found on Hawthorn.
20.05.2007 Moth found at rest on Privet, then on Dogwood and there was Hawthorn close by.
26.08.2009 Two 10mm caterpillars found on Hawthorn.
14.09.2009 The caterpillars found on 26.08.2009, now 17mm.
09.10.2009 The 10mm caterpillars found in August, are now 22mm and appear ready to pupate.
24.10.2009 One of the caterpillars found in August pupated 20mm below soil level.
04.11.2009 The second caterpillar found in August pupated in the surface layer of loose soil.
18.01.2011 Attracted to light.
20.05. - 10.06.2014 Attracted to light.

Lime-speck Pug

Lime-speck Pug

Eupithecia centaureata

Moths with narrow outstretched wings are 'usually' Pug moths, members of the Eupithecia family. But it is quite a large family and many look very similar.

However, the Lime-speck Pug is the exception. With its lime white wings and large dark 'speck' on the leading edge there is little to confuse it with.

In the north of the UK a single generation flies from May to August. In the south two overlapping generations fly from April to October.

The larvae feed on the flowers of a wide range of herbaceous plants and are therefore found in a wide range of habitats and overwinter as pupae in loose ground litter.

01.08.2006 Attracted to a lighted window.
25.05.2014 Attracted to a lighted window.

Narrow-winged Pug

Narrow-winged Pug

Eupithecia nanata

The narrow-winged pug pictured on the right is a darker form than the norm. The wings normally have a soft fawny brown background and the markings are not usually as steely grey as seen here. But the wing shape tends to be distinctive and the pronounced kink in the pale cross-line and pale 'slash' is normal.

In most of the UK there is just the one generation flying from April to June. In the south, a second generation may fly from July to August.

The larvae feed on the flowers of heather - so the moth is most likely to be found on moors and heathland. Although we do have several heather plants in the garden, our nearest swathes of heather are some two miles away.

23.05.2005 In long grass at side of Hawthorn hedge.

Green Pug moth

Green Pug

Pasiphila rectangulata

A newly hatched Green Pug is one of the easier Pugs to recognise. It can be dark green or bright green and has crisp markings but, as they age, the colouring becomes muddier and the camouflage becomes more effective.

The single generation flies from June to early August. It favours lowland conditions, mainly in the south, becoming less widespread northwards to the Scottish lowlands.

Eggs laid in summer will overwinter and the larvae hatch to feed on the flowers of Apple, Pear, Cherry, Hawthorn and Blackthorn.

06.07.2005 At rest on inside of garage door.
26.06. - 03.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Clouded Border

Clouded Border

Lomaspilas marginata

Although the Clouded Border looks quite striking, it is a relatively small moth with a wingspan of only 22 - 28mm. The degree of pattern can vary quite a bit but, since there is nothing else quite like it, identification should present little problems.

It is classed as a common species, being found throughout the UK as far North as the Scottish highlands. In the warmer south, the single generation will fly from mid-May but generally, in the rest of the country, it is flying in June and July and is readily attracted to light.

Larvae can be found on Aspen, Poplar, Sallow and Willow from July to September. Pupation takes place below ground level.

03.07.2004 Attracted to light, came to rest on ceiling.
10.07.2007 Attracted to lighted window.
08.06. - 30.07.2014 Attracted to lighted window.

Common White Wave

Common White Wave

Cabera pusaria

For me, the clue to the Common White Wave's identity lies in the continuous smooth curves of the crosslines on the wings. The slightly smaller Common Wave has a creamier appearance and less distinct crosslines. In other Wave species these lines tend to be irregular with bends and kinks.

Although regarded as a two generation species in the south, May/June and July/August, the generations tend to merge and in some parts it is found from May to September.

I regard the specimen on the right, seen on the 3rd July, as a newly hatched 2nd generation moth on account of the pristine satin sheen on its wings. The feathered antennae indicate that it is a male.

The larvae feed on Silver Birc, Alder and Sallow.

03.07.2004 Attracted to light and came to rest on ceiling.
26.06.2014 Attracted to light.

Clouded Silver

Clouded Silver

Lomographa temerata

Apart from the varying degree of marking within the Clouded Silver species, generally speaking, this should be one of the easier moths to identify. The constant features are the forewing solitary black dot, the dark smudge inside it and dark flecks on the trailing edge near the corner. A solitary black dot on the hindwing is often obscured.

A single generation species flying from May to July.

Larvae, to be found on Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Plum, Cherry and Crab Apple from June to late August, will overwinter as pupae in ground litter.

Since the 1970s this species, then common only in the south of the UK, has seen a dramatic expansion in its range north and westwards and is now found in Argyleshire in western Scotland.

12.07.2006 Basking in the full mid-afternoon sun against brickwork with no attempt at camouflage.
05.06.2010 Again, basking in the full mid-afternoon sun with no attempt at camouflage.
17.05. - 05.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Pebble Prominent Pebble Prominent Pebble Prominent

Pebble Prominent

Notodonta ziczac

The Pebble Prominent caused me quite some excitement in 2006. Having briefly seen the larva the previous year, the large moth flew in through an open door attracted by an interior light. With nearly a 2 inch wingspan, it made quite an entrance.

The feathered antennae indicate that it was a male.

Then, a month later I found the unusual grey larva browsing on a garden Sallow.

And the next month I found the green form of the larva on the same Sallow.

Despite their unusual, rather exotic shape and posture the larvae can be quite difficult to spot. Their two tone body colour seems to mimic the upper and lower leaf surface colour.

The caterpillars are very efficient eating machines. They will methodically strip each leaf leaving only the main central leaf rib before moving on to the next leaf. But they do not strip an entire branch. Presumably that would leave them in a much too exposed and vulnerable position. So, having consumed two or three leaves, they then move on to an entirely different branch before repeating the process.

Our Sallow is a Salix caprea pendula, a tree with branches trailing to the ground. This seems an entirely sensible choice of food plant for a species which has to reach ground level to pupate in the leaf litter - but that leads us into the realms of 'have invertebrates got that level of intelligence?'

07.09.2005 Young larva of the grey form found on Salix caprea.
31.07.2006 Adult moth attracted to indoor light.
28.08.2006 Grey form larva found on Salix caprea.
11.09.2006 Green form larva found on Salix caprea.
20.04.2011 Adult moth attracted to light.

Pale Prominent Pale Prominent, dorsal view Pale Prominent larva

Pale Prominent

Pterostoma palpina

At rest, the wings of the adult Pale Prominent moth are held close to the abdomen and upright making it look very slim and narrow. The head and thorax are covered in long pale hair which makes it quite difficult to recognise individual features. The mouthparts (palps), also covered in long hair, protrude forwards and upwards like small horns.

Both the male and female moths have feathered antennae but, the male feathering, as seen alongside, is much more conspicuous. The male also boasts two tail tufts of long hair which protrude beyond the folded wings.

Most of the UK will see two generations flying in May / June and July / August. In the north only one generation flies in May / June.

More often than not, it is the male that is attracted to light.

The larvae, which feed on Aspen, Sallow and Willow, have prodigious appetites and develop quite quickly. I observed one over a period of three weeks which never seemed to stop eating until it made its way to the ground to pupate under the leaf litter.

During that time, the larva developed from a small green 'ordinary' looking caterpillar, first taking on a silvery sheen and then latterly developing the rough, almost warty appearance.

20.07.2006 Mature larva made its way down to the leaf litter to pupate and over-winter.
01.08.2006 Moth attracted to lighted window.
13.05.2007 Last July's pupating larva was 'taken into protective custody' and has now emerged and been released.
01.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Short-cloaked moth

Short-cloaked moth

Nola cucullatella

The Short-cloaked moth is one of the easier moths to identify. There is little else to confuse it with. The dark 'cloak' mark over the head and shoulders provides a well defined contrast with the rest of the wing. It is one of the smaller Macro-moths, the forewing being no more than 10mm long.

The single generation flies in June and July and is well distributed throughout the UK.

The larvae are found on Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Apple, Pear or Plum from August through to the following June, feeding whenever foliage is available.

05.07.2003 Attracted to light at window.
28.06 - 15.07.2014 Attracted to light at window.

Shuttle-shaped Dart

Shuttle-shaped Dart

Agrotis puta puta

With a name like the 'Shuttle-shaped Dart' one might be forgiven for thinking that it referred to a prominent feature. The feature is significant but hardly prominent. On the image, between the two dark patches on the leading edge of the forewing, there is a slim pale vertical oval shape. This is representative of a weaver's shuttle. In darker forms of the species it does, admittedly, stand out rather better.

This species is common in open grassland habitats in the Southern UK as far north as lowland areas of Yorkshire and Cumbria. Overlapping generations mean that the moth may be found from April to October.

Shuttle-shaped Dart pupa

Although the larvae have been reported on Docks, Dandelions, lettuce and other herbaceous plants, they are rarely found. But, while doing a bit of routine garden weeding in April, a 17mm orange pupa was found in the top soil around the root of a Dandelion. This was taken into protective custody and, 15 days later in May, an adult Shuttle-shaped Dart emerged.

31.07.2006 Attracted indoors to light.
21.04.2009 Orange pupa found in top soil at base of Dandelion while weeding.
06.05.2009 Moth hatched from pupation.
07.05. - 30.07.2014 Moths attracted to light.

Large Yellow Underwing

Large Yellow Underwing

Noctua pronuba

The upper image is by way of an explanation for the common name. The yellow underwing is rarely visible except for short glimpses while in flight. This image was taken shortly after emerging from pupation while the wings were being stretched and extended for the first time. The normal 'at rest' wing presentation is with wings slightly overlapped as in the second and third images.

There are several members of the 'yellow underwing' group and classic differentiation of the species usually relies on the shape and disposition of the dark markings on the underwings.

female Large Yellow Underwing male Large Yellow Underwing

These images are of the male and female wing patterns and coloration (male on the left, female on the right). Again, the image of the male, taken shortly after emergence from the pupa, shows colouring and markings rather more accentuated than will be seen after it has flown in and out of the usual hiding places in long grass. As with all moths the tiny wing scales get rubbed off and they gradually become paler and take on a 'washed out' appearance with age. The image of the female is more representative of the norm. The moths have quite a long flight period from June to September and are often disturbed from rest in long grass during the day.

While both the male and the female will have a paler streak running down the wing leading edge, the males have a 'marbled appearance' and mature females may seem almost uniformly coloured mid-brown or grey-brown. The one constant feature is a small black tick mark near the trailing corner of the wing.

mature Large Yellow Underwing larva

Larvae will be about from September but, hiding during the day at the base of grass stems, are not often seen. They come in both green and brown forms. During the winter they will retreat to the grass roots and feed there. When the ground is frozen or saturated their metabolism will slow down and they will ride out the worst conditions in a state of dormancy. Having fed from September to March they can grow to a good size, the green one seen here being 45mm long.

mature larva during diapause

Come March and April their appetites slow down and they will enter a lethargic 'diapause' period while their bodies prepare for pupation. The body usually contracts and changes to a muddy brown colour. They may still feed but without any apparent enthusiasm.

Large Yellow Underwing pupa

Pupation may take place either in grass roots or in loose soil during April and May. Initially the pupa case will be a rich, almost ruby red but, with time, will gradually change to a dark brown. Emergence from the hard pupal case is remarkably quick but stretching the compacted wings can talke a little while. The wings are stretched by pumping fluid through the wing veins and then allowing the wings to stiffen. At this stage excess body fluid will be released to lighten the flight payload.

17.06.2006 Many rising from grass in the evening.
06.03.2007 Three brown larvae found in grass roots.
11.03.2007 First of the brown larvae has pupated.
04.04.2007 Large green larva found on short grass at night.
16.06.2007 Two males emerged from pupation and released.
22.06.2007 One female emerged from pupation and released.
22.01.2008 40mm dormant brown larva found submerged in saturated grass paddock.
21.06.2010 Adult moth attracted to light.
28.09.2010 Adult moth attracted to light.
06.06. - 03.09.2014 Moths attracted to light.

Lesser Yellow Underwing Lesser Yellow Underwing

Lesser Yellow Underwing

Noctua comes

While the previous species, the Large Yellow Underwing, is a big substantial moth some 30mm long, the Lesser Yellow Underwing is about 25mm long and that 5mm difference is surprisingly obvious when they are seen in the wild. Although the moth does not normally display its yellow underwings at rest, if you do get a glimpse of the them in flight it helps considerably to narrow down the identification options.

As the images suggest, the coloration of this species varies quite a bit from a pale warm brown to cool grey brown and noticeably darker forms are found in northern regions. The kidney and oval marks on the wing are usually edged in a paler colour and, just behind the kidney mark, there are two fine equi-distant lines that I find are a helpful identification feature.

It is a single generation species, flying from June through into October. Larvae are usually found from August onwards and will overwinter in leaf litter. In the autumn they tend to feed on nettles, docks and foxglove but, in spring are known to feed on hawthorn, brambles, sallows and broom before pupating underground in May.

It is common throughout the UK and Ireland.

31.08.2010 Attracted to light.
07.09.2010 Attracted to light.
31.08. - 01.10.2014 Attracted to light.

Least Yellow Underwing Least Yellow Underwing

Least Yellow Underwing

Noctua interjecta

Initially, I found this moth hard to identify. With no oval and kidney marks visible on the wings, it seemed to be a very nondescript species. Until, quite by chance, it dropped its guard on one occasion and opened its wings slightly to reveal the yellow under wing - and that narrowed the options down considerably.

I now see that it shares the same two fine dark dotted lines towards the rear of the wings like it's bigger relative, the Lesser Yellow Underwing and fortunately the wing colour seems to be fairly consistent in all the specimens that I see so, it is no longer the mystery that it once was.

Measuring about 20mm long it is, as it's common name suggests, the smallest of the 'Yellow Underwings'. It is a single generation species, flying in July and August and I find that it is a regular visitor to lighted windows.

The larvae feed nocturnally from September through to the following May, on Mallow, Meadowsweet and grasses in the Autumn and on hawthorn ans sallows in the Spring. During the day and their winter sleep period, they retreat to the safety of ground leaf litter and will eventually pupate underground.

The UK population is biased towards the south. It is widespread and frequent in the Channel Islands, common in the southern half of England, less so in northern England and infrequent in Scotland.

21.07.2010 Attracted to light.
11.09.2010 Attracted to light.
30.07. - 09.09.2014 Attracted to light.

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing

Noctua fimbriata

This is one of the easier moths to identify. There is virtually nothing else to confuse it with. It is a substantial moth, being 25 - 30mm long. It's conventional resting position is with the wings folded back so that the wing leading edges are virtually parallel and one wing will almost completely overlap the other. Colour ranges from pale to mid-brown with alternating pale and dark bands across the wing. The kidney and oval marks are lightly edged and are more easily seen in the darker specimens.

As the common name suggests the yellow underwing is edged with a broad black border and although I have never seen this when the moth is at rest, in flight this highly contrasting feature readily catches the eye.

When it hatches from pupation in July, the moth tends to hide away for about a month before it becomes truly actve and then flies during August and September when it will come to light. Its most common habitat is woodland and other leafy areas throughout mainland Britain as far north as Invernesshire.

Like other Yellow Underwing species the larvae seem to have two distinct choices of diet, feeding on nettles, docks and other herbaceous plants in the autumn and switching to shrubs in the springtime before pupating underground in May.

13.09.2009 Attracted to light.
01.08.2010 Attracted to light.
07.09.2010 Attracted to light.
17.07. - 18.09.2014 Attracted to light.

Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing

Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing

Noctua janthe

Like the larger Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, this 20mm species tends to rest with its wings closed and parallel and although much darker has similar banded wing markings. Often, the only clue to the position of the oval and kidney marks is the faint white speckling that outlines them.

One unique feature that is usually very noticeable is the lichen-green collar on the front edge of the thorax just above the head. This does not show up too well in these overhead images but is very prominent in a head-on view and is an excellent identification feature.The only other moth likely to be confused with this one is Langmaid's Yellow Underwing, a rare visitor from the continent to the English south coast. Only microscopic examination can separate these two.

Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing

Like all the Yellow Underwings, the underwings are rarely visible when the moth is at rest and the only opportunity to see them is usually immediately after the moth has landed from flight and 'stops for a breath before tucking itself up'.

The moths are common throughout the UK, fly from late July to early September and the larvae, which overwinter from September to May, have the same diverse dietary habits of others in this family, feeding on herbaceous plants in the autumn and on hawthorn, blackthorn and sallows in the spring.

13.09.2009 Attracted to light.
01.08.2010 Attracted to light.
07.09.2010 Attracted to light.
17.07. - 30.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Bright-line Brown-eye

Bright-line Brown-eye

Laconobia oleracea

The Bright-line Brown-eye may be among the plainer moths but it is still quite distinctive.

'Bright-line' refers to the white cross line near the trailing edge of the wing which contrasts well with the dark brown background. Two other features to note are that the line does not quite reach the leading edge of the wing and that it forms a distinctive 'W' mark. And the 'Brown-eye' refers rather obviously to the reniform mark near the leading edge.

It flies May to July and is classed as 'abundant' throughout most of the UK but, I suspect that not many people pay much attention to 'plain brown' moths.

As befits a widespread resident, the larvae feed on a wide range of common plants including nettle, fat hen, willowherbs, St John's-worts - and even tomatoes. They normally feed at night and seek refuge in ground litter during the day. They over-winter as underground pupae.

28.07.2006 Flew indoors attracted to light.
06.06. - 21.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Small Quaker

Small Quaker

Orthosia cruda

The Small Quaker, forewing no more than 15mm, is one of the early heralds of the new year. It is a single generation species flying from February to May.

This means that the larvae hatching in April will be able to feed on the choice new growth of their foodplant - Oak, Birch, Hazel Sallow and Field Maple. They feed at night, hiding in spun leaves during the day.

Come July they are ready to pupate in an underground cocoon right through autumn and winter.

02.04.2006 Found indoors in good condition - recent hatch?
01.04. - 11.04.2014 Attracted to light.

Smoky Wainscot

Smoky Wainscot

Mythimna impura

There are several Wainscot moths which can be quite tricky to identify in isolation. And it does not happen often that one has the opportunity to compare them side by side. The main Smoky Wainscot characteristics are that it has 'smoky' straw coloured wings, whereas the Common Wainscot (below) has paler 'cleaner' wings.

The single generation flies June to August, is often seen supping nectar or the sweet juices of damaged fruit and is readily attracted to light.

The larvae feed nocturnally on grasses, Cock's-foot, reed and rush from August through to May before pupating in an underground cocoon.

05.08.2004 Attracted to light after dark.
15.07. - 30.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Common Wainscot

Common Wainscot

Mythimna pallens

There are several Wainscot moths with overlapping variations of colour and markings. The Common Wainscot tends to be among the paler and plainer specimens - although exceptions do occur.

There are normally two generations in the south of England (June / July, August / October) and a single generation north of the Midlands (July / August).

The larvae feed on a range of grasses, typically Annual Meadow grass, Common Couch and Cocksfoot, which ensures good distribution throughout England. Further north it tends to be more localised but it has been recorded in Shetland.

31.07.2005 Found early evening in grass paddock.
26.06. - 30.07.2014 Attracted to light.

Brown-spot Pinion

Brown-spot Pinion

Agrochola litura

The helpful identifying features of the Brown-spot Pinion are the five intensely black marks on the leading edge of the forewing - four spots and a dash. The background brown colour of the wing can vary from a reddish tint through purple to grey.

The single generation flies from late August to October and will sup Ivy flower nectar and ripe fruit juices. Eggs laid in the autumn will overwinter and larvae will hatch in April.

The larvae feed at night on Meadowsweet, Sorrel, Bladder Campion and Hawthorn.

The species is common throughout the UK with the exception of the far north of Scotland.

09.09.2004 Found in an open shed.
11.09. - 30.09.2014 Attracted to light.

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