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"A Nature Observer′s Scrapbook"

Macro Moths, page 6

Buff Arches moth

Buff Arches

Habrosyne pyritoides

The Buff Arches moth is regarded as a mainly southern species in the UK. It becomes less common in the north of England and is classified as rare in Scotland. The single generation is on the wing from June through to August but late individuals do occur in the autumn.

With a forewing length of up to 20mm (this crisp late summer specimen was 18mm), it is a medium sized moth but there is no denying that it is an eyecatching one. The wing colouring creates an almost 3D effect and there is simply no other species to confuse it with.

The larvae are to be found, late July to October, mainly on bramble growing in the shelter of hedges and trees. It then over-winters as a pupa underground.

08.07.2007 Back garden 17.18hrs.
02.07 - 08.07.2010 Adults attracted to light.
02.07 - 17.07.2014 Adults attracted to light.

Single-dotted Wave moth

Single-dotted Wave

Idaea dimidiata

This is one of the smaller macro moths with a forewing length of only 11mm maximum. I found it very common in the month of July 2007. The image on the right is of a well marked specimen. Older individuals can be quite faded and 'washed out' and less easy to identify.

The normal flight season is from June to August and it favours damp hedges and woods - the larvae feeding on Cow Parsley and Hedge Bedstraw and withered vegetation from August through the winter to May.

11.07.2007 A regular visitor to lighted windows throughout the month of July.
16.07 - 15.08.2009 Attracted to lighted window.
11.07 - 04.08.2010 Attracted to light.
28.06 - 06.08.2014 Attracted to light.

Mallow moth


Larentia clavaria

This is another of the easier moths to identify. It's long triangular forewings can be up to 22mm long and they have a characteristically slightly hooked tip.

The wing coloration is in four distinct bands, each separated by a thin white line and there is a faint white zigzag line close to the trailing edge. There is little variation between specimens.

The single generation flight period is from September to November. Although it is classed as common (in distribution throughout southern England), it is not seen in large numbers. When seen at all, it is usually attracted to light.

It over winters as an egg. The larvae feed on mallows (as the common name suggests) from April to June.

08.10.2007 Attracted to light.
29.09.2010 Attracted to light.

Latticed Heath moth

Latticed Heath

Chiasmia clathrata clathrata

When seen day flying, as this one was, one could easily mistake a Latticed Heath for a butterfly. It will often fold its wings vertically and flex them open in a typical butterfly manner. Forewing length 11 - 15mm.

In bright sunshine, the latticed tracery appears distinctly warm brown but, in shade it takes on a much darker, almost black, appearance. This one led me a merry chase along a roadside verge always settling just out of camera range.

Although the wing patterning of this sub-species might look quite distinctive, there are four other discrete sub-species with less clear markings. While they are less common, they could never the less cause confusion.

There can be two generations flying May/June and July/September. They tend to favour areas of calcareous (chalk or limestone) grassland where the larvae feed on clovers, trefoils and lucerne.

11.06.2007 Day flying along a broad roadside verge at 15.00hrs.
24.07 - 04.08.2009 Attracted to light.
20.07 - 22.08.2010 Attracted to light.
18.06 - 22.06.2014 Attracted to light.

Scallop Shell

Scallop Shell

Rheumaptera undulata

This species is more likely to be found in southern and south-western England and western Wales and is more thinly distributed northwards to southern Scotland. In Lincolnshire it is described as 'fairly frequent but local'.

It is normally seen at rest with wings spread wide open, with a wingspan of 35mm to 40mm. Occasionally seen day flying around Common Valerian.

Although its wing pattern is unique, if it is only seen briefly, it could be confused with the Latticed Heath with which it shares a June / July flight period.

With the larval preferred food plants being aspen, sallow and bilberry, the favoured locations are often damp scrub or woodland (carrs). The caterpillars tend to pupate in loose soil in September.

05.07.2009 Attracted to lighted window.

Blue-bordered Carpet moth

Blue-bordered Carpet

Plemyria rubiginata rubiginata

In the southern UK sub-species of the Blue-bordered Carpet (as seen here) the shape of the contrasting markings is usually quite uniform. However, the coloration is subject to some variation. The dark browns in the accompanying image can be a lively golden brown in some cases. And the 'blue border' along the trailing edge of the wings can be much more marked than is seen here.

But, just to confuse things, there is a northern UK sub-species, P. r. plumbata that does not have the distinctive white markings.

The single generation flies from June to early August and occasionally comes to light.

It over winters as an egg and the larvae hatch in April to feed on a wide range of plants, Alder, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Birch, Plum and Apple.

02.07.2007 Attracted to light.
10.07.2010 Attracted to light.
05.07. - 13.07.2010 Attracted to light.

Purple Bar Purple Bar

Purple Bar

Cosmorhoe ocellata

All the Purple Bars that I have seen appear to keep their crisp clean appearance throughout their flight period. The wing marking pattern shows little variation but the coloration can range from the classic broad purple mid band edged with golden brown, to stark black.

It is a smallish moth having a forewing length of 13mm to 15mm and a wingspread at rest of only about 20mm but with it's bold markings it is hard to miss seeing it.

It is to be found throughout the UK as far north as the Orkney Isles and has two generations in southern UK, flying late May to end of June and then August into September, and a single generation in the north during June and July.

The brown and white looper caterpillars feed on plants within the bedstraw family and since Hedge Bedstraw never seems to be in short supply there should be no fear of food shortages for them. The later generation of larvae continue feeding well into winter and will overwinter as fully grown caterpillars within a cocoon - only pupating within the cocoon in the Spring.

15.06 .. 23.06.2009 Attracted to lighted window.
02.06 .. 18.06.2010 Attracted to lighted window.
03.08 .. 01.09.2010 2nd generation attracted to light.
10.05 .. 31.08.2011 Attracted to lighted window.
17.08 .. 01.09.2012 Attracted to lighted window.

Red-green Carpet

Red-green Carpet

Chloroclysta siterata

This can be a somewhat variable species, the dual colours being quite distinct in some cases and merging into a muddy grey-brown in others. The placement of markings and the shape of cross-lines do, however, remain constant.

This is a single generation species that flies from September to November, hibernates in its adult form through the winter and then flies again from March to May. It is widespread throughout mainland UK but the distribution tends to be localised and is subject to change. It was uncommon in Lincolnshire until the late 1990s but is now regarded as common.

The larvae feed on a wide range of broad leaved trees from June to August and pupate in leaf litter beneath the food plant.

22.10 .. 27.10.2009 Attracted to lighted window.
21.05.2010 Over wintered adult attracted to lighted window.
30.10.2010 Attracted to light.

Common Marbled Carpet Common Marbled Carpet

Common Marbled Carpet

Chloroclysta truncata

This is another species that is subject to some variation. The most frequent of the forms I see in Lincolnshire is, fortunately, like the upper image and readily recognisable. But a significant number lack the central light coloured patch and present a more uniform greyish marrbled appearance that requires more careful scrutiny.

It is widespread and considered common throughout the UK, with the possible exception of Shetland.

This is a two generation species in most of the UK, flying in May and June and again from late August until early October. In highland Scotland and in Ireland, a single generation flies in July and August.

Common Marbled Carpet 30mm larva Common Marbled Carpet 11mm pupa

The larvae feed on a wide range of woody plants - sallow, birch, bramble, privet, hawthorn, and also on heather and docks. A mature caterpillar may reach 30mm in length and just as the adults are subject to colour variation, so too are the larvae, some having reddish brown markings.

The transition from caterpillar to pupa, the pre-pupal stage, takes 5 or 6 days and sees some dramatic changes take place. The larva becomes lethargic, its body starts to 'bulk up' and contract in length and a loose cocoon is formed on the foliage. A new pupal 'shell' starts to form within the larval skin which eventually becomes dry and brittle, splits and sloughs off (known as the exuvia) to reveal a pale pupa (a mere 11mm in this case) already showing traces of wings and eyes.

The first generation larvae will pupate for a few weeks on the foliage of the food plant. Whereas, the second generation pupae will fall to the ground with the autumn leaves and will overwinter in the leaf litter on the ground to hatch the following May/June.

01.09.2008 Attracted to lighted window.
17.06.2009 Attracted to lighted window.
14.08 - 23.09.2009 2nd generation attracted to lighted window.
01.06 - 24.06.2010 Attracted to lighted window.
13.09 - 19.09.2010 2nd generation attracted to light.
13.06.20131st generation attracted to light.
01.09 - 08.10.20132nd generation attracted to light.
13.10 - 15.11.20132nd generation larvae feeding.
19.11.2013First of the 2nd generation pupae found.
24.01.20141 moth emerged indoors from 2013 pupation.
20.05 - 04.06.20141st generation attracted to light.
08.09 - 16.09.20142nd generation attracted to light

May Highflyer

May Highflyer

Hydriomena impluviata

There are two forms of the May Highflyer; a pale grey version with an off white band running across the wings and a much darker form H. i. obsoletaria, with dark grey wings and indistinct markings. The latter is most often found in the London area whereas the paler version is to be found within the UK as far north as the Orkney Isles.

The single generation flies from May to July. The larvae feed, from July to November, solely on Alder and this means that populations will be localised to those areas where Alder is found. Even in Lincolnshire which boasts a fair number of Alder 'carrs', the species is not regarded as 'common'.

The larvae feed at night and rest during the day, hidden from view between leaves spun together with silk threads.They will pupate in November, usually in cracks in the Alder bark, to emerge as adult moths in the following May.

22.05 .. 04.06.2010 Attracted to lighted window.

July Highflyer July Highflyer

July Highflyer

Hydriomena furcata

There are three Highflyer species, the May, July and Ruddy Highflyers. All share a distinct family resemblance in having prominently shouldered wings. The July Highflyer comes in several different colour forms (brown, grey, lichen green, and cream) but the wing markings remain constant. In most cases, a small pale mark is seen midway along the outer edge of the wing.

The July Highflyer is widespread throughout the UK and, as it's common name suggests, flies July / August in most of the UK although it's season may extend until October in northern Scotland. It favours wooded areas since the larvae are mainly tree feeders e.g., hazel and sallows but in the north it is also known to feed on heather.

Eggs are laid and overwinter on the foodplant. Caterpillars emerge in April, feeding at night and hiding between spun leaves during the day. Pupation takes place in leaf litter beneath the food plant.

09.07.2009 Attracted to lighted window.
20.07 - 08.08.2010 Attracted to light.
01.07 - 09.07.2011 Attracted to lighted window.
21.07.2014 Attracted to lighted window.

Swallow-tailed Moth

Swallow-tailed Moth

Ourapteryx sambucaria

There are other UK moths that have small tails protruding from their wings (e.g. the Peacock, Bloodvein, etc.) but none are so pronounced as the aptly named Swallow-tailed Moth. It is a large moth, with a wingspan of up to 60mm, pale lemon yellow with thin reddish brown lines and fringes when newly emerged fading to off-white and pale grey when older. A unique feature is the two small dark 'eyes' either side of each tail.

It is a widespread resident of the UK with the exception of northern Scotland. The first, and main, generation flies from mid June to August with a sparse second generation appearing in October.

The larvae feed on Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Privet and the ubiquitous Ivy from August through to the following May, overwintering in cracks and crevices in the bark of host plant. Pupation takes place in a loose cocoon on the food plant.

05.07 - 14.07.2009 Attracted to lighted window.
02.07 - 20.07.2010 Attracted to lighted window.
02.07.2014 Lone 2014 visitor attracted to lighted window.

November Moth

November Moth ?
    Pale November Moth ?
       Autumnal Moth ?
          Small Autumnal Moth ?

Epirrita dilutata agg.

There has to be room for uncertainty with the identification of this image - hence the question marks against the name. There are four different Epirrita species. All are approximately the same size, all look similar, all are subject to variation in intensity of markings and all occur in an overlapping flight window. Detailed microscopic examination is often required to separate them. Forewing length is between 15 to 20mm.

However, all the positively identified Epirrita sp. seen in the county at the time this one was sighted were found to be the E. dilutata species - so the odds are that this was the same but the scientific name indicates that it is one of the Epirrita dilutata aggregate group.

The November Moth can be found on the wing from September in Northern UK but, generally in most of Britain, from October through November and overwinters as an egg on a twig. Larvae will be found from April to June on a wide range of deciduous trees prior to pupating underground.

07.10 - 10.10.2007Three slightly different specimens seen on three consecutive nights.
30.09 - 27.10.2009Common visitors to light.
27.09 - 17.10.2010Common visitors to light.
17.01.2014A late 2013 generation visitor to light.
29.09 - 29.10.2014 Common visitors to light.

Brimstone moth

Brimstone moth

Opisthograptis luteolata

There can be two or three generations of Brimstones each year meaning that they can be found at any time between April and October. They range throughout the UK as far north as Orkney. The markings of this species are unmistakeable but, the colouring can vary. Young freshly emerged specimens can be an intense 'brimstone' yellow, while old worn moths can be quite drab with almost transparent wings where wing scales have been lost from fluttering through vegetation.

Brimstone moth, 12.5mm larva

The larvae are of the thin 'looper' caterpillar type with the normal three pairs of thoracic legs at the front but only one pair of prolegs and a pair of 'claspers' at the rear. The larvae come in brown and green forms with a small spur or wart in the middle of the back. They feed on a variety of trees, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Plum and Wayfaring trees, etc. and, in the absence of these in Orkney, will also feed on Rowan.

As seen in the first larva image, at rest, the larvae tend to hold on to a stem using only their prolegs and claspers, holding their body motionless, away from contact with the stem. This creates the illusion of a twig and is very effective camouflage. Also seen here are the enlarged third pair of thoracic legs that are a characteristic identification feature. This larva was only 12.5mm long when found quite by accident.

Brimstone moth, 28mm larva

The bottom image, of the same caterpillar, was taken only ten days later, by which time it had grown to 28mm and had changed colour slightly. Shortly after, in early September, it entered pupation. In the wild it would have retreated to ground level but, I was able to see it construct a gauzy cocoon within which a remarkably small pupa formed.

Pupation continued with no signs of further development until the following May when the fully formed adult emerged and was released.

07.07.2006 Found indoors at night, presumably attracted to light.
30.08.2007 Attracted to light.
14.06.2008 Attracted to light.
26.05.2009 Attracted to light.
28.08.200912.5mm larva found on Hawthorn.
07.09.2009Same larva now 28mm and about to pupate.
20.05.2010Adult emerged from pupation and released.
29.05 .. 07.09.2010Adults seen regularly during this period.
25.05.2014Lone first of the seson attracted to light.
19.09 - 02.10.2014Frequent visitors to light.

Vapourer moth larva Vapourer moth - male Vapourer moth antennae

Vapourer moth

Orgyia antiqua

This is one of a group of moths known as 'Tussock moths' - because the larvae all have tufts of hair on their backs. Many of the larvae are colourful and can appear quite exotic.

The top image is of an immature Vapourer larva. A mature specimen would have four tufts of hair of uniform colour on its back. But all larvae develop five tufts of black hair, two just behind the head, two sprouting like wings from the sides of the body and one raised at an angle from its rear end - and they give it a unique appearance.

The middle image is of the male moth which is on the wing from July to October.
The female moth develops only rudimentary wings, cannot fly and leads a very sedentary, inactive life - apart from laying a mass of eggs on or close by the remains of her cocoon. These will over-winter to hatch in May.

Since the larvae will pupate on the foodplant (Hawthorn, Blackthorn and many other broadleaved trees and shrubs), the females will hatch on the foodplant and lay their eggs on the food plant - which all seems a very logical and uncomplicated life strategy.

With no wings, all the female can do to attract a mate is to emit powerful pheromones and hope that a passing male will be attracted. For his part, the male is equipped with very specialised pheromone sensing antennae and, in suitable weather conditions, can be found flying day or night looking for a female.

21.09.2007 Larva found on a Potentilla shrub in garden.
24.09.2008 Male moth disturbed from Hawthorn in mid-afternoon.

Pale Tussock larva

Pale Tussock

Calliteara pudibunda

The single generation of Pale Tussock moths can be found flying during May and June.

Larvae will start to appear late in June and will feed on a wide range of broadleaved plants through the summer into October. The 40mm specimen on the right was found on the ground late in September close to a Blackthorn hedge and was presumably seeking out a suitable pupation site in the leaf litter.

Care should be taken not to handle hairy caterpillars if one is susceptible to allergic reaction.

 Male Pale Tussock moth Male Pale Tussock antennae

The adult moths rest in a range of different positions which can cause some confusion when trying to identify them. The image on the right is of a fairly conventional pose with the wings hugging the surface and forming an equisided triangle.

When the moth was found, on the ground under a lighted window, the wings were extended in an open fashion revealing the pale hind wings and, with the front legs and prominent antennae also extended, it gave a quite 'alert, aggressive, dominant' impression.

At the other end of the scale they can also rest with the wings tightly folded against the abdomen, creating a very slim outline.

The males are recognised by their deeply feathered antennae and have a forewing length of about 22mm. The females are larger, with a forewing length of up to 31mm, are more weakly marked and have simple unfeathered antennae.

The species is widely distributed throughout England, Wales and the Channel Islands but, less so in Scotland and Ireland.

29.09.2007 Larva found on the ground close by Blackthorn hedge.
29.05.2009 Moth found on the ground under a lighted window.
22.05 .. 23.06.2010 Adult moths seen regularly.
05.05 - 08.06.2014 Attracted to light.
13.10.2015 Larva found inside a garden compost bin - looking for a suitable pupation site?.

Flame moth


Axylia putris

The Flame is recognised by the long dark streak down the leading edge of the forewing and the dark reniform mark halfway down the wing - which is all very well if you happen to see it with its wings 'splayed out' in normal moth fashion. However, when at rest it tends to draw its wings in tightly round its body, even more exaggeratedly than seen in the image. This gives it a pronounced 'broad at the shoulders, narrow at the rear' appearance. And is great camouflage if at rest on a twig or plant stem when it could easily be mistaken for a piece of straw.

The single generation flies from late May to July. Larvae feed at night from late July to October on Stinging Nettle, White Dead Nettle, Hedge Bedstraw and other common hedge growing plants and it will pupate through the winter, underground.

It is common throughout England, Wales and Ireland but tends to be localised in southern and south-western Scotland.

16.06.2007 Attracted to lighted window at 22.12 hrs.
22.06 - 15.07.2009 Attracted to lighted window.
22.05 - 20.07.2010 Attracted to lighted window.
31.05 - 05.07.2014 Attracted to lighted window.

Miller moth


Acronicta leporina f. grisea

I first saw this moth on the outside of a lighted window. As I moved closer to inspect it, it dropped to the ground onto a grey paving slab - where it was completely invisible. I only spotted it again when it fluttered. There are two other variations, an almost pure white form is found locally in Scotland and a darker grey form occurs in the English northern and midland counties.

The single generation flies from May to August and it has a forewing length of about 20mm.

The larvae feed from July to October on Birch, Alder, Grey Willow and Aspens and on maturing, prefer to pupate by burrowing into rotten wood.

20.06.2007 Attracted to lighted window.

Rustic Shoulder-knot Rustic Shoulder-knot larva

Rustic Shoulder-knot

Apamea sordens

The Rustic Shoulder-knot is one of a group of very similar looking moths. One of its main diagnostic features, the dark streak at the base of the wing (the shoulder-knot), is not always as obvious as in this image. Consequently, positive identification can often be difficult. But, another feature that is rather more constant is the kidney shaped mark close to the wing leading edge. This is usually ringed in white and the inner area of the kidney tends to be dark.

The single generation flies from May to July and it is widely distributed throughout the Uk, with the possible exception of Orkney and Shetland. It is certainly more common than the Large Nutmeg with which it can be easily confused.

The larvae feed on grasses, mainly Cocksfoot, Common Couch and cereals. The larva seen here was found in February curled up in moss at the base of a fence post standing in coarse grass. The first abdominal segment behind the head was dark and shiny and a thin pale line extended down the middle of the back. It remained in a torpid, dormant state until pupating early in March and hatched in June.

04.06.2007 Attracted to lighted window.
17.02.2008 Larva found in moss at base of fence post in thick grass.
11.03.2008 Larva has now pupated.
05.06.2008 Adult emerged from pupatation.
07.06.2008 Adult attracted to lighted window.
21.05 .. 06.06.2009 Adults attracted to lighted window.
23.05 .. 25.06.2010 Adults attracted to light.

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