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Moths of the month: April

This monthly series illustrates characteristic moths to look out for in our area. Text and photos by Roy Leverton.

See also the article from Jane Bowman on the Rannoch Brindled Beauty, Lycia lapponaria.

You can view the other months by selecting the links at the bottom of this page.

Early Thorn, Selenia dentaria (photo by Roy Leverton)

Early Thorn
Selenia dentaria

Most habitats, April into May.

Unmistakeable because of its butterfly-like resting position, mimicking an old dead leaf.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Water Carpet, Lampropteryx suffumata (photo by Roy Leverton)

Water Carpet
Lampropteryx suffumata

Damp woodland edges, mid-April into May.

The early flight date and chocolate brown coloration distinguish it from other 'carpets'.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Engrailed, Ectropis bistortata (photo by Roy Leverton)

Ectropis bistortata

Deciduous woodland, April into May.

Despite intricate camouflage, it can sometimes be found on tree trunks; also comes to lighted windows.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Pine Beauty, Paniolis flammea (photo by Roy Leverton)

Pine Beauty
Paniolis flammea

Pine woodland, late March into May.

Though not a problem in native pinewoods, this attractive species can devastate in commercial forestry plantations.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Kentish Glory, Endromis versicolora (photo by Roy Leverton)

Kentish Glory
Endromis versicolora

Young birch woodland, late March into May.

Despite its name, this spectacular moth is now confined to Scotland.

Open glades in Culbin Forest (near Forres in Moray) is the best place to see it, on sunny days.

To find out more about Culbin Forest and how to get there, visit the Forestry Commission website

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Early Tooth-striped, Trichopteryx carpinata (photo by Roy Leverton)

Early Tooth-striped
Trichopteryx carpinata

Found in open woodland and heathland, April into May.

The muted grey tones of this spring carpet moth are an effective camouflage against most tree trunks, though this individual stands out on silver birch.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Scarce Prominent, Odontosia carmelita (photo by Roy Leverton)

Scarce Prominent, Odontosia carmelita

Mature birch woodland, mid April through May.

The Scarce Prominent lives up to its name, being local and never numerous. The only realistic chance of seeing this species is in a light trap. Our Highland ones are richly coloured.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Emperor Moth, Saturnia pavonia (photo by Roy Leverton)

Emperor Moth, Saturnia pavonia

Open habitats, particularly heather moorland, April into May.

One of everybody's favourite moths, but never numerous enough to become over-familiar. Males are very active in the afternoon sunshine, while the "Empress" is sometimes found sitting on the heather before her dusk flight. Again, our Highland ones are often more deeply coloured than their southern counterparts.

Click on the image to enlarge it.`

Belted Beauty, Lycia zonaria, male (photo by Roy Leverton)

Belted Beauty, Lycia zonaria, female (photo by Roy Leverton)

Belted Beauty, Lycia zonaria

Found in April, on sandy coasts and machair.

This strange little moth is very much a Hebridean speciality. It is partly diurnal, the males flying on sunny afternoons in search of wingless females. Both sexes seem to be warningly coloured, or at least some way along that evolutionary road, making them unusual amongst British geometrids.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Early Grey, Xylocampa areola (photo by Roy Leverton)

Early Grey, Xylocampa areola

Found in April on woodland edge, sometimes gardens.

The thoracic and abdominal crests are the main distinguishing feature of this almost monochrome moth. It is local and mainly western in our area, perhaps following the distribution of its sole larval foodplant, honeysuckle. Occasionally it may be noticed resting on a fence or tree trunk.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Oak Beauty, Biston strataria (photo by Roy Leverton)

Oak Beauty
Biston strataria

Late March and April.

Deciduous woodland, especially oak.

This fine spring moth is very local and western in our area, though apparently increasing.

Neither sex feeeds as an adult, but males come readily to light. Though fully winged, the female flies little and is rarely seen.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Red Chestnut, Cerastris rubricosa (photo by Roy Leverton)

Red Chestnut
Cerastris rubricosa

Late March to early May.

Most habitats, including marshes, moorland, carr and scrub.

Red Chestnut shares the lifestyle of the quakers, Orthosia spp., overwintering fully formed within the pupal case, ready to emerge in early spring.

It can often be found at sallow catkins. Our Scottish forms are often purplish grey, not red.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Lead-coloured Drab, Orthosia populeti (photo by Roy Leverton)

Lead-coloured Drab
Orthosia populeti

April into early May.

Aspen woodland.

Requiring mature Aspen that produces catkins, Lead-coloured Drab is inevitably local in the Highlands, like its foodplant.

It is easily mistaken for related species in the genus, having similar coloration to Clouded Drab but with shape and jizz closer to Common Quaker.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Rannoch Brindled Beauty, Lycia lapponaria, male (photo by Roy Leverton)

Rannoch Brindled Beauty, Lycia lapponaria, female (photo by Roy Leverton)Female

Rannoch Brindled Beauty
Lycia lapponaria

April into May.

Wet upland moorland and mosses.

This is an Arctic moth, one of our Scottish specialities. Unlike its machair relative, Belted Beauty, it is confined to the central Highlands, inhabiting damp moorland and mosses.

Both sexes are at least partially diurnal. They are most easily found sitting on fence posts, often quite exposed.

Click on the images to enlarge them..

Barred Tooth-stripe, Tricopteryx polycommata (Roy Leverton)

Barred Tooth-striped Tricopteryx polycommata

April into May.

Open woodland and scrub.

This nationally scarce and local species is associated with wild privet in England, but ash (and possibly honeysuckle) in Scotland. The Great Glen is its headquarters here.

Scottish examples are more strikingly marked than those from further south.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Brindled Beauty, Lycia hirtaria (Roy Leverton)

Brindled Beauty Lycia hirtaria

April into May.

Woodland, especially birch.

Like various other moths, Brindled Beauty has a disjunct distribution in Britain, being widespread in the Scottish Highlands and southern Britain but absent from southern Scotland and northern England.

Related species in this group have short-winged, flightless females. Here, the female is fully-winged, but never flies.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Double-striped Pug, Gymnoscelis rufifasciata (Roy Leverton)

Double-striped Pug Gymnoscelis rufifasciata

Two broods: April/May, then July to early September.

Gardens, heather moorland, coast, other open habitats.

This is one of the earliest pugs and may be seen by late March in some years. Its caterpillars feed on the flowers of a range of wild and garden plants including heather and buddleia. The adult varies in the richness of its colouring - here is a particularly bright example.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Powdered Quaker, Orthosia gracilis (Roy Leverton)

Powdered Quaker Orthosia gracilis

April and May.

Bogs, marshes, carr.

The quakers and drabs are a very successful group of early spring moths. The pupa overwinters with the adult fully formed inside, ready to emerge and lay eggs as soon as the weather is mild enough. Thus their caterpillars can feed on the nutritious spring foliage.

Powdered Quaker prefers damp areas, with sallow, bog-myrtle and meadow-sweet its main larval foodplants, so it is more local and less numerous than some others in the genus.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Twin-spotted Quaker, Orthosia munda (Roy Leverton)

Twin-spotted Quaker Orthosia munda

Late March to early May.

Deciduous woodland.

This moth is a recent arrival in our area, having expanded its range northwards in recent years.

Its caterpillars feed on a wide range of deciduous trees, while the adult is often found on sallow catkins after dark.

The black twin-spots, if present, allow easy separation from similar species in the group. Unfortunately there is also a plain form, though this is less frequent.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ringed Carpet (R Leverton)

Ringed Carpet Cleora cinctaria

April and May.

Moorland with birch or bog-myrtle.

This nationally local species is found only in a few favoured areas in the west of our region. Here it may often be seen resting on trunks and fence posts.

Scottish examples belong to the subspecies bowesi, with a more silvery ground colour and stronger markings than the typical form.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Brindled Pug (R Leverton)

Brindled Pug Eupithecia abbreviata

Late March into May.

Oak woodland.

Brindled Pug is always the earliest of its genus to emerge in spring, a useful identification clue in itself. Otherwise, the strong markings combined with a noticeably weak discal spot are characteristic.

Large numbers often occur in oak woods in April.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Shoulder Stripe (R Leverton)

Shoulder Stripe Anticlea badiata

April through May.

Woodland edge, hedgerows, road verges.

This strikingly marked carpet moth is mainly eastern and lowland in our region. Its caterpillar feeds on wild rose and a population can persist on a mere handful of bushes.

The adult is most easily found by searching briars after dark with a torch, but it often comes to lighted windows.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Small Quaker (R Leverton)

Small Quaker Orthosia cruda

Late March to early May.

Deciduous woodland, especially oak.

As its English name suggests, this is the smallest of the early spring Orthosia species. It is also perhaps the plainest, usually with obscure markings and hardly a trace of a submarginal line.

While particularly associated with oak, its caterpillar also feeds on other deciduous trees. The Inverness area is its headquarters in our region.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Rhigognostis incarnatella (R Leverton)

Rhigognostis incarnatella

Autumn, then again in spring after hibernation.

Habitat: insufficiently known.

Not long ago this distinctive micro-moth was a great rarity known from very few areas, mainly in the Scottish Highlands. Records have increased in recent years, but much remains to be learnt about its requirements.

Dame's-violet and probably other crucifers are the foodplants.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Diurnea fagella (R Leverton)

Diurnea fagella

March and April.

Woodland, parks, gardens.

This is one of the larger micromoths, found everywhere there are deciduous trees. Its caterpillar feeds on a wide variety of species.

The male is often found resting on tree trunks in early spring, or at lighted windows after dark, but the flightless female is very rarely seen.

Unusually for a micro, it has a black industrial melanic form, but in our area all the moths are various shades of grey and often very pale.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Lunar Marbled Brown (R Leverton)

Lunar Marbled Brown Drymonia ruficornis

Mid April through May.

Oak woodland.

This distinctive prominent is rather local and western in Scotland, characteristic of high-quality oak woodland. There are few known sites in our area, so its presence on the favoured Black Isle is noteworthy.

The caterpillar feeds high in the canopy and the adult too is rarely seen except in mercury vapour moth traps. The old collectors used to dig round oaks for pupae - for them it was the surest way of acquiring specimens.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Oak Nycteoline (R Leverton)

Oak Nycteoline Nycteola revayana

August through to early June.

Oak woodland.

Early lepidopterists mistook this species for a tortricid because of a superficial similarity; today, systematists still cannot decide whether its subfamily belongs within the Noctuidae. Not everything in nature can be neatly categorised!

Whatever its true placing, Oak Nycteoline is a local and scattered species in our area, never found in numbers. Because of its resemblance to a micro and its many very varied forms, it may still be overlooked to some extent.

Like other moths that hibernate as long-lived adults, it also seems to be relatively inactive, rationing energy expenditure. In autumn it occasionally feeds at ripe blackberries, but overall most sightings are in moth traps during April. Disappointingly, nycteoline merely translates as 'of the night'.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Grey Birch (R Leverton)

Grey Birch Aethalura punctulata

Mid April to early June.

Birch woodland.

The Scottish Highlands should be heaven for a moth that lives on birch. Yet this species has a strangely localised distribution, largely western and particularly along the Great Glen. Inexplicably, it is absent from similar habitat on Speyside and Deeside. In southern Britain there is no such western bias.

Even where found in our area, Grey Birch is never very numerous. The adults typically rest on birch trunks, trusting in their camouflage, but most sightings are in light traps.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Scarce Tissue (R Leverton)

Scarce Tissue Rheumaptera cervinalis

April and May.

Towns and gardens.

In our area, Scarce Tissue is known only from Grantown, where it seems to be well-established. Almost certainly it is a recent arrival, way north of its previous known range.

Its caterpillar feeds on barberry and also Mahonia, two shrubs increasingly used both in gardens and for municipal planting in amenity areas, for example around car parks, supermarkets, and during road improvement schemes. Perhaps eggs or larvae were accidentally transported with the foodplant. A colony near Aberdeen is thought to have arrived in this way.

The moth itself, though large for the carpet family, is reputed to be skulking and secretive. With such restricted and non-native foodplants, dispersal would be a dangerous strategy. This species could easily be lurking undiscovered in other urban areas such as Elgin and Inverness.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

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