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Moths of the month: August

This is a monthly series illustrating several characteristic moths to look out for in our area. Text and photos by Roy Leverton.

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


Dark Marbled Carpet
Chloroclysta citrata

On the wing from the end of July to September.

Found in woods and on moors.

Despite its name, our Highland ones are often paler and more numerous than its sister species, Common Marbled Carpet.

Some of its forms are exquisite.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Barred Yellow
Cidaria fulvata

On the wing from late July to August.

Found in hedgerows, gardens.

The caterpillar of this pretty species feeds on rose, mainly briars, but sometimes cultivars too.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Large Yellow Underwing
Noctua pronuba

Flies mid-June to September.

May be found on wasteland, farmland and in gardens.

Often hugely abundant in August, it often enters houses through open windows on warm nights.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Grey Chi, Antitype chi (photo by Roy Leverton)

Grey Chi
Antitype chi

Flies in August and September.

May be found on moorlands and in open habitats.

Named for the black chi symbol on its forewing, this noctuid rests openly on rocks and walls.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Silver Y
Autographa gamma

May be found most months.

Can occur anywhere and everywhere, by day or night.

The commonest of our migrant moths, in August its numbers are swelled by the progeny from earlier immigrants.

Radar tracking has recently shown that these migrate back south on favourable high-level winds.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

July Highflyer, Hydriomena furcata (photo by Roy Leverton) 

July Highflyer Hydriomena furcata

Late July to late September, even into October.

Woodland, carr, moorland.

July Highflyer is misnamed in Scotland, where its main flight time is later. This is an abundant and infinitely variable species with two ecological races. One feeds on sallow and the moths are generally some shade of green, whereas moths of the bilberry race (illustrated) are often reddish. Though nocturnal, they are very easily disturbed by day.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Autumnal Rustic, Eugnorisma glareosa (photo by Roy Leverton)

Autumnal Rustic Eugnorisma glareosa

Mid August into September.

Moorland, grassland and other open habitats.

Scottish summers are short: by August the first signs of autumn are already appearing. Autumnal Rustic, as its name suggests, marks the changing of the seasons. Its pale wings show up well in torchlight as it feeds at heather blossom.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Blue-bordered Carpet, Plemyria rubiginata (photo by Roy Leverton)

Blue-bordered Carpet Plemyria rubiginata

August into September.

Woodland edge, carr and scrub.

In Scotland this pretty little moth is mainly associated with alder. It rests openly on foliage by day, perhaps mimicking a bird-dropping. Males are on the wing in early evening, long before sunset. They may be seen flying actively along the sheltered edge of alder clumps, often at canopy level.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The Sallow, Xanthia icteritia (photo by Roy Leverton)

The Sallow Xanthia icteritia

August and September.

Wooldland, scrub and carr.

Like most autumn moths, the Sallow emerges about a month earlier in our area than it does further south. Its name reflects both the moth's colour (a match for yellowing leaves) and its foodplant. The overwintering eggs are laid on buds that will produce catkins in the spring, nutritious food for the young caterpillar.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Hworth's Minor, Celaena haworthii (photo by Roy Leverton)

Haworth's Minor Celaena haworthii

August and September.

Boggy moorland, mires and marshes.

This stocky little noctuid is largely a northern species in Britain. It is one of the characteristic moths of habitats with cottongrass and other sedges, the larval foodplants. The adults are partly diurnal and may be seen flying rapidly over moorland on warm afternoons or nectaring on ragwort and heather flowers.

Click on the image to enlarge it

Bordered Beauty, Epione repandaria (photo by Roy Leverton)

Bordered Beauty Epione repandaria

Late July to early September.

Sallow carr, damp woodland and scrub.

This elegant species is widespread in our area, especially in the west, but seldom seen in numbers.

Its colours, shape and markings presumably mimic a yellowing leaf. The harmony is exquisite, though why humans should find it aesthetically pleasing is harder to explain.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Rosy Minor, Mesoligea literosa (photo by Roy Leverton)

Rosy Minor Mesoligia literosa

Late July through August.

Open grassy habitats, especially coastal.

Though this small noctuid is found inland, it is far more numerous on the coast. Its caterpillar feeds inside the stems of grasses so is rarely found, but the adult can be very numerous on ragwort flowerheads after dusk.

It is easier to identify than many of its relatives because of the strong reddish tones in its colour scheme.

Scotch Annulet, Gnophos obfuscatus (photo by Roy Leverton)

Scotch Annulet Gnophos obfuscatus 

Late July through August.

Rocky crags, quarries, scree slopes.

This rather local geometrid is restricted by habitat rather than foodplants, requiring a terrain with much bare rock. Even raised pebble beaches will suffice, as in the Lossie area. Its grainy grey wings provide excellent camouflage against rock faces.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Twin-spot Carpet, Mesotype didymata (photo by Roy Leverton)

Twin-spot Carpet Mesotype didymata

Late June into September.

Occurs almost everywhere.

Twin-spot Carpet is one of our most abundant and ubiquitous geometrids, able to use a huge range of foodplants. It flies throughout the summer, but numbers peak in early August. Largely diurnal and crepuscular, it is more often seem fluttering along woodland rides and road verges than at light, but it is equally at home along the coast and in heather moorland.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Old Lady, Mormo maura (photo by Roy Leverton)

Old Lady Mormo maura


Mainly marshes, carr, river valleys.

No photograph does justice to this moth. In terms of wing area it is easily the largest resident Scottish noctuid. In Highland region it is very local, found mainly in the sheltered lower river valleys. However, despite its size it is a lurking, skulking species, not strongly attracted to light or flowers, though fond of sugar. As a result it is probably overlooked.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Pine Carpet, Thera firmata (R Leverton)

Pine Carpet Thera firmata

August into September.


Reddish forms of the far more numerous Grey Pine Carpet are frequently mistaken for this delicately tinted species.

It has a fairly short flight period in late summer. The adults rest on pine trunks and branches, probably quite high up, as they are rarely found by day.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Iron Prominent, Notodonta dromedarius, larva (R Leverton)

Iron Prominent Notodonta dromedarius

Larval stage June to Spetember.

Woodland and alder carr.

Iron Prominent is partially double-brooded in our area, so in late summer both adult and larval stages may occur together. The 'camel-humped' caterpillar feeds by day on birch or alder, its jagged shape and mix of colours providing a close resemblance to a withering leaf.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Angle-striped Sallow, Enargia paleacea (R Leverton)

Angle-striped Sallow Enargia paleacea

August and September.

Mature birch woodland.

This attractive species is an indicator of good woodland habitat containing mature birch, the main foodplant.

For unknown reasons its British distribution is disjunct, comprising the Scottish Highlands and the West Midlands into Yorkshire, despite apparently suitable habitat inbetween.

Scottish moths tend to be more richly coloured than the English ones.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Archer's Dart, Agrotis vestigialis (R Leverton)


Archer's Dart Agrotis vestigialis

July into September.

Coastal sand dunes.

At Findhorn and other sandy sites along the inner Moray Firth, this moth is often the most abundant species present. Though rarely seen by day, hundreds may be attracted to light traps.

Colour and markings vary locally to match the colour of the sand, though females (illustrated) tend to be darker than males.

The caterpillar lives below the surface, feeding on the roots of herbs and grasses, or sometimes pulling sprigs down into the sand to eat them out of sight of predators.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ear Moth, Amphipoea oculea (R Leverton)

Ear Moth Amphipoea oculea

August & September.

Dry open grassy habitats

This is the smallest and normally the darkest of the four very similar 'ear moths', so named because of the marking in the centre of the wing - though the scientific name likens this to an eye.

In our area it is most frequent on coastal sand dunes, often sharing the habitat with the previous species. Sometimes both can be found in numbers when nectaring at ragwort flowerheads soon after dark.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Catoptria permutatella (R Leverton)

Catoptria permutatella

Late July to early September.

Perhaps the largest and most striking of all our crambid 'grass moths', Catoptria permutatella is largely confined to north-eastern Scotland in Britain, from Perthshire into Moray.

It seems to be a low-density species, usually found as occasional singles in light traps, though it has been disturbed by day from isolated moorland trees and bushes.

The life history is hardly known, though its caterpillar is thought to feed on mosses like others in this genus.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

V-Moth (R Leverton)

V-Moth Macaria wauaria

Mid July and August.

Gardens, allotments, urban areas.

Once a minor garden pest of gooseberries and currants, V-Moth has declined alarmingly throughout Britain in recent years. It is now vanished from many areas and where still found it is scarce or sporadic.

Various unconvincing explanations have been put forward to explain this decline, such as increased use of pesticides in gardens and less interest in growing soft fruit. Or perhaps modern cultivars are less palatable?

V-Moth is still found at Kingussie, where it is associated with long-established gooseberry bushes growing in a churchyard.

The adult hides away by day, protected by its shape-disrupting markings, and is rarely seen except at light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Plain Clay (R Leverton)

Plain Clay Eugnorisma depuncta

Late July to early September.

Woodland, especially with bilberry.

Although it is found very locally in England and Wales, the central and eastern Scottish Highlands are the British stronghold of this species. The moth favours high quality woodland habitats, where its caterpillar feeds on numerous low plants.

Unusually, it hibernates without feeding as soon as it hatches from the egg in autumn, making it tricky to rear in captivity.

The English name is particularly misleading, given the adult's striking and distinctive markings. Perhaps it arose from a mistranslation of its specific name depuncta, but here the de is not deprivative but for emphasis, meaning that the moth is strongly marked.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Northern Spinach (R Leverton)

Northern Spinach Eulithis populata

Late June into September, peaking in August.

Heather moorland, woodland with bilberry ground layer.

This is another inappropriately named moth, having no connection either with spinach or with poplar, nor is its distribution particularly northern.

Its long thin caterpillar feeds mainly on bilberry, having green and brown forms to match the young and old stems.

The adult can be abundant on moorland at the height of its long flight period. It rests openly on low vegetation by day, usually head-downwards, but is very readily disturbed into flight. Thereupon it is generally swept away from danger by the constant breeze in its exposed habitat.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Anomalous (R Leverton)

Anomalous Stilbia anomala

August into September.

Moorland, dry grassland, coasts.

Though locally common over much of northern and western Britain, in European terms this is a scarce moth with a surprisingly restricted distribution. We should appreciate it more!

The caterpillar feeds at night on short wiry grasses growing in well-drained and often stony habitats, including coastal cliffs. It is full-grown in early spring, but then spends several months inside its cocoon before pupating.

The adult sits with its wings tightly furled, more in the manner of a pyralid or a footman moth than a noctuid, hence both its scientific and English name.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Small Fan-footed Wave (R Leverton)

Small Fan-footed Wave Idaea biselata

July into early September.

Woodland, scrub, hedgerows, gardens.

Waves (Sterrhinae) are a southern subfamily, with numerous species in the Mediterranean but only a handful in our area. This is perhaps the most widespread and numerous. Like others in the genus, its caterpillar feeds on unspecified withered leaves, probably at or near ground level since it is rarely found.

By day the delicate adults can be found resting on foliage or sometimes on walls and fences. At night they nectar at flowers, particularly rosebay willowherb, and often come to lighted windows.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Dark Arches (R Leverton)

Dark Arches Apamea monoglypha

Late June to early September.

Anywhere with grasses.

Dark Arches is one of our most ubiquitous and abundant moths, so any gaps in its distribution map reflect lack of recording effort rather than absence. Its caterpillar feeds on the roots and lower stems of coarse grasses, without any obvious habitat or climatic preferences.

The adults have a muted general purpose coloration, suitable for resting concealed in the ground layer or in other nooks and crannies. Variation is considerable if unspectacular, from pale to dark, culminating in the intensely black melanic form aethiops as shown here.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Treble-bar (R Leverton)

Treble-bar Aplocera plagiata

July into September.

Herb-rich grassland, including sand dunes and cliffs.

Because St. John's-wort is the only larval foodplant, Treble-bar is a widespread but local species like the plant itself. Further south there are two broods a year, but our scotica race has only one, with the caterpillar hibernating while still small.

The adult is more triangular than most in the carpet moth family, with strongly shape-disrupting markings that camouflage it at rest. Even so, any disturbance causes moths to take wing instantly, especially on a warm day. Should concealment fail, rapid flight is its second line of defence.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Dun-bar (R Leverton)

Dun-bar Cosmia trapezina

Late July to September.

Deciduous woodland.

This moth's unremarkable appearance belies an unusual lifestyle. Although its caterpillar can manage perfectly well on a diet of leaves, its preferred food is other caterpillars. It is a notorious cannibal, attacking caterpillars much larger than itself yet somehow avoiding reciprocal injury. How it does this would make an interesting study.

In our area it is mainly an eastern species, being scarce or absent in the west and north. Oak woodland is a favoured habitat, but other deciduous trees and shrubs are readily used, and even raspberry.

The adults are suitably camouflaged to rest by day in the leaf litter, being various shades of fawn, dun or rufous brown.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Barred Red (R Leverton)

Barred Red Hylaea fasciaria

June into September, peaking in August.


Although it feeds on pine, Barred Red is a relatively low-density species that not even the Forestry Commission regards as a pest. It is found wherever its foodplant occurs.

Despite the long flight period, probably there is only a single extended brood in our area. Since pine is evergreen, caterpillars can feed slowly through the winter, maturing at different times.

The colour of adults varies, some tending towards brown or grey rather than red. They can occasionally be found at rest low down trunks or on the surrounding vegetation; otherwise they are mostly seen at light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Minor Shoulder-knot (R Leverton)

Minor Shoulder-knot Brachylomia viminalis

Late July to early September.

Damp woodland and sallow carr.

Widespread but local, this little noctuid seems to have got scarcer in recent years. In the 1990s I recorded up to 16 per night at my Banffshire site, but now see just two or three per year. Yet the habitat seems unchanged.

After overwintering as an egg, the caterpillar feeds in spring in spun-together terminal leaves of sallows and willows, a habit shared with numerous other species. Occasionally the adult can be found at rest by day on sallow trunks, but is more often seen at light or sugar.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Beech-green Carpet (R Leverton)

Beech-green Carpet Colostygia olivata

Late July through August.

Woodland and moorland.

Beech-green Carpet is widespread in the Highlands (though not the Islands), but it is local, requiring basic rocks and soils. Unlike its ubiquitous relative the Green Carpet (see July 2009), it is absent from acidic areas despite the presence of its foodplants, bedstraws.

The delicate olive green pigments of freshly emerged moths are unstable, soon fading to brown. Such individuals are occasionally mistaken for Large Twin-spot Carpet, a non-Scottish species, before the error is realised.

Like many carpets, the adult is easily disturbed by day, but flies naturally from dusk onwards, often nectaring at flowers.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Bedstraw Hawk-moth (R Leverton)

Bedstraw Hawk-moth Hyles gallii

Late May to August.

Mainly near coasts.

This striking hawk-moth is a scarce migrant to our area from the Continent. As such, it can turn up anywhere, particularly near the coast. Despite its southerly origin, there are more sightings in Orkney and Shetland than anywhere else in Scotland, a testament to the moth's powerful flight.

Many arrive here in perfect condition, having migrated soon after emergence; females may be unmated. Nevertheless, on rare occasions caterpillars have been found in Scotland, either on bedstraws or on willowherb, though whether they successfully complete their life cycle in the wild is unlikely.

Newly arrived migrants visit nectar flowers to replenish their resources, sometimes in broad daylight but more often at dusk.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Mother of Pearl (R Leverton)

Mother of Pearl Pleuroptya ruralis

Gardens, hedgerows, open woodland, waste ground.

Mainly late July to early September

This very large crambid is often mistaken for a macromoth by beginners. Its wings are thinly scaled and translucent, with an opalescent sheen when fresh, hence its common name.

Nettle is the main larval foodplant, and further south this moth is common wherever that plant grows. However, in our area it is scarcer and may be largely migratory rather than a permanent resident. Certainly it appears erratically at my Banffshire site, nor is it seen every year.

The adult flies gently when disturbed by day. At night it visits nectar flowers such as buddleia and sometimes comes to lighted windows as well as moth traps.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (R Leverton)

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing Noctua fimbriata

Late July into September.

Woodland, scrub, hedgerows, rural gardens.

This widespread moth is a classic low-density species, found almost everywhere but only in small numbers. The contrast with its abundant relative, Large Yellow Underwing, could hardly be greater. At my own site the best total for one night is 4 and 673 respectively, a ratio that is typical judging by the NMRS data. Yet there is no obvious reason for the huge difference in population density. Both species occupy similar habitats, have a similar life cycle and share the same foodplants.

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing is a bulky moth with a rather geometric pattern. Unfortunately the striking orange and black hindwings are only revealed in flight, or in a set specimen. The moth itself seems relatively inactive, spending the hottest part of the summer in aestivation. At night it sometimes visits buddleia.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Shaded Broad-bar (R Leverton)

Shaded Broad-bar Scotopteryx chenopodiata

Mid July to early September.

Herb-rich grassland, hay meadows, road verges, coasts.

Shaded Broad-bar is yet another moth with an east/west split in the northern half of Scotland. It is abundant and ubiquitous in the east, but much scarcer in the west. The machair of the Outer Hebrides would seem ideal habitat for a species of flowery grassland, yet it is apparently absent there.

The caterpillar feeds in spring on various vetches and other legumes, but being nocturnal it is not often found. However, the adult is easily recorded on hot summer days. It rests amongst the sward but flies up at the slightest disturbance, then settles again within a few yards. Though variable in tone, the banded pattern of many shades of warm brown allows easy identification.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Gold Spangle (R Leverton)

Gold Spangle Autographa bractea

July and August.

Moorland, marshes, open woodland.

This is marginally the latest of our resident plusias to emerge, often not until the end of July in cooler years, when it may linger on into September. In Britain it is northern, absent from southern England but common everywhere in the Highlands.

In Gold Spangle the central y marking of related species is expanded into a sinuous blotch, so bright and metallic that it appears to be made of gold leaf. Perhaps this distracts predators from the overall shape of the moth itself, for it rests openly amongst low vegetation and is not infrequently found by day in areas where it is numerous.

As with all the species in its subfamily, nectar is a great attraction for the adult. It may often be seen at dusk hovering at flowers, when its golden bract is enough to identify it even in the fading light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Manchester Treble-bar (R Leverton)

Manchester Treble-bar Carsia sororiata

Late July to early September.

Damp moorland and mosses.

Hubner named this species as the 'little sister' of the much larger Treble-bar (see August 2013). Again, this is a northern species in Britain, extending to the Shetlands but absent from the southern half of England. The old collectors knew it from the south Lancashire mosses (long since drained), hence its now-inappropriate vernacular name.

Even in the Highlands this is a quite a local species. It is fairly choosy about its habitat, preferring cowberry and cranberry to the much commoner bilberry. Colonies are often widely scattered.

The adult seems to be partially diurnal. At least, it is readily disturbed on warm days, if less easily pursued over its treacherously boggy habitat.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Large Ear (R Leverton)

Large Ear Amphipoea lucens

Late July to September.

Damp moor, marshes, wet grassland.

Large Ear is one of a group of four confusingly similar species that have long caused identification problems. Typical individuals can be recognised by their slightly larger size, noticeably longer forewings, rich deep colouring and the narrower 'ear' marking, reduced by invasion of the ground colour on the basal side. Overall it is the most numerous and widespread of the ear species in Scotland, though others may predominate at particular sites.

From the evidence of captive rearing, its caterpillar feeds internally in the stems of grasses, reeds and yellow flag, but wild finds are inevitably few and far between. The adult may sometimes be seen feeding by day at scabious or ragwort flowers but it is mainly active after dark.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Tawny Speckled Pug (R Leverton)

Tawny Speckled Pug Eupithecia icterata

Mid July until early September.

Dry grassland, coasts, road verges, waste places.

With over 40 small and often similar species, the pugs are sure to cause identification difficulties. Tawny Speckled Pug is a colourful exception, at least in the form illustrated here. Unfortunately, many Scottish specimens belong to form cognata, which has very little tawny red.

The flight period is surprisingly late for a species that overwinters as a pupa, but fits in with the caterpillar's need for the seeds of yarrow, which are not available until well into summer. There must be some mechanism to prevent the pupa developing during the first warm days of spring as with other pugs.

Because of its dependence on yarrow, Tawny Speckled Pug is a species of well-drained grassland. It is particularly numerous on eastern sandy coasts, where adults can be found nectaring on ragwort flowerheads at dusk. However, like Shaded Broad-bar it is surprisingly scarce on the west coast of Scotland and curiously absent from the isles, even though the machair would seem to offer ideal habitat.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Dotted Carpet (R Leverton)

Dotted Carpet Alcis jubata

Mid July through August.

Mature woodland.

Strictly speaking, this moth is a member of the subfamily Ennominae rather than a carpet, but the name has stood for at least 150 years. Formerly scarce and local, it has increased and spread enormously in recent decades and is now found throughout our region.

Dotted Carpet requires damp sheltered woodland, where its caterpillar feeds slowly on beard lichens rather than on leaves, spending about 10 months in the larval stage. Because beard lichens require clean air, its Scottish distribution map shows few records in the more industrialised central belt.

The adult rests by day on trunks and branches, where it is well-camouflaged, particularly on birch. It may sometimes be disturbed into flight by day, but most records are from light traps.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Juniper Pug (R Leverton)

Juniper Pug Eupithecia pusillata

Late July into September.

Almost anywhere with juniper.

Juniper Pug overwinters as an egg, and its pupa often has a diapause of several weeks before it begins to form up. This makes it one of our last pugs to emerge, helping to simplify the identification process in this notoriously difficult group.

Where present, Juniper Pug can be abundant, as on Speyside and in the Great Glen. Even small and isolated juniper bushes growing in open moorland may produce dozens of its caterpillars when tapped over a sheet or net. The caterpillars themselves vary remarkably in both colour and markings, so that it is hard to believe they are all the same species.

As with other pugs, the adults are easily disturbed from vegetation by day, and large numbers can be attracted to light traps in suitable habitat.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Emperor Moth caterpillar (R Leverton)

Emperor Moth Saturnia pavonia

Larval stage June to September.

Mainly heather moorland.

For such a large moth, the Emperor has a caterpillar that feeds up fairly quickly. By August most are in at least their penultimate instar, though still considerably smaller than their fully grown size. They are also more intricately marked than in their final instar, with fine black freckling on a yellowish-green background, excellent camouflage amongst their foodplant. Coupled with a low density, this makes them difficult to spot in a vast sea of heather even when feeding openly by day.

However, once the Cuckoo has left, birds might not be their main enemies. Some fall victim to parasitic flies of the family Tachinidae, which presumably find them by other means than sight. Neither camouflage nor warning colouration is any defence against these. Fortunately enough caterpillars survive to produce moths the following spring.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Plain Golden Y (R Leverton)

Plain Golden Y Autographa jota

Mid July and August.

Weedy places, gardens, roadsides.

In our area, Plain Golden Y is a widespread but rarely numerous species of lower ground that appears to be declining. It was always outnumbered about ten to one by its relative, Beautiful Golden Y A. pulchrina (see June 2009), but in the past decade it seems to have got much scarcer for no obvious reason. The proportion of pre-2000 red dots on its distribution map is noticeably higher than for others in its group.

Plain Golden Y emerges about a fortnight later than its sister species, but otherwise their life cycles and behaviour are very similar. Both rest openly on vegetation during the day, perhaps resembling a dead and crumpled leaf. At dusk they are strongly attracted to nectar flowers, having a proboscis long enough to visit honeysuckle.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Dotted Clay (R Leverton)

Dotted Clay Xestia baja

July into September, with an early August peak.

Woodland, scrub, hedgerows, gardens.

In contrast to the previous species, Dotted Clay is thriving in Scotland but apparently undergoing a major decline in central and south-east England. Yet in Scotland it remains one of our most numerous high summer moths and if anything seems to be increasing. In 2013 my garden light trap caught 49 in one night. We can only speculate about such contrasting regional fortunes.

Like many members of its Noctuinae subfamily, Dotted Clay utilises a very wide range of foodplants and overwinters as a small caterpillar. In spring this is one of the most frequent finds by torchlight at dusk, climbing the stems of shrubs and bushes to feed on the new leaves, before descending at dawn to hide in the leaf litter.

The adult also hides by day at or near ground level, so is rarely found except by accident, for example while gardening. After dark it is a frequent visitor to nectar sources such a ragwort and garden buddleia.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Square-spot Rustic (R Leverton)

Square-spot Rustic Xestia xanthographa

Late July to late September.

Almost everywhere including gardens.

Ubiquitous and abundant, this noctuid suffers from over-familiarity. Its re-appearance is also an unwelcome sign that the best of the summer is already over, far too soon. Nor does it help that our Scottish examples tend to be particularly dark and dingy, with the characteristic yellow forewing markings often scarcely visible. Nevertheless, we should respect it as a successful species able to thrive in a wide range of habitats and climate.

The caterpillar feeds mainly on grasses, but also on a wide range of low plants. It overwinters while fairly small, then grows rapidly in spring, when it can easily be found by torchlight after dark. Once fully grown in May, it makes a cocoon in the soil but does not actually pupate for perhaps a couple of months.

The adult is hardly ever seen by day and presumably hides low down in the sward. At night it visits nectar sources such as buddleia and ragwort, and is often the most numerous species at sugar or in the moth trap.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Dioryctria abietell (R Leverton)

Dioryctria abietella

July into September.

Coniferous woodland.

Though a micro, this pyrale is larger than many macro-moths, yet has no English name in common use. Its caterpillar feeds inside the shoots and cones of a wide range of conifers including pine, spruce and larch, but even in appropriate habitat the moth is rarely numerous. It is also considered a partial migrant.

At rest, the narrow forewings overlap and hide the much broader hindwings, creating a very twig-like shape. As with other members of its family, the antennae are laid along the back when the moth is at rest. Its thorax has two tufts of raised scales that help to keep them neatly in place.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Coxcomb Prominent larva(R Leverton)

Coxcomb Prominent Ptilodon capucina

Larva fully grown August-September.

Deciduous woodland, parkland, scrub.

By August, the caterpillars of many spring and early summer moths that feed on deciduous trees are reaching full growth, hoping to pupate before the leaves wither and fall, or autumn gales dislodge them. Coxcomb Prominent is a relatively frequent find at this time of year, often on rowan in our area.

This is one of the easiest caterpillars to identify because of its distinctive contorted posture, with jaws and six red thoracic legs presented like spines at a would-be attacker; on the tail hump two red warts each bearing a long bristle likewise appear threatening. Whether this display is backed up by unpleasant glandular secretions is unknown. For a relatively low-density species, perhaps bluff alone is enough to deter a young bird that has never encountered one before.

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Annulet (R Leverton)

Annulet Charissa obscurata

Mid July and August.

Rocky coastal cliffs, quarries.

Annulet is a classic example of a species that forms isolated colonies where the adults closely match the local rock on which they rest – from almost white on chalk to various shades of brown or grey according to the geology. Presumably this is caused by the strong selective pressure of visual predation.

Only a handful of colonies are known in our area, though given the dangers of working its favourite habitat (especially at night) others may be overlooked. The example figured is from the Banffshire coast and illustrates its camouflage ability very well. Note how the undulating edges to the forewings and particularly the hindwings help the moth to merge with the substrate by blurring its outline.

Though hard to locate by daytime searching, after dark the adults are strongly attracted to ragwort flowerheads in the vicinity of rocky scree.

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Flounced Rustic (R Leverton)

Flounced Rustic Luperina testacea

August into September.

Sand dunes, arable farmland, road verges.

This is one of many superficially similar brown noctuids that are often confused by beginners, but its stocky build and shaggy thorax, coupled with the late summer flight period, help with its identification despite a wide range of pale or dark colour forms. Once learnt, its jizz is distinctive.

Flounced Rustic prefers light, well-drained soils, where its subterranean caterpillar feeds on the roots of grasses. In the northern half of Scotland it is a mainly an eastern, low ground species, commonest on coastal sandhills, but scarce or absent in the higher, wetter inland and western regions. However, like several other moths with similar habitat requirements, it is numerous on the sandy machair of the Outer Hebrides.

Though hardly ever found by day in any of its stages, after dark the adults are strongly attracted to light, whether that is a moth trap or a kitchen window.

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