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Moths of the month: September

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.

Convolvulus Hawkmoth, Agrius convolvuli (photo by Roy Leverton)

Convolvulus Hawkmoth
Agrius convolvuli

Found here mainly in late summer and autumn.

May turn up anywhere, especially in gardens.

September offers the best chance to see this spectacular migrant. While not the rarity it once was, its huge size always attracts attention with many sightings coming from the general public.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Red-green Carpet
Chloroclysta siterata

Flight period from September to October, then again in spring.

Inhabits woodland and scrub.

The sexes of this moth have very different lifespans. Mating takes place in Autumn, and all males then die. The female hibernates and does not begin to lay until well into the spring. Some survive into July, making this arguably our longest lived moth.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Orgyia antiqua

Flight period in Highland late August into October.

May be found in woods, moorland and gardens.

Males fly actively on sunny days, often at treetop height, in search of mates. The sole activity of the flightless female is to cover the outside of her cocoon with eggs. The hairy caterpillars hatch in spring and are soon dispersed by wind and may end up almost anywhere.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Centre-barred Sallow
Atethmia centrago

Flight period from late August to September.

Inhabits woodland, parkland.

This is perhaps the most colourful of the various "sallow moths", patterned like autumn leaves, though in fact it feeds on ash. With a Mediterranean / Atlantic coast distribution, it reaches its northernmost limit in our area.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Scoliopteryx libatrix

Flight period from September to October, then again in spring.

Found in woodland and sallow carr.

This colourful moth heralds the arrival of autumn proper, then of spring after passing the winter in hibernation. It prefers ripe berries to nectar, piercing them with its proboscis to suck the juice.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Rosy Rustic, Hydraecia micacea (photo by Roy Leverton) 

Rosy Rustic Hydraecia micacea

August into October.

Farmland, gardens, urban wasteland, other open habitats.

Rather flattered by its English name, Rosy Rustic is generally some shade of dull reddish brown, though its markings are very constant. It is found everywhere that tall weeds flourish, as its caterpillar bores into their lower stems and roots, occasionally attacking potatoes and other vegetable crops.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Canary-shouldered Thorn, Ennomos alniaria (photo by Roy Leverton)

Canary-shouldered Thorn Ennomos alniaria

Late August into October.

Woodland, parkland, carr.

This moth can be distinguished from related species by its bright yellow thoracic fur, contrasting with the duller wings. Like many other autumn species it is camouflaged like turning leaves.

The caterpillar eats the leaves of deciduous trees but the adult does not feed, so is most often seen at light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Buff-tip caterpillars (photo by Roy Leverton)

Buff-tip Phalera bucephala

Woodland and scrub.

Caterpillar full-grown in September.

As well as being protected by black and yellow warning colours plus long hairs, Buff-tip caterpillars find safety in numbers. They cluster together between bouts of feeding, especially when undergoing moult, presenting a formidable challenge to any would-be predators. Occasionally they may be found on trees and bushes, especially sallows. Whole bushes are often stripped bare of leaves by the time they reach full growth.

(See July 2009 for a picture of the adult.)

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Black Rustic, Aporophyla nigra (photo by Roy Leverton)

Black Rustic Aporophyla nigra

Late August into October.

Heaths, moors, other open habitats.

When newly emerged this moth lives up to its name, being one of very few species that is truly black. It can sometimes be found at rest on fenceposts, or at heather blossom and ripe blackberries after dark.

Though the caterpillar feeds on grasses and many low plants, it is almost impossible to rear in captivity, suggesting it has specialised requirements that are as yet unknown.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Autumn Green Carpet, Chloroclysta miata (photo by Roy Leverton)

Autumn Green Carpet Chloroclysta miata

September and October, then again in spring.

Woodland, scrub, moorland.

Like the closely related Red-green Carpet (see September 2008) this apparently delicate moth emerges in autumn then hibernates through the winter to fly again in spring, even into June. Or at least the impregnated females do, since all males die in autumn.

Never a particularly bright shade even when fresh, faded females turn a murky yellowish-green, prompting the specific name that translates as piss-coloured - accurate if impolite.

Click on the image to enlarge it

Brown-spot Pinion, Agrochola litura (photo by Roy Leverton)

Brown-spot Pinion Agrochola litura

Woodland edge, scrub, hedgerows.

Late August through September.

Similar in colour to a brown autumn leaf, this species rests in the ground litter and is rarely seen by day. At night it visits ripe blackberries.

Though common here, elsewhere in Europe it is said to be local and scarce.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Heath Rustic, Xestia agathina (photo by Roy Leverton)

Heath Rustic Xestia agathina

Heather moorland.

Mid August to mid September.

Heath Rustic has an Atlantic-Mediterranean distribution, so our Highland populations are at the northern limit of its range. It is associated with mature heather, often in the shelter of trees. Though widespread, it is rarely seen in numbers.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Portland Moth, Actebia praecox (photo by Roy Leverton)

Portland Moth Actebia praecox

Sand dunes, shingle beaches.

Mid August to late September.

Habitat requirements of extensive sand and shingle make this a very local species in Britain.

Its unique metallic blue-green forewings (which glitter in torchlight) add to its charisma.

Findhorn, Culbin and Fort George are key sites in our area, but the moth also occurs well inland on the shingle deposits of the Spey.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Pale Eggar, Trichiura crataegi (photo by Roy Leverton)

Pale Eggar Trichiura crataegi

Moorland and scrub.

August and September (sometimes July).

Like its larger cousins, Pale Eggar is mainly a moorland species in Scotland.

Its hairy caterpillar feeds on heather or deer-grazed birch and if unable to complete its development in one summer, it can hibernate partly grown and produce a moth by next July. Such flexibility is doubtless a great advantage given the uncertainties of our Scottish weather.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

September Thorn, Ennomos erosaria (photo by Roy Leverton)

September Thorn Ennomos erosaria

Oak and birch woodland.

Late July to September?

This attractive geometrid is widespread but local and scarce in the Highlands.

Both wings and body are the colour of a chantarelle, lacking the bright yellow thorax of its commoner relative Canary-shouldered Thorn (see September 2009 Moths). Like all the thorns, it is rarely seen except at light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Brindled Green, Dryobotodes eremita (R Leverton)

Brindled Green
Dryobotodes eremita

Late August into October.

Oak woodland.

A subtle mix of mossy greens, this moth is well camouflaged at resk on damp autumn trunks.

In Scotland it is rather local, associated with the better oak woods, and rarely numerous. As with other autumn species, ripe blackberries are a favourite attraction after dark.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Grey Pine Carpet, Thera obeliscata (R Leverton)

Grey Pine Carpet
Thera obeliscata

May into November.

Coniferous woodland, sometimes gardens.

This abundant carpet moth is on the wing for more than half the year in overlapping broods, but its numbers are highest in September.

Despite its common name, most Scottish examples are brown or rufous rather than grey, causing confusion with related species. It is also very variable

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Clifden Nonpareil, Catocala frxini (R Leverton)

Clifden Nonpareil
Catocala fraxini


Migrant, east coast & Northern Isles.

This spectacular insect is the moth equivalent of the Camberwell Beauty, reaching us from across the North Sea in autumns when the winds are favourable. Always a great prize, it is large enough to attract attention even from members of the public.

In recent years a breeding colony has become established in Dorset - what a fine addition this would be to our Speyside aspen woods if climate change proves favourable.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Large Wainscot, Rhizedra lutosa (R Leverton)


Large Wainscot
Rhizedra lutosa

September and October.

Marshes, reedbeds, ditches.

As its English name implies, this species is bigger than superficially similar wainscots. It also flies much later in the year.

Its caterpillar feeds in the lower stems and rhizomes of Common Reed, particularly where this grows on drier ground. However, the adult is a partial migrant and sometimes turns up far from its usual habitat.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Orange Sallow, Xanthia citrago (R Leverton)

Orange Sallow
Xanthia citrago

Late August to early October.

Parks, avenues, amenity woodland.

As its sole foodplant is Lime, this moth is dependent on planted trees in our area. Thus it is a species of towns and villages rather than natural habitats, widespread but never very numerous, like its host tree.

Many autumn moths come in shades of orange, but none more so than this. Its markings are a good example of a disruptive pattern, breaking up the shape of the moth.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The VestaL (R Leverton)

The Vestal Rhodometra sacraria

Migrant, most numerous in September and October.

Might turn up anywhere!

This delicate little moth is a regular migrant to southern Britain, sometimes breeding in stubble fields during hot summers. It is scarcer northwards and not annual in our area, but a few even reach Shetland on southerly winds.

After their long flight, the moths urgently replenish their resources on nectar flowers at dusk, garden buddleia being a particular favourite.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Flounced Chestnut (R Leverton)

Flounced Chestnut Agrochola helvola

Late August to early October.

Deciduous woodland, especially oak; sometimes moorland.

With its russet colours, Flounced Chestnut is a classic autumn moth, well camouflaged amongst the changing leaves.

It is the most local of the five Scottish Agrochola species, requiring higher-quality habitat and seemingly avoiding coastal areas. Yet where found it can be numerous.

As for most autumn moths, ripe blackberries are a strong attraction at a season when nectar sources are few. Otherwise it is rarely seen except at light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Broom Moth larva (R Leverton)

Broom Moth Melanchra pisi

Larval stage July-September.

Heathland and moorland, other open country, sometimes gardens.

The striking colours and pattern of the Broom Moth caterpillar probably combine elements of disruptive and warning camouflage, as sometimes feeds quite openly by day. Whether it is indeed unpalatable is unclear.

A wide variety of plants and shrubs (including its namesake) are eaten by this species, but there is no particular dependence on broom. However, the moth is most numerous in moorland habitats where broom is often common too.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The Chevron (R Leverton)

The Chevron Eulithis testata

August and September.

Heathland, moorland, other open country.

This species occupies similar habitats to its close relative Northern Spinach (see August 2012), but its flight time peaks about a month later. Life cycle and behaviour are also similar, except that low sallows such as Salix aurita are used more often as a foodplant.

The adult rests on low vegetation in a characteristic triangular pose, with antennae laid along its back rather than tucked beneath the wings - a feature of this genus. It is always alert and easily disturbed, often flying up in numbers as we walk through the heather on warm days.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Small Wainscot (R Leverton)

Small Wainscot Photodes pygmina

Late August into October, earlier in the west.

Wet moorland, rough grazing, marshes and bogs.

This is indeed the smallest of our many similar-looking wainscot moths, though it has quite a stocky build. It varies more than most in colour, from pale whitish drab to rufous, often dusted with black along the veins.

Its caterpillar feeds internally within grass and rush stems and is rarely found despite the moth's abundance.

Besides being active at night, males have a strong afternoon and early evening flight, buzzing low over the vegetation presumably in their search for females.

Note the larval feeding cases of a Coleophora species on the seedheads of the Juncus - also a familiar September sight.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Slender-striped Rufous (R Leverton)

Slender-striped Rufous Coenocalpe lapidata

September into October.

Damp upland pasture and moorland.

Slender-striped Rufous is one of the scarcer Scottish specialities, widely distributed in the Highlands but with a western bias. Given the amount of apparently suitable habitat it is surprisingly local and rarely numerous.

Although its caterpillar has yet to be found in the wild, buttercup is the likely foodplant based on captive rearing.

Females are partially diurnal in dry weather, with an afternoon flight. Moths soon become bleached and faded, losing much of the rufous tint of newly emerged examples.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Golden-rod Brindle (R Leverton)

Golden-rod Brindle Lithomoia solidaginis

Mid August through September.

Upland moorland.

This is another widespread yet local species in our region, found on good quality upland moorland but tending to avoid coastal areas.

Despite both its scientific and vernacular names, this moth has no connection with the eponymous plant. Heather, bilberry and other moorland shrubs are the caterpillar's foodplants.

The adult rests openly, with wings tightly furled around its body so that it resembles a bit of dead twig or even a grouse dropping. It seems to have become scarcer in recent years.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The Gem (R Leverton)

The Gem Orthonoma obstipata

Migrant, usually in late autumn.

May turn up anywhere

This wind-drifted migrant from the Mediterranean is regular in southern Britain but increasingly scarce northwards, though it can reach the Outer Hebrides and Shetland. Most sightings are at light.

Unusually for the 'carpet' subfamily, male and female are very different in colour and pattern. Only the female has the white-ringed discal spot that gives The Gem its common name.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Small Autumnal Moth (R Leverton)

Small Autumnal Moth Epirrita filigrammaria

Mid August through September.

Heather moorland.

Small Autumnal Moth is recognised as a species only in Britain, where it seems genuinely distinct from the slightly larger and later Autumnal Moth E. autumnata (see October series). The latter occurs in birch and alder woodland, whereas the former is associated with open heather moorland.

Adults rest low down in the heather, also on rocks and fence posts. However, they are most easily found at night, sitting quietly on the vegetation with wings closed butterfly-fashion, forming a conspicuous pale triangle in the torchlight.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Crinan Ear (R Leverton)

Crinan Ear Amphipoea crinanensis

August to early October.

Marshes, wetlands, other damp grassland.

This species was only separated from the other very similar 'ears' in 1908, with the type specimens coming from the Crinan Canal. Its flight period is fractionally the latest of our four species, though with a big overlap.

Characteristic examples can be recognised by their short wings and finely 'pencilled' crosslines, but genitalic examination is often required for certainty.

Crinan Ear is often active by day and can be found nectaring at Devil's-bit Scabious where populations are high.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Acleris emargana (R Leverton)

Acleris emargana

Late August into October.

Damp woodland, scrub, sallow carr.

There are many moths with unusual wing shapes, but it is normally the outer margin that is angled, toothed or scalloped. This little torticid is unique amongst British species in having the costa (leading edge) of the forewing deeply excavated, which must surely affect the mechanics of its flight. The forewing apex is also extended into a sharp point. As a result, the shape of the resting moth does not match the usual triangle that predators employ as a search image. As a further safeguard the moth is variable, with a wide range of forms - some plain and dull, others bright and disruptively patterned as shown here.

By day the adult rests amongst the sallows that are its foodplant, fluttering to the ground like a fragment of dead leaf if disturbed. Perhaps the aerodynamic effects of the costal scoop are all part of its strategy.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

November Moth (R Leverton)

November Moth Epirrita dilutata

Woodland, scrub, hedgerows, gardens.

Mid September to late October.

Despite its name, November Moth appears much earlier than that in Scotland. In our area the peak flight period spans the last week of September and the first week of October. It is normally long over by the time its eponymous month comes round.

The Epirrita genus comprises four species so similar that they are forever being confused. It does not help that even images in the field guides and on websites are often misidentified. November Moth is the most widespread and numerous of the group, found almost everywhere there are deciduous trees or shrubs, though it particularly likes hawthorn. By day adults rest on the trunks; after dark they often come to lighted windows.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Death's-head Hawk-moth (R Leverton)

Death's-head Hawk-moth Acherontia atropos

Migrant, most often in September.

May turn up anywhere.

This huge moth is a rare migrant from southern Europe that always attracts attention. Many sightings are by members of the public. They often lead to lurid headlines in the local press, due to the skull-like marking on the thorax and the moth's ability to squeak if disturbed. These features are now thought to placate bees, as where the moth is commoner it enters hives to rob them of their honey.

Whilst the moth is Afrotropical, its main larval foodplant is potato, which originates from the Americas. This makes Death's-head Hawk-moth a rare example of a species that has largely switched from its natural foodplant (other Solanacea) to an introduced non-native one. Unfortunately, modern agricultural methods are increasingly inhospitable, so in Europe at least the moth has become scarcer as a breeding species.

The illustration shows a female found on a house wall in Dufftown, 8 September 2009. It led to the first (and so far only) 'moth twitch' ever held in Banffshire.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Scalloped Hook-tip larva (R Leverton)

Scalloped Hook-tip Falcaria lacertinaria

Larva full-grown in September.

Birch woodland and scrub.

Caterpillars are a major food item for small insectivorous birds, which hunt by sight. To avoid being eaten, they employ many different strategies. The larva of Scalloped Hook-tip hides in plain view on the upperside of a birch leaf, disguising itself as a fragment of brown withered leaf, the remains of a catkin, or some general bit of inedible debris. Its shape is far removed from the familiar 'sausage with legs' of most other species. Linnaeus thought the caterpillar resembled a lizard, hence the specific name. To me, it looks more like a small Scottie dog.

Scalloped Hook-tip is widely distributed, but never very numerous. Existing at a low density may help its survival strategy - the more rarely caterpillars are encountered, the less likely their camouflage will be rumbled by a predator.

See also Moths of the Month May 2014, in which the adult is featured.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Dusky-lemon Sallow (R Lverton)

Dusky-lemon Sallow Cirrhia gilvago

Late August to early October.

Woodland and parkland.

This local species has only recently been discovered in our area, in Moray and East Ross. Previously the northernmost records were in Kincardineshire. However, it is a secretive, low-density moth that can easily be overlooked. Wych Elm is its only foodplant, with the caterpillar eating the flowers and green seeds in spring.

This dependence on Wych Elm explains why Dusky-lemon Sallow has suffered a major decline in recent decades, as more and more of these trees have been lost to Dutch Elm Disease. It is one of very few moths with more pre-2000 dots on its distribution map than recent ones, despite the great increase in recording. Somehow it still survives, but its future looks bleak.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Mouse Moth (R Leverton)

Mouse Moth Amphipyra tragopoginis

August into October.

Most habitats including gardens.

This used to be a common and almost ubiquitous species, feeding on a wide variety of plants and shrubs, but recently it has become scarce everywhere. In the 1990s I had up to 8 per night in my garden light trap or at sugar, but my last sighting was in 2011. There is no obvious reason for its decline.

The English name comes from the adult's mousy colour and its habit of scurrying away rather than flying when disturbed. In hot weather it sometimes roosts or aestivates communally in sheds and outbuildings. In Sussex I once found dozens clustered in a wooden rural bus shelter.

When active after dark, the adult visits sugar far more often than nectar sources, suggesting that tree sap is its main sustenance in the wild.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Scalloped Hazel larva (R Leverton)

Scalloped Hazel Odontopera bidentata

Fully grown by September.

Woodland, scrub, gardens.

The long slow larval stage of Scalloped Hazel is an exception to the usual strategy. The adult (see May 2008) flies in May and June, so it is rather surprising that its caterpillar is still feeding in autumn. Most species that use deciduous trees feed up quickly on the young spring foliage, before defensive chemicals like tannins make the leaves tougher and less palatable, and also to reduce predation by birds. Yet caterpillars of Scalloped Hazel can be found well into October. The individual illustrated was found drinking sugar after most leaves had fallen.

Like many stick caterpillars, Scalloped Hazel varies considerably in colour and pattern, to mimic more closely the twigs of its foodplant. This striking 'lichened' form only appears in the final instar. Though genetically controlled, the gene is only expressed in response to background stimulation, as from heavily lichened twigs. Because this form is not illustrated in the usual guides, it is notoriously misidentified as one of several much scarcer species.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Pearly Underwing (R Leverton)

Pearly Underwing Peridroma saucia

Migrant, usually in autumn.

May turn up almost anywhere.

Though only an occasional migrant to northern Scotland, Pearly Underwing is almost cosmopolitan. It was the first moth I saw when visiting New York expecting unfamiliar American species. In the States it is known as the Variegated Cutworm Moth and considered a serious pest of crops including cabbage, carrots, corn and tobacco.

There is no suggestion of breeding in our area. Moths appear in autumn, mainly between August and October, though they are not found every year. Colour and pattern vary, the pinkish brown form illustrated being perhaps the most usual. Of my 22 Banffshire records, 17 were at sugar, but the last was as long ago as 2006.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Pink-barred Sallow (R Leverton)

Pink-barred Sallow Xanthia togata

Mid August to early October.

Sallow carr, damp woodland.

This is our only moth with pink in its English name, since rosy is used for others of that colour. Ironically, when Esper named this species togata in 1788 he was more accurately likening the shade to the purple in the togas worn by Roman senators.

Nevertheless, Pink-barred Sallow shows that even cryptic species can be colourful, especially in autumn. The adult sits exposed on foliage and can easily be overlooked at this time of year.

The eggs overwinter, with the hatchlings feeding on the sallow catkins in spring until these fall, then on low plants. This life history is very similar to that of Sallow (see August 2009), yet the two species seem able to share the same niche as far as we can tell, both being equally common and numerous in most areas.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Beautiful Plume (R Leverton)

Beautiful Plume Amblyptilia acanthadactyla

Late August into October, then again in spring.

Heather moorland, sand dunes, other open habitats.

Despite its fragile appearance, this plume moth lives a long time as an adult. It emerges in late summer, then hibernates to reappear in spring. Its larvae feed on the flowers of a great variety of plants, enabling it to occupy a wide range of habitats.

Though mainly active at night, adults can sometimes be seen nectaring by day on ragwort flowerheads in autumn, building up resources for hibernation.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Pebble Prominent (R Leverton)

Pebble Prominent Notodonta ziczac

Caterpillar fully grown in August and September.

Woodland, scrub, sallow carr.

In 1758 Linnaeus named this species for the caterpillar, referring to its zigzag shape. Whereas caterpillars that feed on low plants can easily hide amongst the leaf litter by day, those that live on trees usually rely on camouflage to escape predation. This one perhaps resembles a shrivelled leaf. At least, the familiar caterpillar sausage-shape is disguised. Their colour varies, those on sallow generally being paler than those on poplars, an alternative foodplant.

However good its camouflage, a caterpillar’s presence is often given away by the feeding damage it has caused. Freshly nibbled leaves are a clue that the culprit is lurking nearby – unless a bird has spotted it first.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Setacious Hebrew Character (R Leverton)

Setaceous Hebrew Character Xestia c-nigrum

Late June into August, then September and October.

Gardens, brownfield sites, road verges, arable land.

In the east of our region, Setaceous Hebrew Character is a fairly common species of low ground, where its caterpillar feeds on a wide range of low plants. There is a single emergence peaking in late July.

However, in some years there is another wave of moths in September and October, which is far too soon to involve a second local brood. Almost certainly these are migrants from further south, where this species is double-brooded and far more abundant. Usually they are paler than the resident moths and often have a pinkish tinge. One such example is featured here.

The situation in the west is less clear. In the Outer Hebrides, the few recent records all relate to autumn migrants and this may be true of the west coast and Shetland too.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Beautiful Yellow Underwing (R Leverton)

Beautiful Yellow Underwing Anarta myrtilli

Caterpillar fully grown in August and September.

Heather moorland.

Although the adult is diurnal it can be overlooked, so it is often easier to record this species in the larval stage. The caterpillars sit openly, near the top of sprigs of heather and also cross-leaved heath, trusting in their superb camouflage. They can be obtained by using a sweep-net, but it is more satisfying to find them by eye alone. Often they come to notice only because they are a slightly brighter green than their foodplant at this time of year.

For once, Linnaeus was wrong when he named the moth after blaeberry as this is not a foodplant, though characteristic of the habitat where the moth is found.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Barred Chestnut (R Leverton)

Barred Chestnut Diarsia dahlii

August and September.

Moorland, woodland.

This northern species is a widespread and fairly common moth in our region, especially in open woodland where there is a blaeberry ground layer. Its flight period begins nearly two months later than its more abundant relative the Ingrailed Clay, but the two overlap. Barred Chestnut can be distinguished by its lighter build, broader and more rounded wings, together with a slightly longer snout, though some individuals of both species are confusingly similar. Unusually for this genus, the sexes differ in appearance, with females typically darker and less variegated than the males.

Blaeberry is assumed to be one of its main foodplants, but the caterpillar is found far less often than others in the group. Perhaps it has more secretive habits.

At night the adult visits nectar sources including heather, and sometimes comes to lighted windows, but is rarely if ever found by day.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Bulrush Wainscot (R Leverton)

Bulrush Wainscot Nonagria typhae

Reedbeds, canals, fens.

August into October.

Bulrush Wainscot has a restricted distribution in our region, mainly along the inner Moray Firth. For once, the reason for this is easily explained – it closely matches the distribution of bulrush, the main foodplant.

Within this area, the moth can be expected in almost any sizeable patch of bulrushes. Its presence is most easily detected by the feeding damage the sizeable caterpillar causes, boring inside the flowering stems and causing them to wilt or discolour. Exit holes where the moth has emerged will also be visible in the old dead stems.

The moth itself is far less often seen. Lacking mouthparts, it does not visit nectar sources. Though attracted to light it seems rarely to travel far from its watery haunts.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Brindled Plume (R Leverton)

Brindled Plume Amblyptilia punctidactyla

September-October, then again in spring after hibernation.

Damp shady places, woodland edge.

All members of the distinctive micro-moth family Pterophoridae have a similar build to craneflies, with very long legs and narrow forewings. Their flight is feeble, but despite their fragile appearance some species hibernate, including this one.

Brindled Plume is not often encountered in our area, which may partly be due to its secretive habits. Hedge woundwort growing in damp shady places is the usual larval foodplant, and in northern Scotland there is probably only a single brood. Adults emerge in September and are occasionally attracted to lighted windows, or seen nectaring on flowers such as ragwort and buddleia after dark.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Spruce Carpet (R Leverton)

Spruce Carpet Thera britannica

Almost any month, but peaking September-October.

Coniferous woodland, sometimes parks and gardens.

Until about 30 years ago, Spruce Carpet reached no further into Scotland than Dumfries and Galloway. Since then it has rapidly extended its range northwards as far as Caithness, and is now abundant in suitable habitat throughout the Highland region.

As the moth’s name implies, spruces are the main larval foodplant, though other firs and pines are also used. There are two broods per year, but whereas both broods are of similar size in southern England, in our area the autumn brood is by far the more numerous. During mild winters, a few individuals are still flying in December.

Because both species are so variable, some forms of Spruce Carpet can resemble Grey Pine Carpet and vice versa. Ironically, Spruce Carpet is generally greyer than Grey Pine Carpet despite the latter’s name.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Gray Dagger larva (R Leverton)

Grey Dagger Acronicta psi

Larva full-grown in September.

Woodland, scrub, hedges, gardens.

Most caterpillars rely on disguise to escape their enemies, but a few species take the opposite approach, advertising their distastefulness by bright colours and distinctive patterns. While this may be effective against birds, it does not deter their invertebrate enemies such as tachinid flies and ichneumon wasps. Remarkably, the caterpillar figured here survived a parasitoid attack and successfully pupated after the grubs had exited, producing a moth the following June.

Although it has some preference for rosaceous trees and shrubs, Grey Dagger can also use a wide variety of other trees such as birch. Its larva is a regular autumn find in gardens both rural and urban, when its striking pattern is sure to attract attention even from casual observers. Ironically, the adult moth is cryptic, relying on its camouflage.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Narrow-winged Pug larva (R Leverton)

Narrow-winged Pug Eupithecia nanata

Larva full-grown in September.

Heather moorland.

By September, most vegetation has lost the vibrant greens of early summer and is beginning to look a bit tired. Caterpillars that were well-camouflaged when their foodplant was fresh now risk standing out because they are too bright a green. This is what drew attention to the green form of Narrow-winged pug larva shown here. The purplish pink form, slightly more frequent on that hillside, matches the bell heather flowers instead.

Fortunately by autumn most insectivorous birds such as Meadow Pipits have left the moorland, and in any case these larvae are almost ready to pupate.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Lunar Underwing (R Leverton)

Lunar Underwing Omphaloscelis lunosa

September into October.

Open dry grassland.

In Scotland Lunar Underwing occurs on low ground at or near the coast, avoiding upland and inland habitats. In our area it is quite local, mainly found in the inner Moray Firth and on parts of the west coast including Skye and the Uists. Since grasses are the foodplant, light well-drained soil and a mild winter climate for the overwintering larva may be the determining factors.

The flight period is quite short, during September and early October. The adult is mainly seen at light, but also feeds on overripe berries after dark, including those of elder. Although it is very variable in colour and pattern, the lighter veins are a good identification feature, particularly noticeable in the darker forms. Otherwise the distinctive hindwing is the key.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

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