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Moths of the month: September 2014

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.

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.

View other months

January - February




November - December

2008: May | June | July | August | September

2009: May | June | July | August | September

2010: May | June | July | August | September

2011: May | June | July | August | September

2012: May | June | July | August | September

2013: May | June | July | August | September

2014: May | June | July | August | September

2015: May | June | July | August | September

2016: May

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