Butterfly Conservation - saving butterflies, moths and our environment
Butterfly Conservation
saving butterflies, moths and our environment
   Highland Branch
 » Homepage
 » Latest news
 » Events
 » Your records
 » Surveys
 » Species
 » Newsletter
 » Committee
 » Contact us
 » Links
branch logo
 » National website
 » BC Scotland
 » BC Membership
 » Orkney
 » Shetland
 » Western Isles

Moths of the month: September 2015

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.

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.

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

top of page

Copyright Butterfly Conservation © 2006 Highland Branch
Privacy and Copyright Statement
Butterfly Conservation
Company limited by guarantee, registered in England (2206468)
Registered Office: Manor Yard, East Lulworth, Wareham, Dorset, BH20 5QP
Charity registered in England & Wales (254937) and in Scotland (SCO39268)