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Moths of the month: May 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.

Birch Mocha (R Leverton)

Birch Mocha Cyclophora albipunctata

May into July.

Birch woodland.

Given the abundance of its favourite tree, Birch Mocha is surprisingly local in the Highlands. It appears to be choosy, requiring only the very best habitat as on Speyside or along the Great Glen. Even where present it is never numerous, with most records being of occasional singles.

Scottish specimens are usually a silvery white, and the dark grey forms seen commonly further south are apparently absent here. The adults rest on the trunks and branches of their host tree, where they are well-concealed. Occasionally they can be found by day, or attracted sparingly to light after dark.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Marbled Coronet (R Leverton)

Marbled Coronet Hadena confusa

May & June.

Coastal cliffs and shingle.

In our area the chief foodplant of this moth is sea campion Silene uniflora, which is mainly found on coastal cliffs and shingle beaches. Inevitably, Marbled Coronet has a similar distribution, although like several other coastal moths it is also found inland on the Spey shingles.

The caterpillar feeds entirely on the flowers and seeds of its host plant, living within the calyx while small but hiding in the debris beneath the plant by day once it grows too big to conceal itself within the pod. In some years every flower on a clump of sea campion shows feeding damage and every seedpod is eaten out, yet the following year the adult moth is not especially numerous.

The adults can occasionally be found resting on rock faces, where their marbled pattern creates an effective disruptively cryptic camouflage, especially when the rock has lichens. At dusk they nectar avidly at the campion flowers, fertilising the seeds that in due course their caterpillars will consume.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ruddy Highflyer (R Leverton)

Ruddy Highflyer Hydriomena ruberata

May & June.

Moorland and carr with low sallow bushes.

Ruddy Highflyer is more numerous in northwestern Scotland than anywhere else in Britain. In England and Wales this is a scarce and local moth, probably more so than the distributions maps suggest. Many of the older records for southern and eastern England are dubious, since the much commoner May Highflyer is easily mistaken for it.

Whereas May Highflyer is found in alder woodland, Ruddy Highflyer is associated with low sallows, especially Eared Sallow Salix aurita, growing in damp montane moorland. The caterpillar lives between closely spun leaves, emerging from its habitation to feed at night elsewhere on the sprig, then returning home by dawn. Often the larval stage lasts well into September.

The adult moth is out in spring, sometimes by late April. It rests on the sallow boles or nearby fenceposts. There is great variation in colour and pattern, with few as obviously ruddy as the Banffshire example illustrated here.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

White Ermine (R Leverton)

White Ermine Spilosoma lubricipeda

Late April well into July.

Almost everywhere, including towns and gardens.

This almost ubiquitous species has a single brood but a long flight period, from late April in early springs until mid July or even later, usually peaking in late May. Although numbers vary from year to year, it is rarely less than common and often abundant. Scottish examples tend to be cream or buff rather than white.

The hairy caterpillar feeds on a wide range of low plants, including those in gardens, though never causing obvious damage. When fully grown in late summer it seeks a pupation site, crawling in broad daylight across roads and paths with great speed and urgency. This conspicuous habit explains Linnaeus's apt choice of specific name, which translates as swift-footed.

Like most tiger moths, adults cannot feed, so are not attracted to nectar sources. They are sometimes found at rest low down in vegetation, occasionally as mated pairs. At night males especially are attracted to lighted windows and in much larger numbers to mercury vapour moth traps

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Purple Thorn (R Leverton)

Purple Thorn Selenia tetralunaria

May and June.

Deciduous woodland.

In Scotland, Purple Thorn is far more scarce and local than its relative, Lunar Thorn, the exact opposite of the situation further south. Its headquarters in our area are on Speyside and in the inner Moray Firth, but even there it is a notable find.

Purple Thorn is single-brooded in the Highlands, flying between the two broods found in southern England. The moths are large and richly coloured, although maybe it is an exaggeration to describe them as purple. At rest they sit with partly opened wings, resembling a bunch of withered leaves. Because the undersides of the wings are exposed to view, these are as deeply coloured and as strongly marked as the uppersides, unlike in most other species.

Inevitably, such a low-density moth is hardly ever seen except when attracted to a mercury vapour trap.

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 | June | July | August | September

2017: May | June | July | August | September

2018: May | June

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