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Moths of the month: May 2018

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 Brocade (R Leverton)

Dark Brocade Mniotype adusta

Late May into July.

Woodland and moorland.

In Britain, Dark Brocade has increasingly become a species of the northern uplands, following a long slow retreat from southern England over the last century or more. Although it is still widespread in our region, there is some suggestion that numbers have gradually declined in recent years at more marginal sites.

The moth itself is superficially similar to several other noctuids, but as the name suggests it is generally much darker, especially in Scotland. Even so, the flight histograms hint at a significant percentage of misidentifications, with records supposedly extending well into August and even later. At my own site the flight period is normally over by mid July.

Though seldom found by day, the adult comes regularly to moth traps and also to sugar, but the caterpillar is rarely encountered – or at least, rarely identified.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Netted Mountain Moth (R Leverton)

Netted Mountain Moth Macaria carbonaria

Late April and May.

Bearberry heath.

As far as we know, Bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is the sole foodplant of Netted Mountain Moth in Britain, and even in Europe there are no records of it using Vaccinium species such as bilberry or cowberry. So the moth’s vernacular name is not particularly appropriate, as its habitat is undulating moorland rather than mountain peaks.

Netted Mountain Moth is almost restricted to the central Highlands, with Speyside as its main area, but even here it is very local. Like its companion species Small Dark Yellow Underwing, there are worrying signs that it is decreasing, possibly due to climate change and also because of deteriorating habitat. At unmanaged sites Bearberry is eventually swamped by heather and bilberry, then by scrub. This moth has proved a difficult species to find in recent years.

Both sexes fly actively in the sunshine. Netted Mountain Moth looks slightly bluish when in flight, helping to distinguish it from the similarly marked but slightly larger female Common Heath. It also flies more rapidly than the latter species and can prove quite difficult to net.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing caterpillar (R Leverton)

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing Noctua fimbriata

Caterpillar full-grown in May or June.

Woodland, scrub, hedgerows, sometimes gardens.

The caterpillars of many noctuids overwinter when small, then feed up rapidly in spring. By day they hide in the leaf litter, then after dark they climb the stems to feed on the nutritious breaking buds of saplings and shrubs. Here they are easily spotted by torchlight before the leaves are fully developed.

Although Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing is a rather low-density species, the large size and pale colouration of its caterpillar make it particularly conspicuous in the torch beam, while the row of six black spots beside the spiracles on the central sections are a sure means of identification.

Curiously, the far more numerous final instar of Large Yellow Underwing seems never to climb shrubs to feed on buds in spring, but remains close to the ground at all times.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Yellow-barred Brindle (R Leverton)

Yellow-barred Brindle Acasis viretata

Late April into June, with partial second brood.

Open woodland, scrub, gardens.

Although still a local species, Yellow-barred Brindle has increased considerably in our area in the past 20 years, though numbers remain relatively low. Further south this species has at least two broods, and even in the north occasional August examples are reported.

When freshly emerged the moth is a deep mossy green as figured here, but this colour quickly fades or bleaches to a mustard or khaki yellow, especially during damp weather. As a result, nearly all wild-caught examples match their vernacular name. Such rapid fading is a feature of several green geometrids, so perhaps the green pigment is only needed to protect the moth when freshly emerged.

The caterpillar lives mainly on the flowers and unripe berries of a wide variety of shrubs, including privet, ivy and holly, as well as more exotic species like viburnum and dogwood grown in gardens.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ochreous Pug (R Leverton)

Ochreous Pug Eupithecia indigata

Late April and May.

Pine forest.

This is yet another of the confusingly similar little brown pugs, though it does have some distinguishing features. Its small size, coupled with long narrow forewings that are rather plain except for a large discal spot, help to rule out other species that fly at a similar time. While its colour is not strictly ochreous, there is often a faint sandy tint when slightly faded. The resting posture is also distinctive compared with other brown pugs, with the forewings sloping downwards to cover the hindwings, though this helpful clue is not mentioned in the guides.

Ochreous Pug is a species of pine woodland, but despite what would seem a huge amount of habitat for such a small moth it is rarely recorded in numbers. Perhaps this is because the caterpillar feeds mainly on the male inflorescence, limiting its food supply and also restricting it to a single brood per year. And if the adult spends most of its time in the canopy, that might well reduce sightings.

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

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