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Moths of the month: June 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.

   

Small Square-spot Diarsia rubi

June to early August.

Almost everywhere, including gardens.

This ubiquitous and abundant species is not limited by foodplant, for its caterpillar eats a wide range of low plants and grasses. As with many species that are double-brooded further south, in our area there is one extended brood, although in particularly good summers a partial second brood appears in autumn.

Small Square-spot is similar to several related species, but the terracotta colour and simple pattern on the rather plain forewings are a good clue to its identity.

Despite its numbers, this species is hardly ever seen by day. Its caterpillar feeds nocturnally, hiding in the leaf litter at dawn. The adult likewise rests concealed, but can often be found in dozens after dark at nectar sources, sugar and aphid honeydew, as well as in the light trap.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Pebble Hook-tip (R Leverton)

Pebble Hook-tip Drepana falcataria

Late May into July.

Birch woodland.

As a group, moths associated with birch tend to be particularly attractive and distinctive. Pebble Hook-tip is no exception, with its unusual falcate forewings and striking yet delicate markings. Our Highland ones are of the scotica race, with an almost white ground colour instead of the duller ochreous-brown of further south.

Although widespread, this is a local and low-density species, rarely seen in numbers even in the best birchwood habitat. By day it is occasionally found at rest on trunks or foliage, but most sightings are from light traps. Since adults in this family are unable to feed, nectar sources have no attraction for it.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


The Grey (R Leverton)

The Grey Hadena caesia

May into July.

Rocky western coasts.

This is one of our scarcest moths, so excessively local that it has Red Data Book status. Its caterpillar feeds on the flowers and seeds of sea campion growing on rocky cliff ledges. Such habitat occurs on many parts of the Scottish coast, but for reasons yet unknown the moth itself is far more restricted. It is local and scarce elsewhere in Europe too, though not particularly coastal.

Though its rarity makes it a desirable find, the moth's appearance can best be described as subtle. As its name suggests, this is not a colourful species, particularly in Britain. Yet the underlying bluish tint of fresh individuals is distinctive enough in its own way.

The adult comes to light traps or can be netted while nectaring at campion flowers after dark, when the weather in its exposed and rugged haunts permits.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Lead Belle (R Leverton)

Lead Belle Scotopteryx mucronata

May into July.

Moorland.

Lead Belle and July Belle are very similar species, only separated from each other in the late 1930s. They are still often confused. Lead Belle is the scarcer and more local in Scotland. It certainly occurs inland in the central and eastern Highlands, but records from coastal sites or from southern Scotland may be questionable. 

The distinguishing features of Lead Belle include the comma-shaped discal spot, the more noticeable serrated submarginal line and the more closely-spaced crosslines. A classic female is illustrated here. However, some individuals of each species are ambiguous and flight periods also overlap, causing particular problems when both occur at the same site.

Where present, Lead Belle may be numerous. It is easily disturbed from the heather and gorse by day and is perhaps partly diurnal.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Broom Moth (R Leverton)

Broom Moth Ceramica pisi

Late May to early August.

Heather moorland, other open habitats.

Broom Moth is most often seen in the larval state, as a distinctively striped caterpillar sometimes feeding openly by day (see September 2012).

The adult is on the wing in one extended brood between late May and early August, but is rarely found at rest. Like many similar noctuids it has a general-purpose mottled and marbled camouflage, enabling it to spend the day in low vegetation such as heather or concealed in other nooks and crannies. The pale yellow, jagged submarginal line is its most distinctive feature, separating it from various similar species. Scottish examples are particularly richly coloured.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


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