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Moths of the month: June 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.

   
Poplar Lutestring (R Leverton)

Poplar Lutestring Tethea or

Late May into July.

Aspen woodland.

Since aspen is its only foodplant, Poplar Lutestring is inevitably local like the tree itself. On top of this, the moth has a disjunct distribution within Britain. Its main populations are in southern, central and eastern England and then the Scottish Highlands, with very few sites in-between. In our area it is commonest amongst the aspens of the Spey Valley and along the Great Glen.

Perhaps the easiest way to record this species is as a larva. The caterpillar shelters between two aspen leaves that it spot-welds together with pads of silk. With practice, these distinctive dwellings are relatively easy to find in August and September. The adult itself is far less often seen. It is hardly ever found by day, probably resting high up amongst the aspen twigs. At night it comes to light traps and to sugar, but normally in small numbers.

Our Highland moths tend to have a purplish grey tinge when fresh. They have been named subspecies scotica, though the differences seem too slight to merit this.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Norther Eggar (pair) R Leverton

Northern Eggar Lasiocampa quercus callunae

June into July.

Moorland, marshes, scrub.

This fine large moth is most numerous on heather moorland but occupies a wide range of other open habitats, though it seems less common on the coast. Its caterpillar feeds on heather and many other shrubs and trees including birch and sallow. The life cycle lasts two years, with the first winter spent as a small caterpillar and the second as a pupa, making it one of very few moths able to hibernate in two different stages.

A curious effect of its two-year life cycle is periodicity: adult moths are far commoner in alternate years. In some regions moths fly mainly in odd-numbered years, in others they fly in even-numbered years. It is thought that this synchronisation is brought about by the moth's relationship with its parasitoids creating a continual leap-frogging effect.

The male is diurnal and may often by seen on sunny days (in the appropriate year) flying vigorously over moorland in search of females. They are a regular prey item of Merlins. The heavy females are more sluggish, flying mainly at dusk. Both sexes are large enough to be caught occasionally in mistnets used by bird ringers

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Small White Wave (R Leverton)

Small White Wave Asthena albulata

June.

Deciduous woodland.

In Britain south of the Wash this is a common woodland species, feeding on hazel and a range of other trees and shrubs. North of this line it suddenly becomes far more local. In Scotland the few records are sparsely scattered, yet provide no obvious clues as to why the moth is so scarce here. The only photographs in the Scottish digital voucher archive (see BC East Scotland Branch website) are from East Ross and Caithness, indicating climate is not a limitation, yet the moth's apparent absence from the favoured Deeside, Speyside and Great Glen areas does not suggest a need for prime habitat.

Because it flies mainly in the early evening, Small White Wave is not often caught in light traps, thus it may be overlooked to some extent. Even so, it must be one of Scotland's scarcest resident moths, far harder to find than most of the famous Scottish rarities.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Saxon (R Leverton)

Saxon Hyppa rectilinea

Late May into July.

Moorland, open woodland.

The Saxon is widespread but local in our area. It is an indicator species of better than average habitat, often with bilberry, a larval foodplant. Even where present the moth is seldom numerous, making it always a welcome find.

The adult rests openly, trusting in its disruptive camouflage, which is particularly effective on birch trunks though less so on fence posts. However, most records are at light traps or at sugar.

As with The Gothic, the vernacular name is said to be an architectural reference based on the moth's arched markings.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Wood Tiger (R Leverton)

Wood Tiger Parasemia plantaginis

June and July.

Widespread on inland moorland, mosses and coastal heath.

Wood Tiger has undergone a long and severe decline in southern Britain, but it is still widespread in our area where suitable habitat remains.

The adult's striking pattern serves several different functions. Like other tiger moths, Wood Tiger is warningly coloured to deter predators, but the black and cream forewings also act as disruptive camouflage, making resting moths almost impossible to spot amongst low vegetation. Once disturbed into flight, their deep yellow hindwings create flash colouration, confusing the eye. Thus the moths are surprisingly hard to follow in bright sunshine and many of my own sightings have been frustratingly brief.

Being entirely diurnal, Wood Tiger is not attracted to light, nor to sugar and nectar sources since it cannot feed. When recording this species there are no alternatives to proper fieldwork.

Click on the image to enlarge it.



View other months

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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

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