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Moths of the month: July 2012

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.

   
Northern Arches (Roy Leverton)

Northern Arches Apamea zeta assimilis

July & August.

Upland and inland grass moorland.

Beyond that its caterpillar feeds on the lower stems and roots of grasses, we know very little about the ecology of Northern Arches. The NMRS distribution map shows it to be widespread throughout most of mainland Scotland, though apparently absent from the Western Isles. Yet nowhere is it numerous. This makes it one of the hardest Scottish specialities to find: it can turn up almost anywhere, yet no site is guaranteed to bring success.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Oblique Carpet (Roy Leverton)

Oblique Carpet Orthonama vittata

July and August.

Marshes and fens.

Although widespread in our area, Oblique Carpet is very local and seldom numerous. Marsh bedstraw is the foodplant but the moth is often absent from apparently ideal habitat. Like other carpets it takes flight when disturbed, but sightings are infrequent. Elsewhere in Britain there is some evidence that this species is declining and that may also be the case in the Highlands.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Northern Dart (Roy Leverton)

Northern Dart Xestia alpicola alpina

Late June to early August.

Mountain summits.

Northern Dart is confined to mountain summits in Scotland, usually at an altitude beyond 800m asl. In this harsh environment it is unsurprising that the life cycle takes two years, mostly spent as a caterpillar feeding on crowberry. Curiously (as with Black Mountain Moth) adults are far more numerous in alternate years. This is thought to be due to an interaction with parasitic wasps.

Over most of the Highlands moths are out in even-numbered years, though odd-numbered years in West Ross. Due to the logistical difficulties of transporting light traps and generators to suitable sites, many records are of larvae or pupae. It is likely that the distribution map for this species is incomplete, but even so it does appear to be fairly local.

The British subspecies alpina is more brightly coloured and strongly marked than the duller nominate form.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Dark Tussock (Roy Leverton)

Dark Tussock Dicallomera fascelina

Mid June through July.

Heather moorland.

In the Highlands, Dark Tussock is very much an eastern species, found there on almost any patch of heather moorland. Yet it is totally absent from similar habitat in the west. This distribution corresponds well with an annual rainfall of below 60 inches per year.

Its caterpillar feeds mainly on heather and has a two-year life cycle in our area, hibernating twice. Two distinct size groups are apparent in spring. Adults are occasionally found at rest by day, with their surprisingly long and furry forelegs extended, but are most often seen at light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Common Footman (Roy Leverton)

Common Footman Eilema lurideola

July and August.

Open habitats, including coasts.

Common Footman reaches the northern limit of its British range in our area. However, instead of petering out gradually, it has a strong population around the Black Isle and inner Moray Firth, well separated from its nearest neighbours. No doubt the low rainfall and increased sunshine of this classic rain-shadow area is the explanation.

Like others in this subfamily, its caterpillar feeds on lichens, particularly those growing in full sun on rocks, dykes and fence posts. Most hairy caterpillars need to bask. The adult rests in foliage by day and can sometimes be seen on flowers, particularly thistle heads, at dusk.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


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