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Moths of the month: July 2013

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.

   
Yellow Shell (R Leverton)

Yellow Shell Camptogramma bilineata

Late June through August.

Open grassy habitats, particularly coastal ones.

Though found almost everywhere, Yellow Shell prefers neutral or basic well-drained soils and is scarce in damp acidic moorland. It can be particularly numerous on the coast.

The caterpillar feeds from autumn to spring on various low herbs such as chickweed and bedstraws, but is not often seen because of its nocturnal habits.

In contrast, the adult moth is mainly crepuscular and rarely caught in light traps. It is readily disturbed by day, flying a short distance before settling again on low vegetation or sometimes rocks. At dusk after a hot day, many can often be found nectaring on ragwort flowerheads.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Bright-line Brown-eye (R Leverton)

Bright-line Brown-eye Lacanobia oleracea

June to August.

Gardens, arable farmland, weedy waste ground, coastal habitats.

This is very much a garden moth, even found in urban areas, and perhaps more numerous there than in the open countryside. Its caterpillar feeds on many herbaceous plants both native and exotic, being an occasional pest of tomatoes. Winter is spent as a pupa in the soil.

Like many species that have two broods further south, in our area there is just one extended generation; only in a really good summer is there a small second brood.

By day the adult hides away and is rarely found. At night it visits nectar sources and comes to light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Purple Bar (R Leverton)

Purple Bar Cosmorhoe ocellata

Late June to late August in one extended brood.

Most habitats, particularly open ones.

This moth is a bird-dropping mimic, though it is uncertain whether predators are fooled or merely put off by the distasteful association. As in other such mimics, the colour pattern includes irridescent blue to suggest a still-wet dropping. Almost certainly this blue is produced structurally (Tyndall blue?) rather than by a pigment.

Though never particularly numerous, Purple Bar is generally distributed, as are its foodplants, various bedstraws. Its life cycle is very unusual for a geometrid: the caterpillar reaches full growth in autumn and constructs a sturdy earthen cocoon, but does not pupate until the spring.

Though mainly active at night, the adult can sometimes be disturbed by day or seen openly at rest on vegetation.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Brown-line Bright-eye (R Leverton)

Brown-line Bright-eye Mythimna conigera

July and August.

Open grassy habitats.

Generations of lepidopterists have cursed the similarity of the vernacular names used by South for this species and L. oleracea, yet attempts to amend them have failed. Admittedly, 'Orange Wainscot' for the present species did not quite hit the mark, its usual colour being a tawny or rusty brown.

In the northern half of Scotland this is very much an eastern species, virtually absent from the wetter west. Even in the east there is some association with drier rocky areas such as coastal cliffs or quarries. As with all the species in its genus, grasses are the larval foodplant, with the caterpillar feeding slowly through the winter then growing rapidly in spring. In our area this moth seems less common than it used to be, an impression backed up by the number of 10km squares with no recent record on the NMRS Atlas map.

The adult is hardly ever found by day, but can be seen on ragwort flowerheads after dark or trapped at light.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Burnished Brass (R Leverton)

Burnished Brass Diachrysia chrysitis

Woodland edge, arable farmland, road verges, wasteland, sometimes gardens.

July and August.

Few moths are more aptly named than Burnished Brass. Most of the forewing is covered with metallic scales that reflect the light at certain angles but appear dull from others. The purpose of this colouration, shared with most of the Plusiinae, is uncertain. The adult often rests exposed on the upper surface of a leaf (I found my first on coltsfoot) but whether the effect is cryptic or merely confusing is unclear.

This is another species that is double-brooded in the south but has just one extended brood in our area. Its caterpillar feeds mainly on nettles, so does not lack for foodplant, especially on farmland where the soil is enriched by organic waste. It also benefits from nettle patches left in gardens supposedly for Small Tortoiseshells and other vanessid butterflies, which rarely use them.

At dusk the adult is an avid feeder at campions and other nectar sources, hovering in front of the flower.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


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