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Moths of the month: July 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.

   
Riband Wave (R Leverton)

Riband Wave Idaea aversata

Late June through August.

Woodland, scrub, gardens.

The waves Sterrhinae are a mainly southern subfamily, with relatively few species found in Scotland. Riband Wave, however, is present almost everywhere, but in its plain form remutata. The dark-banded typical form that gave the species its English name is scarce or absent here.

For such a common moth, the caterpillar is rarely found in the wild. Like most species in this genus, it is believed to feed on withered leaves of a very wide range of plants and trees, on or near the ground.

The adult rests amongst vegetation, often sitting openly on the upper surface of a leaf, yet to our eyes it does not appear to be either cryptically or warningly coloured. After dark the adult feeds at nectar sources such as ragwort and sometimes comes to lighted windows.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Silver-ground Carpet (R Leverton)

Silver-ground Carpet Xanthorhoe montanata

June into August, sometimes earlier or later.

Everywhere!

This moth is one of our most abundant and ubiquitous species, found from the coast almost to the mountain summits. It is mainly crepuscular, but readily disturbed by day, making it simple to record even on brief casual visits to an area.

The caterpillar is polyphagous on 'low plants' including bedstraws. It is believed to hide at ground level during the day, which would explain why so few are found in the wild despite the high numbers of adults.

The adult rests amongst low vegetation or occasionally on a tree trunk, where It is often conspicuous despite some vague resemblance to a bird dropping. Perhaps it is not particularly palatable to birds. At dusk, adults can often be seen flying in numbers that are not reflected in subsequent light trap catches, which may be just as well.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Shark (R Leverton)

Shark Cucullia umbratica

June & July, sometimes later.

Arable farmland, road verges, brownfield sites.

Shark is a member of a very large genus of confusingly similar moths that are often easier to separate in the larval stage. In Europe there are about 60 species, but only half a dozen are resident in Britain and just two in Scotland.

In the Highlands, Shark is a widespread but low density moth mainly found in lowland areas, particularly where there is arable farmland. Its caterpillar feeds at night on sow-thistles, hawkweeds and related species that are frequent on disturbed land or as weeds around field edges. By day the adult rests on the fence posts around such fields, well-camouflaged as a sliver of weathered wood.

The moth becomes active at dusk, when it is strongly attracted to nectar sources. To match its long legs it has a long proboscis too, making it one of the few noctuids able to feed at honeysuckle flowers. At high summer it can sometimes be seen hovering at the blooms in the gloaming, looking rather like a minature hawk-moth. Many years ago I saw a Shark taken by a bat while engaged in this activity.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Grey Mountain Carpet (R Leverton)

Grey Mountain Carpet Entephria caesiata

Mid June into September.

Heather moorland.

Grey Mountain Carpet was once found in abundance on almost any heather moorland, but in the last twenty years it has undergone a decline. Data from the National Moth Recording Scheme reveal a retreat from coastal areas and lower ground, with no records from many former sites since 2000 (see BC East Scotland Branch website). Now the population appears to be concentrated on the higher ground of the central Highlands, where the moth is still common. Similar losses from more marginal sites have been noticed elsewhere in Europe, for example Finland. In Scotland at least, habitat deterioration does not seem to be a factor in the decline.

Heather is the main foodplant, and the caterpillars are beautifully camouflaged when feeding on the sprigs. This may protect them from birds but not from parasitoids - only one of the ten larvae I took home last year had not been attacked. Perhaps climate change has somehow altered the balance between the moth and its enemies.

Adults prefer to rest on exposed rock faces if these are available. Their camouflage is excellent. Many times I have scanned a slab of rock and failed to spot a single moth, only for several to take flight when I tapped it with a stick.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Antler Moth (R Leverton)

Antler Moth Cerapteryx graminis

July into September.

Grassy hillsides and moorland.

Antler Moth is one of our most ubiquitous and abundant Scottish species, both on the mainland and the outlying islands. Historically it has been responsible for serious damage to upland pastures during immense population explosions, with larvae so abundant that they clogged up drainage ditches after a heavy shower. Such outbreaks were always highly localised and have become less frequent nowadays, though the moth is still very common in suitable habitat.

The adults fly both in the daytime (especially early morning) and at night. They may sometimes be seen nectaring by day on ragwort flowerheads. After dark, both sexes are strongly attracted to light, but they are curiously rare at sugar.

As an occasional agricultural pest, the life cycle of Antler Moth has been studied. It was found that hatching success was greatest if the eggs were kept frozen in ice over the winter.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


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2009: May | June | July | August | September

2010: May | June | July | August | September

2011: May | June | July | August | September

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