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Moths of the month: July 2016

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.

Plain Wave (R Leverton)

Plain Wave Idaea straminata

July into August.

Open woodland.

Plain Wave is a widespread but local species that is rarely seen in numbers. Its characteristic habitat is open woodland (whether deciduous or coniferous) with a good ground layer of bilberry. The Great Glen, Speyside and Deeside are clearly picked out on its distribution map.

As its name suggests, this is not a strongly marked species even for its subfamily. It is best distinguished from the rather similar Riband Wave (see July 2015) by its satin texture and the absence of marginal dots. Unlike the latter species, it is not usually present in gardens.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Catoptria margaritella

July into August.

Marshes and boggy moorland.

This striking crambid ‘grass moth’ is easily recognised by the broad and unbroken pearly white streak on its forewing, although elsewhere in Europe there are several very similar species. It is readily disturbed by day, normally flying only a short distance before settling again on low vegetation with wings tightly furled in the characteristic resting posture of this group.

Like others in the genus, its caterpillar is believed to feed on mosses, but there are few if any records of it being found in the wild.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Galium Carpet (R Leverton)

Galium Carpet Epirrhoe galiata

Late June and July.

Cliffs, scree, quarries.

There are very few recent reports of this species in Scotland, and many (or most?) of the older records may well be misidentifications. It is a local and scarce moth of limestone and other basic rocks. In our area it is known from the Tomintoul district and the Banffshire coast, where the specimen figured was reared from a tiny caterpillar found on lady’s bedstraw collected as foodplant for a different species. It remains the only record for that site.

The adult can be distinguished from the related Common Carpet by the much broader central band, and the slightly concave leading edge to the forewing. Like most other carpet moths it is easily disturbed by day in warm and sunny weather.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

The Flame (R Leverton)

The Flame Xylia putris

June & July, sometimes later.

Road verges, gardens, field edges.

In the southern half of Scotland this is a common species of weedy low-lying ground, a familiar garden moth. In Highland it is local and scattered, with some records likely to be of migrants. Unlike many other moths it shows no sign of any increase or spread in response to climate change.

The scientific name likens the adult to a piece of old rotting wood, which it resembles when at rest with wings tightly wrapped around the body. Red Sword-grass Xylena vetusta (see March)also adopts this strategy and its scientific name has a very similar meaning.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Smoky Wainscot (R Leverton)

Smoky Wainscot Mythimna impura

July into September.

Grassland, almost anywhere.

Smoky Wainscot is so abundant and ubiquitous that any blank squares in its distribution map can be assumed to represent under-recording rather than absence. With a caterpillar that feeds mainly on grasses and appears to have no obvious habitat requirements, it is equally at home in coastal sand dunes, farm pastures, bogs, marshes and high inland hills.

There is only one brood a year but the flight period is long, from the beginning of July well into September in a cool summer. The adult rests low down in the sward by day and is rarely found. Unusually for an abundant species it shows little individual variation in colour or markings, as if it had perfected a general purpose disguise for hiding amongst grass tufts wherever they might be.

The pale forewings make the adult conspicuous in flight at dusk, low over the grasses. After dark it often nectars on ragwort flowerheads and at rosebay willowherb.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

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