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Moths of the month: September 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.

Pebble Prominent (R Leverton)

Pebble Prominent Notodonta ziczac

Caterpillar fully grown in August and September.

Woodland, scrub, sallow carr.

In 1758 Linnaeus named this species for the caterpillar, referring to its zigzag shape. Whereas caterpillars that feed on low plants can easily hide amongst the leaf litter by day, those that live on trees usually rely on camouflage to escape predation. This one perhaps resembles a shrivelled leaf. At least, the familiar caterpillar sausage-shape is disguised. Their colour varies, those on sallow generally being paler than those on poplars, an alternative foodplant.

However good its camouflage, a caterpillar’s presence is often given away by the feeding damage it has caused. Freshly nibbled leaves are a clue that the culprit is lurking nearby – unless a bird has spotted it first.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Setacious Hebrew Character (R Leverton)

Setaceous Hebrew Character Xestia c-nigrum

Late June into August, then September and October.

Gardens, brownfield sites, road verges, arable land.

In the east of our region, Setaceous Hebrew Character is a fairly common species of low ground, where its caterpillar feeds on a wide range of low plants. There is a single emergence peaking in late July.

However, in some years there is another wave of moths in September and October, which is far too soon to involve a second local brood. Almost certainly these are migrants from further south, where this species is double-brooded and far more abundant. Usually they are paler than the resident moths and often have a pinkish tinge. One such example is featured here.

The situation in the west is less clear. In the Outer Hebrides, the few recent records all relate to autumn migrants and this may be true of the west coast and Shetland too.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Beautiful Yellow Underwing (R Leverton)

Beautiful Yellow Underwing Anarta myrtilli

Caterpillar fully grown in August and September.

Heather moorland.

Although the adult is diurnal it can be overlooked, so it is often easier to record this species in the larval stage. The caterpillars sit openly, near the top of sprigs of heather and also cross-leaved heath, trusting in their superb camouflage. They can be obtained by using a sweep-net, but it is more satisfying to find them by eye alone. Often they come to notice only because they are a slightly brighter green than their foodplant at this time of year.

For once, Linnaeus was wrong when he named the moth after blaeberry as this is not a foodplant, though characteristic of the habitat where the moth is found.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Barred Chestnut (R Leverton)

Barred Chestnut Diarsia dahlii

August and September.

Moorland, woodland.

This northern species is a widespread and fairly common moth in our region, especially in open woodland where there is a blaeberry ground layer. Its flight period begins nearly two months later than its more abundant relative the Ingrailed Clay, but the two overlap. Barred Chestnut can be distinguished by its lighter build, broader and more rounded wings, together with a slightly longer snout, though some individuals of both species are confusingly similar. Unusually for this genus, the sexes differ in appearance, with females typically darker and less variegated than the males.

Blaeberry is assumed to be one of its main foodplants, but the caterpillar is found far less often than others in the group. Perhaps it has more secretive habits.

At night the adult visits nectar sources including heather, and sometimes comes to lighted windows, but is rarely if ever found by day.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Bulrush Wainscot (R Leverton)

Bulrush Wainscot Nonagria typhae

Reedbeds, canals, fens.

August into October.

Bulrush Wainscot has a restricted distribution in our region, mainly along the inner Moray Firth. For once, the reason for this is easily explained – it closely matches the distribution of bulrush, the main foodplant.

Within this area, the moth can be expected in almost any sizeable patch of bulrushes. Its presence is most easily detected by the feeding damage the sizeable caterpillar causes, boring inside the flowering stems and causing them to wilt or discolour. Exit holes where the moth has emerged will also be visible in the old dead stems.

The moth itself is far less often seen. Lacking mouthparts, it does not visit nectar sources. Though attracted to light it seems rarely to travel far from its watery haunts.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

View other months

January - February




November - December

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 | September

2018: May | June

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