The poplar hawk moth (Laothoe populi) is very different to in appearance to other moths (apart from the eyed hawk-moth which is very similar). The shape and wing formation is unique and the poplar hawk-moth cannot really be mistaken for anything else. It is widespread across the British isles and is quite common.
It is a big moth and if you see it fluttering around a light you could easily think at first that it was a bat. It must rank as one of Britain's largest insects I would have thought. It does vary in colour between this almost blue to a much lighter shade of brown. There is also a buff version found, notably, in the London area. These browner versions tend to be the females.
This is a moth readily attracted to light and is single brooded flying from May until July although in good years there can be a second brood in September here in the south. The food plants for the larvae are poplar, aspen, sallow and willow and it is the latter two of these that are common and would usually be the host plant in Dorset. The insect overwinters as a pupa.
Sphinx ligustri: the privet hawk-moth
There are certain species groups in nature that create excitement amongst enthusiasts. In birds it is the raptors, in flowers it is orchids and in moths it is the hawk-moths. The privet hawk-moth (Sphinx ligustri) is an absolute beauty to behold, over two inches in body length and nearly four inches wide when the wings are fully spread they can seem like bats flying if you see one at your window.
Close up, in the light of day, they are superb with a pink and black body and strikingly marked wings that actually provide excellent camouflage whilst at rest. Sadly, most people will never see one as they are certainly nocturnal and not seen during the day but the large bright green caterpillar with a spiked tail can be found whilst gardening and pruning shrubs.
The privet hawk-moth can be seen from May until September as, in favourable years it can have more than one brood. It is widespread and inhabits gardens, woodlands and similar habitats, it frequently turns up in enthusiasts moth traps and is quite common.
Not surprisingly the food plants of the larvae include wild privet but they also occur on lilac, holly and ash.
Deilephila elpenor: the elephant hawk-moth
The elephant hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) is a large and very striking pink and green moth that is really unmistakable. It is a moth that you will usually only see with the aid of a moth trap as it comes readily to light but is rarely seen during the day despite being a frequent visitor to gardens.
This moth loves honeysuckle and feeds on it at night although the larvae prefers members of the willowherb and bedstraw families of flowers. The larvae over winters as a pupa.
This is a widespread species and quite common during May to July. In Dorset we sometimes see a second brood later in the year with these insects turning up in September and even October.
Habrosyne pyritoides: the buff arches moth
Most moths tend to be fury or covered in find scales so it is unusual to find one with a smooth, polished finish! The china doll surface of this attractive moth is quite unique to the buff arches (Habrosyne pyritoides).
A nocturnal species that flies from the Middle of June until the end of August, possibly in to September down here in Dorset where it is thought it can have two broods a year. The food plant of the larvae is bramble and as bramble is widespread and common so too is this moth. It favour open woody and scrub habitats and gardens near these habitats will often also be home to them. The larvae overwinter as a pupae, safe from cold weather.
Some people think moths are dull, boring creatures. If that is you then think again and take a look at this stunning little insect.
Idaea biselata: small fan-foot wave
The small fan-foot wave (Idaea biselata) is a moth of the hedgerow. It lays its eggs on bramble as well as on dandelion, plantain and knotgrass, all of which are plentiful along a hedge or woodland edge.
This is a species that can sometimes be seen during the day at rest on hedgerow plants but, as the name implies, it is a small species and is certainly often overlooked. Being so small my attempts to get a bigger picture resulted in a rather blurred image. The small fan-foot wave is common in June, July and August, not just in Dorset but across the whole country
There are several 'wave' species and are so named because the have a series of wavy lines running through the fore wings.
Idaea aversata: the riband wave
The riband wave (Idaea aversata) is undoubtedly one of the most numerous species that I get in my light trap. It can occur frequently between May and October as it can have multiple broods each year and there are always more than one in the trap when they do occur.
They can be variable in colouring with the central band across the wings becoming almost a solid brown bar in some specimens. I also tend to find many worn and damaged individuals so I guess they are either very fragile or tend to live as adults for longer than some species. That is not a scientific fact, just a personal observation!
The larvae feed on a wide variety of plants and so the adult moth can be seen almost anywhere in Britain and can sometimes be seen during the day if disturbed from a shrub where it is resting.
Eulithis testata: the chevron moth
Although the prominent markings on the wings of this moth are always consistent across the species the background colour can vary from a pale yellow through to a darker reddish colour. It seems the darker colour variations are more common in the north so here in Dorset the paler versions are more likely to be seen. The markings are also quite distinctive and make the chevron moth (Eulithis testata) readily identifiable.
This species flies in August and September and can be seen by day. The larvae feed on birch and willow trees and so, as these trees are quite widespread you may encounter the chevron almost anywhere these trees are present. Heath is certainly a good place because of the predominance of silver and downy birch in heathland habitats.
Colostygia pectinataria: the green carpet moth
This is always a welcome find in the moth trap. It is not rare but it is a lovely little insect with superbly patterned wings that is just nice to look at. When newly hatched it is vivid green but the colours fade to a yellowish green after a few days on the wing.
The green carpet (Colostygia pectinataria )is a member of the Geometridae family. These moth are generally triangular in shape when at rest, hence the link to geometry. It helps with identification to look for family features.
This moth is flying here in Dorset from late May through to the end of July and then we may get a second brood in the autumn depending on the weather. It widespread and quite common although not a great visitor to light traps.
Aplocera plagiata: the treble-bar moth
The treble-bar moth (Aplocera plagiata) has three bars across its forewings! For once, a common name that reflects the creature it is attached to! But please do not be fooled, there are other moths with three bars across their wings ...
The treble-bar is a night flier but it is easily disturbed and you may catch a glimpse of it by day if you are walking on shrubby downland or sparse woodland in May and June, possibly also in August and September if there is a second brood. It is not uncommon but not one of the more regular day time moths you might encounter.
The larvae are primarily associated with flowers of the St Johnswort family.
Opisthograptis luteolata: the brimstone moth
I am sure everyone is familiar with the lovely yellow brimstone butterfly but, being nocturnal, you may never have encountered the brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata). You can sometimes flush it from shrubbery whilst gardening or walking by hedgerows. This is one of our most common species of moth and it has three broods a year in the south of England whereas up north it tends to have only one brood in mid-summer.
It has no real preference for food plant for its larvae and they can be found on many types of shrub and flowering fruit trees, perhaps favouring blackthorn and hawthorn. This wide ranging diet means that they can be found frequently in gardens and in hedgerows from April right through until October.
Odontopera bidentata: the scalloped hazel moth
On the surface a lot of moths just look like plain little brown jobs but seen close up many are quite attractive with intricate patterns and unique shapes. The scalloped hazel (Odontopera bidentata) is, perhaps, one of these species.
Not just a drab brown but variable brown areas and with a darker brown band through the middle bordered by silver threads and in each of these bands a darker eye. It looks as though it is wearing a mask. They also have a scalloped edge to the hind wing which I suspect helps to break up its outline and aid its camouflage. Flying in May and June you can find this insect at rest on walls and fences but they are so hard to spot because of that colouring. They also come to light so you can find them fluttering against your window.
They are not uncommon in England and inhabit parks and gardens as well as open woodland areas.
Crocallis elinguaria: the scalloped oak moth
The scalloped oak (Crocallis elinguaria) is an attractively marked moth; it looks as though it is wearing a brown mask leaving just the centre of its eyes showing. Whether this makes it look scary as a means of defence from predators or whether the dark brown mask breaks up the outline and adds to its camouflage I do not know; possibly both!
The scalloped oak is a very common moth and frequently turns up in the moth trap as it is particularly attracted to light. It is single brooded and flies in from June until September. It frequents a wide variety of habitat but likes to lay its eggs on deciduous trees and shrubs, but not exclusively oak as the name might suggest.
It overwinters as an egg and hatches into a larvae in April before emerging as this adult in July.
Colotois pennaria: the feathered thorn moth
The feathered thorn (Colotois pennaria) is one of those hardy species that can be found later in the year, usually from the middle of September until deep in to November. They are generally a night time species but I found this one during the day but as this was late in the year it may have been on its last legs (wings?).
Widespread and locally common but seldom seen this moth likes woodland and bushy places including heath. This fits in with the fact I found this specimen in the wooded area of Arne where the underlying habitat would be heathland if trees had not been planted there many years ago.
This species overwinters as an egg and the larvae can be found on most species of deciduous trees and shrubs in spring.
Peribatodes rhomboidaria: the willow beauty
As the spring and summer passes, week by week, so the most common moth in the trap changes and by August we are in to the willow beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria) season. This geometrid species is thought to be single brooded but flies from June through until the end of August and we may even get some in September too, so there may be a second brood some years.
At first sight they look very drab insects but on closer examination they have lovely brown and grey mottled wings and they justify being described with beauty in their name.
The willow beauty is widely distributed across the whole of the British Isles and is very common. They are readily attracted to light and can often come in to houses where there is a light on and a window open. Although named willow beauty it feeds on various plants and lays its eggs on a variety of trees including hawthorn, birch, privet, yew and plum as well as shrubby plants such as ivy and travellers joy.
Biston strataria: the oak beauty
How do you tell a moth from a butterfly? Not a joke, a serious question! Answer? Moths have feathered antennae where as a butterfly has clubbed antennae.
A look at this photo will quickly tell you then that with those lovely, long, feathered antennae that this is a moth. In fact, that makes this a male moth. They use those antennae to pick up the scent of female pheromones up to 200 yards away.
The oak beauty Biston strataria is a distinctive species, bulky with grey and black markings on the forewings. It is a resident species, nocturnL, single brooded and pretty hardy; it flies early in the year, usually in March and April. It is widespread and not uncommon in woodlands and parkland in England, especially in the south.
Eggs are laid on a range of trees including oak, hazel and alder. The larvae emerge in May and pupate in July and over winter in that state before being one of earliest species to emerge.
Biston betularia: the peppered moth
The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is frequently referred to as an example of evolution in action. This is because it occurs in two distinct forms, the usual light grey colouring peppered with black dots and a melanistic form that is predominantly sooty black. I am not convinced that this is a valid claim but that is another matter!
In the south of England, and that obviously includes Dorset, this standard grey version is the one we find. It is quite common and widespread across the area flying from May right through until the end of August.
A nocturnal species and that colour scheme is an extremely effective camouflage and so you rarely see this species by day.
Cleorodes lichenaria: the Brussels lace moth
The Brussels lace moth (Cleorodes lichenaria) is a species that occurs mainly in central southern and the south west of England and so Dorset is right on the centre of its range. It certainly does not breed further north but there can be inward migration that can throw up records from elsewhere in the country.
Flying from June to August, this is a moth primarily of woodlands and coppices but it also occurs less frequently in other habitats especially near the coast. Its larvae feed on lichen and the south west tends to be lichen rich so that might account for its predominance here, the warmer climate also helps of course.
Campaea margaritata: the light emerald moth
I try to find beauty in everything I find and photograph, even house spiders, and I try to avoid having favourites but this is one of the most incredibly beautiful creatures I have ever had the fortune to discover. Sadly, as it flies by night, most of the world will never even know it exists. I think that the light emerald (Campaea margaritata) is just perfect in every way! Perfect shape, exquisite colouring, so delicate and yet so strong. I always get a special feeling when I discover one in the light trap and am almost reluctant to let it go and would love to keep it to look at again and again ...
The lightl emerald is associated with woodland and bushy habitats but it gets about a bit and can crop up almost anywhere in southern England from May until October. Quite a common species in the numeral sense but far from common in the beauty stakes!
Phalera bucephala: the buff-tip moth
One can only wonder in amazement at how life on earth came to be as it is! Has this incredible buff-tip moth (Phalera bucephala) become just like a silver birch twig through random gene mutation and natural selection (therefore almost by accident)? On the other hand, did the design team in charge of moth development decide that a moth that looked like a piece of twig would be a neat idea? Frankly both theories seem impossible to me and, who knows, there may even be a third reason we humans have yet to discover but for me that is the wonder of nature, so much if it is still a mystery and waiting to be discovered.
The buff-tip moth emerges as an adult and flies at night in June and July and is a common and widespread but because it is so well camouflaged one is unlikely to see it even at rest. It is more common in the south but does occur throughout the British isles.
Hypena proboscidalis: the snout moth
It is not hard to see how this species became labelled the snout moth (Hypena proboscidalis). It has a long proboscis protruding from its head, this also accounts for the scientific name 'proboscidalis'.
There are a number of species in the snout moth family but this is by far the most common and also the largest. There are two broods each year and as the broods overlap they can be seen on the wing from June right through until October. What is interesting is that the first brood adults are larger than the second brood adults.
Being fairly dark in colour and well camouflaged they are rarely seen unless disturbed during the day. They are a nocturnal species but are readily attracted to light.
The larvae feed mainly on stinging nettles and the offspring of the second brood over winter as a pupa before hatching to give the first brood in late spring the following year.
Miltochrista miniata: the rosy footman
Although it is primarily a nocturnal species I was fortunate to come cross two of these lovely rosy footman moths (Miltochrista miniata) feeding on hemp-agrimony in broad day light whilst walking through Hethfelton Wood near Bovington. They are unique in that they are the only moths of this vivid pink colour, pale pink in the middle with a bright rose pink border around the edge of the fore-wings. There are also some fine black lines interwoven into the wings.
Flying through out July they are a species that likes woodland and mature hedgerows which perhaps explains why I have never had them in my moth trap although they are attracted by light. Their larvae feed on the lichens found on the stems of shrub and tree branches. They overwinter as larvae, pupating in May ready for their summer hatching.
They are widespread though nit necessarily common throughout southern Britain so I hope to see them again one day.
Eilema depressa: the buff footman
The footman moths have quite a distinctive rounded shape to the end of their wings and that helps when homing in on an identification. There are several footman species so it is good to have a starting point when trying to narrow down to the one you are looking for.
The buff footman (Eilema depressa) is typical of the range, with the rounded wings, and it is generally a buff colour so that is it, job done! I say generally buff coloured but caution is needed because it can vary from a pale grey through to a darker, almost slate grey colour. The variations are apparently more frequent in the larger females. The buff or straw colour is the most common however.
This is a nocturnal species flying in a single brood in July and August and sometimes into September if the conditions are favourable. It is very much a species of mature woodlands as the larvae feed on lichens and algae that occur on mature trees. That said, it is quite a common and widely distributed species so they do turn up in gardens.
Plusia festucae: the gold spot moth
I feel that, in general, my photographs do not really do justice to the exquisite beauty of my subject, I am just not a photographer! With that in mind I should apologise to this little moth, the gold spot moth (Plusia festucae), for not exhibiting it at its best. I hope the picture does give you the idea and would help in identifying one if you found it and wanted to know what it was. The wings of this moth are a mosaic of shades of brown interlaced with patches of golden coloured scales that shine in the sunlight. What a shame it is a night flying insect that is rarely seen by day and is hidden from many of us.
Here in Dorset it will come occasionally to light traps when on the wing from late May until July and then during the second brood in late August and September. It favours damp habitats and as I live close to Wareham Common which is, indeed, a damp habitat I infrequently get them in my trap. The larvae feed on sedges, bur-reeds, yellow iris and other wet meadow plants and over winter as a larvae tucked down inside the leaves of these plants.
This species is related to the common day flying silver Y moth and is a similar shape and size.
Colocasia coryli: the nut tree tussock moth
The nut tree tussock moth (Colocasia coryli) is a moth that I frequently find in my moth trap. It is usual to put egg boxes in the trap for the moths to hide under until released and, being a bit short of egg boxes, I had to use this green one with printing all over it which rather detracts from the beauty of the moth itself! This is an intricately patterned moth with a predominately silver background and with a striking band across the fore wings. It also has a little crest on its head which gives it a rather unique look.
It has two broods here in the south and so adults are on the wing from as early as April right through until September so it can crop up any almost any time in the summer. It is very much a woodland species and not uncommon in southern England and it helps if you live near to a piece of woodland if you are going to get this in a trap in your garden.
The larvae feed on beech, hazel, field maple and horndeam hence its affinity to woodland. It over winters as a pupa which accounts for emergence early in the spring.
Acronicta leporina: the miller
People with the name Miller are usually given the nickname of dusty, a throwback to the days when each town, and even village, would have had their own flour mill powered by water or wind. Naturally, the chap who tended the mill would get covered in a fine white/grey powder from the milling process. One look at this moth, then, and it is not hard to see how it became known as the miller (Acronicta leporina). The miller is predominantly has a greyish white colouring with occasional black marks on the forewings. It has a slightly furry head to compound the connection with milling as it looks as if the covering on the head could well be flour! The underwings are shining white.
Flying from late May until early August this is a nocturnal species which you may discover at rest by day. The one I discovered had found a white background to rest on to try and hide itself from potential predators. A widespread species found in a variety of scrubby habitats which would readily include a garden with lots of shrubs although they are generally associated with birch and alder. The larvae overwinter as a pupae ready to emerge in spring.
Early Grey: just my cup of tea!
One does not generally see a lot of moths in the day time. In summer there are day flying species but most moths like to find a quiet, dark place in the middle of a bush to spend the daylight hours away from potential predators. I was surprised one sunny April day, then, that this little chap (about half an inch long) spent the day asleep on a fence post in our garden. I should not have been surprised however, as a reference to my moth book said; "Rests by day on fences, tree-trunks and rocks." and this is exactly what this one did!
The early grey (Xylocampa areola) is a resident species that over winters as a pupae and has a single brood that is on the wing from mid-March to early May. It inhabits woodlands, commons and gardens and is moderately common and widely distributed in southern England. It is partial to the blossom of sallow and there is plenty of that about in spring here in Dorset. The larvae food plant is both wild and cultivated species of honeysuckle, also common here.
The early grey has a lovely furry 'hair cut' and woolly socks, just right for those cold early spring nights.
Hoplodrina blanda: the rustic moth
This is the rustic moth (Hoplodrina blanda): 'blanda' just about sums it up! What can you say about an insect that is rather bland and nondescript? Even my text book finds it hard to come up with anything. Well, first of all, you can say that despite its bland appearance to the human eye it is, like all nature, an requisite little creature. Everything it needs to survive and thrive is packed in to that little body and that is something I just have to marvel at.
Whilst the few markings on the wing remain constant the background colouring can be quite variable with some a dark greyish brown and at the other extreme a light, silvery brown. The lighter ones may be bland but actually are a delicate mottled brown when seen close up. it is quite a small moth, about a centimetre long, that flies at night but is readily attracted to light. It has a passion for ragwort and also adores buddleia and generally common in the south from July through until September in dry habitats and is very likely to be found in gardens. The eggs are laid mainly on members of the dock family and over winter as larvae, pupating in May ready for a July emergence.
The choice of common name is interesting. Rustic means "made in a plain and simple fashion" and is synonymous with plain, simple, homely and unsophisticated. Now does that not sum up this rather' ordinary' moth?
Charanyca trigrammica: the treble lines
Giving moths English names is a fairly recent phenomenon compared to birds and flowers, many of which have had names for as long as human beings have been naming things, which is a mighty long time! As a result, the origin of moth names is not lost in distant history and quite often describes the moth itself. If you look at the moth in this photo I am sure you will agree that the most prominent feature is the three lines that run across the wings. What is it called? The treble lines moth (Charanyca trigrammica).
The treble Lines is widespread and common over much of England and Wales inhabiting open woodlands, downland, commons, rough pasture and hedgerows. Flying from Mid May until early July it will be a frequent find in the moth trap for a few weeks in mid-summer.
The larvae, as you might expect from such a diverse species, can be found on a wide range of low, ground cover plants. It over winters as a larvae which is uncommon, most pupate to avoid the worst of winter.
Phlogophora meticulosa: the angle shades moth
Despite dramatic falls in the population levels of moths they are still very common insects. Most are nocturnal and most are masters of camouflage and so one does not see them often in the day time. The striking pattern of this one, called the angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) actually means that it is very hard to see when it is at rest during daylight hours on fences and leaves. However, this newly hatched one in pristine condition obviously missed the point of its wonderful camouflage colouring and thought it would show everyone who stopped to look just how gorgeous it is! Fortunately, it chose our bungalow to do this on and so my nature loving wife tenderly moved it to a more secure location.
The angle shades is one of our most common moths and can be found from April right through to October as it is multi-brooded. Common may be but hard to find once they learn the technique of disguise.
Apamea remissa: the dusky brocade
The dusky brocade (Apamea remissa) demonstrates quite well the problem with identifying some moths. Within the same species the colouring can be quite different from one individual to another. It can range from a greyish brown through, like this one, to a very dark brown partly depending on the specimens age as the colour does where off over time and if an individual manages to survive for a few weeks then it will be quite worn both structurally and pigmentally (is that a word?). Regardless of colour, though, the underlying pattern remains the same as does its physical features and so it remains possible to name a find in most cases.
A nocturnal moth that is rarely seen by day it flies as an adult from late May right through in to August. Not the same individuals of course but a succession of emerging insects. They feed on grasses and to they can turn up just about anywhere and they are quite common in gardens. The larvae feed on grasses to and over winter as a larvae before pupating and emerging in the early summer.
Apamea monoglypha: the dark arches moth
This is a moth that seems to be particularly captivated by light and finds its way frequently in to the moth trap.
The dark arches (Apamea monoglypha) is generally single brooded flying from June through until August and it is quite common throughout the British Isles. In the south, however, and especially in Dorset it can have a second brood in September to October if the weather is right so it is a species that keeps cropping up for most of the autumn.
Like many moths it is a lover of red valerian and buddleia and as our garden is blessed with both of these the dark arches is going to be a regular visitor.
The larvae feed on the roots and stems of grasses, notably the very common cock's-foot and it overwinters as a larvae, pupating in the spring before emerging in June.
Mesapamea secalis: the common rustic
This may be the common rustic (Mesapamea secalis) and it is, indeed, a widespread and common species from June right through until October but you are unlikely to see it! The reason may be obvious when you look my photograph and see that you chances of finding it in the day time are very slim as it is so well camouflaged that it can rest on a tree trunk or in scrub and you would never know it was there. It is attracted to light so you may see it at rest on your window.
The colouration of this species can vary considerably from pale brown through to almost black but the rusty colour seems to be the one I have most often in my moth trap. What ever the main colour of the fore-wing the wight mark and the white dots on the curved wing edge are always quite clear.
There are actually three species, the common rustic, lesser common rustic and Remm's rustic which are indistinguishable without the use of magnification and, as regular readers of my nature notes know, taking specimens and looking in that degreee of detail is something I do not do so let us just accept that this is probably what I say it is as it is the most common of the three and if it is not then we will never know.
The larvae feed on grasses and overwinter as a pupa.
Orthosa stabilis: the common quaker
There are a limited number of moth species that fly in March and April, lack of food plants and cold nights being the obvious reasons why. As a result the moth trap at this time of year tends to yield the same species each night. As well as the very common Hebrew character moth the common Quaker (Orthosa stabilis) is also frequently found in early spring.
At first sight these are small, plain, brown moths with not much to distinguish them but, as so often in nature, a close up look shows this to not really be the case. The common Quaker is not, I agree, a stunner, but it does have intricate markings which set it apart from other species.
This a widespread and common species that feeds mainly on sallow which is in full bloom in March and April. It lays its eggs on oak, sallow and other similar trees and the larvae hatch in May. They then pupate which is how they spend the winter ready to hatch early in the new spring.
Orthosia gothica: the Hebrew character moth
In April and May there are not a lot of moths about but the most common by far is the Hebrew character (Orthosia gothica). It is not hard to see why it bears that name; that distinctive mark on the wings is quite diagnostic and recalls a form of hieroglyphics! .
The Hebrew character is a resident moth species as opposed to migratory. It overwinters as a pupa and hatches into an adult in early spring. It can be flying as early as March and then on in to May. It is single brooded and the larvae hatch and are active on a wide variety of trees during May and June before pupating. The adult moth is particularly fond of sallow blossom.
Lacanobia w-latinum: the Light brocade
It is a shame that many moths are nocturnal and never seen. Some may not, at first glance, seem very much to look at but even what seems a rather dull specimen reveals beauty when seen close up under the magnification of the camera lens.
The light brocade (Lacanobia w-latinum) is quite common, even if rarely seen, in southern England being on the wing as an adult from May through until July. Here in the south in good years there is sometimes a second brood in late September and on into October. It is moth who frequents dry, scrubby places where the larvae feed on a wide range of woody plants and so, in a garden near such habitat and with woody shrubs in it there is always a chance of seeing the adult at rest or at the window. The larvae pupates in the autumn and over winter as a pupa before hatching in the late spring.
Lacanobia oleracea: the bright-line brown-eye moth
A moth on the wing in midsummer, the bright-line brown-eye (Lacanobia oleracea) may not have an exactly a catchy title but it is an apt one as you will see on the fore-wings there is a bright (white in fact) line running across near the outer edge which looks like an ECG print with a couple of blips on it! Further up towards the centre of the wing is a brown colour spot or eye. So bright-line brown-eye it is then.
Flying from May until July the odd one frequently turns up in the moth trap but never in any numbers. Here in Dorset there is a second brood later in the year around September time.
It is a widespread species and quite common and it is happy to feed from almost any flowers. The larvae can be a pest if the hatch on cultivated tomatoes.
Mythimna comma: the shoulder-striped wainscot
This nocturnal species of moth, the shoulder-striped wainscot (Mythimna comma) inhabits damp, grassy places including commons and heath. It is not surprising, then, that they turn up in my moth trap as I live near Wareham Common which is certainly a damp, grassy place!
There are several similar species of moth all known as wainscots which are, in part, distinguishable by there furry, domed heads. The shoulder-striped wainscot has a darker grey colouring to the forewings than its relatives and has streaks running down them including a prominent dark stripe and that, of course, gives it its name. Flying in June and July it lays its eggs on various species of grass and the larvae hatch and overwinter as larvae in a cocoon.
The origin of the shoulder-strip name is obvious from the wing patterns but I was intrigued by wainscot. A wainscot is an area of wooden panelling in a house and I am still wondering how the two are connected, if they are connected at all of course.
Agrotis exclamationis: the heart and dart moth
Top moth in my trap in July is often the heart and dart (Agrotis exclamationis), out scoring the others quite significantly.
Not a real 'looker' like may moths, the heart and dart is a bit dull and ordinary and not one you love to see every time you open up the trap in the morning. A quick look at the dark brown patches on the fore-wing is enough to see how it got its name; one is the shape of a heart, the other a dart!
The heart and dart flies from Mid May until the end of July and is widespread and often common throughout most of the British Isles. Like many moths, it is keen on buddleia, valerian and ragwort and so is very much a garden species.
Agrotis clavis: the heart and club moth
Where do nocturnal moths go in the day time? Usually into hedgerows and bushes to sleep safely until the light fades and they can become active again. We rarely see them during the day unless we accidentally disturb them at rest and the reason we rarely see them I think is exemplified by this photograph of the heart and club moth (Agrotis clavis). Its dull colour and dark markings enable it to become almost invisible and to dissolve its surroundings.
It is interesting that nature has given this moth distinct markings and that those markings form shaped that we recognise from other situations and we then apply the names from elsewhere to what we see on the moth. Here on the moths wing are quite clearly two symbols from a pack of human playing cards, a heart and a club so, hence, the heart and club moth. On the moth these are neither hearts or clubs, just dark camouflage patches to break up the wind shape.
This is quite a widespread and common species in southern Britain. Preferring dry, grassy habitats it is quite varied in its tastes and visits a wide range of herbaceous flowers. It can be seen on the wing in June and July and the resulting larvae hibernate over winter before pupating and emerging as adults the following spring.
Agrotis puta: the shuttle shaped dart moth
We have some absolutely stunning moths in this country and some rather dull, boring ones. This one, the shuttled shaped dart (Agrotisputa) is quite definitely on of the dull, boring ones!
It is one of our commonest species, widespread and common across the whole of southern England and so readily found here in Dorset.
These little chaps, they are only half an inch or so long, can be found almost any time from April to October. They have several overlapping broods a year and so they can turn up in a moth trap at almost any time (and frequently do).
The larvae feed on docks, Dandelion, Knotgrass, Lettuce, and many other plants as well which is why they are so common.
Ochropleura plecta: the flame shoulder moth
The flame shoulder (Ochropleura plecta) is one of our most common moths here in Dorset. Indeed, it is widespread and common across much of the British Isles and is found as far north as Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. It is only about 1/2" long and is very distinctive because of the metallic copper-coloured flashes along the outside edges of the fore wings.
It is nocturnal and there are two broods of flying adults each year, one is about from April until June and then the second brood will be on the wing between August and September. Particularly fond of ragwort for its nectar source the larvae live on plantains, docks and groundsels. They over winter as a pupae.
Lycophotia porphyrea: the true lovers knot
A moth called the true lovers knot (Lycophotia porphyrea) is bound to raise question "how does it guess its name?". This is an attractive and intricately marked moth and the pattern on the wing is said to resemble a knot that is used to join two ropes together and that is called the true lovers knot as it binds two separate entities together for ever. It seems, however there is no specific knot attributed to this name but any one of several that are used to join two ropes can carry the name so not so romantic after all for this little moth.
Another rather attractive moth that flies at night and is rarely seen by day. They fly from June until August and although widespread and do occur in gardens they favour heathers as a nectar source and so are most commonly found on heathland and there is no shortage of that here in Dorset. The larvae feed on heather too and overwinter as a larva.
Noctua pronuba: the large yellow underwing
Do not be fooled by those dark, drab coloured fore-wings, they are for camouflage purposes whilst this nocturnal moths rests during the day. Once opened up they reveal the most lovely yellow, almost golden, secondary wings underneath. It is one of several species with drab fore-wings and brightly coloured under-wings and of those several species this is one of the largest hence its common name, the large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba).
My photograph is of one with very dark wings but it is actually a very variable species and those wings can be any shade of brown from this dark colour through to a light buff colour. One can find a complete range in the same catch in the moth trap and you would, at first, think they were separate species. Whilst the fore-wings vary in colour the yellow under-wings do not.
This is a very common species found across the whole country from May right through until November. It seems to have no real preference for habitat or food plant and it has several broods a year and it is thought that numbers in the south are increased even further by immigrants from across the channel.
Xestia sexstrigata: the six striped rustic
A good choice of common name for this species, the six-striped rustic (Xestia sexstrigata) does, indeed, have six stripes. Having said that they are more lines than stripes in my opinions! Whatever, stripes or lines, there are six of them.
A nocturnal species rarely seen by day this is widespread and is quite common across southern England. It has no real preference for food plant, although it does like a bit of ragwort pollen, and so it can turn up almost anywhere you look for it between late July and early September.
The larvae are hardy little chaps, overwintering in that stage eating herbaceous plants such as docks and plantains before pupating in the spring.
Xestia c-nigrum: setaceous Hebrew character
The setaceous Hebrewcharacter (Xestia c-nigrum) is a common moth in gardens in the southern half of Britain in late summer and autumn but you might need a moth trap to see it as it one of those elusive nocturnal species that rarely sees the light of day. It is easy to see where the 'Hebrew character' comes from in its common name with the distinctive marking on the fore wing but the 'setaceous' means having a bristle like appendage according to my dictionary but I cannot see a bristle like appendage on this specimen!
This species breeds here with some larvae surviving the winter and the first brood emerges in April and May. The eggs of the first brood start to emerge in August and second brood insects will occur right through until October with the numbers topped up by inward migration from Europe. The colder autumn nights then see most of them off.
There is a moth just called the Hebrew character. Whilst similar it is a little bit larger and it tends to be around a little earlier in March and April.
Yponomeula cagnatella: the spindle ermine moth
As you travel the country roads and lanes of mid-Dorset, the chalk landscapes, in early summer you may frequently find amazing extensive white webbing along the hedgerows. In some years there can be masses of these webs, in others hardly any. They are the work of the spindle ermine moth (Yponomeula cagnatella) and is home to its larvae.
This is an abundant moth all across Europe and especially so here in Dorset where the soil is calcareous and where spindle commonly grows in the hedgerows . The adult moths fly in June and July and the resulting larvae live gregariously on the leaves of spindle, stripping it completely of foliage. They pupate in large numbers and over winter as pupae in the foot of the tree.
The adult moths can be seen by day in chalk grassland habitats.