Moth News: Mid-spring Review


With cool, unsettled conditions affecting Britain since early April, the imposing high-pressure system and associated sunny, dry and warm days of late March now seem a distant memory. As the month progressed, several low-pressure systems tracked across the North Atlantic and hit Britain, making the second half of April a truly cold, sodden and miserable period for our moths. With night-time temperatures well below the seasonal average, attempted garden catches (where possible!) have been dire for the last three weeks. In a similar vein, many field meetings have either been cancelled or curtailed with minimal results.

The tiniest of flurries of migrants was apparent in late March with a Red-headed Chestnut at Wadhurst (E Sussex) on 29th following another in Devon earlier in the month. Nationally, an arrival of around 34 Dark Sword-grass culminated in 12 on South Uist (Outer Hebrides) between 27th and 31st March and, interestingly, was the only concentration noted: others were widely scattered either side of the Irish Sea, with a few on the south coast of England. A Pearly Underwing made it to Ballycotton (Cork) on 27th March and another was on St. Mary's (Scilly) on 27th April. A White-speck was also on St. Mary's on 25th April, while a sprinkling of just 26 Silver Y included an interesting variant at Rodwell (Dorset) on 6th April.

Aberrant Silver Y, Rodwell (Dorset), 6th April 2012 (J Oughton).

Elsewhere there were 19 Hummingbird Hawkmoths, 9 Diamond-back Moths, 8 Rusty Dot Pearl and 2 Rush Veneers. In Dorset, early April Blossom Underwings at West Bexington and Broadwey on 2nd and 8th May respectively may well have been primary migrants.

Blossom Underwing, Wyre Forest (Worcs), April 2012 (Roger Wasley).

The Lepidoptera migrant scene was actually spiced up by rare butterflies. Large Tortoiseshells included at least one, probably two, lingering at Walter's Copse (IoW) between 27th March and 2nd April. Another was spotted and photographed by a passing cyclist on a tree trunk at Warblington (Hampshire) on 30th March, with another at Porth Hellick, St. Mary's (Scilly) on 1st April. Clouded Yellows included two in Dorset, one in Glamorgan and one in Warwickshire between 23rd March and 12th April. Single Painted Ladies were in Fulham (Greater London) on 28th March and on Combs Moss (Derbyshire) on 2nd April.

The calm and sunny days of late March again provided ideal conditions for observing two rather mercurial day-flyers: Light Orange Underwing and Orange Underwing. Good numbers of both were widely reported and some even photographed at low level, often by puddles or on damp, bare ground. An early male Emperor Moth was attracted to an assembled, captive-bred female at Shefford (Bedfordshire) on 23rd March.

Light Orange Underwing, Warwickshire, March 2012 (Roger Wasley).

Orange Underwing, Worcestershire, March 2012 (Roger Wasley).

Female Emperor Moth, Worcestershire, April 2012 (Roger Wasley).

A few interesting records of residents included a Tawny Pinion near Orlandon (Pembrokeshire) on 24th March, which was a county first. A Barred Tooth-striped at Taynuilt (Argyll) on 13th April was a welcome record for the 10km square and was followed by two more on Mull. The species may be more widespread along the west coast of Scotland than records suggest, as the food plant — wild privet — is quite widespread on inaccessible cliffs.

Barred Tooth-striped, Taynuilt (Argyll), 14th April 2012 (Simon Pinder).

The annual daytime survey for Belted Beauty around Morecambe Bay (Lancs) on 22nd April was reasonably successful considering that the habitat had been inundated by extremely high spring tides about a fortnight previously. The final count was of 101 females and 61 males.

Hebrew Characters continued their long flight period in reasonable numbers and included one of the form gothicina at Slaley (Northumberland) on 7th April. This form is rarely seen south of the Scottish Highlands.

Gothicina Hebrew Character, Slaley (Northumberland), 7th April 2012 (Ian Hancock).

As a continuation from the early spring article, tables containing a wide selection of emergence and re-emergence dates for macro moths over the period can be found below. Note that this is not intended to be a definitive list for the whole of the British Isles; it is merely a collation by the author from personal communication and online newsgroups and websites.

Table 1: Macros emerging

Brimstone Moth9th MarchPaigntonDevon
Grey Birch20th MarchCratloeLimerick
Small Dusty Wave21st MarchBerrylands StationSurrey
Brown Silver Line22nd MarchTighnabruaichArgyll
Light Orange Underwing22th MarchKingswoodBucks
Waved Umber22th MarchCadnamHampshire
Belted Beauty23rd MarchSunderland PointLancashire
Chinese Character23rd MarchWest WycombeBucks
Emperor Moth23rd MarchSheffordBedfordshire
Nut-tree Tussock24th MarchNew RomneyKent
Scalloped Hook-tip24th MarchFuntleyHampshire
Common Marbled Carpet25th MarchRochdaleLancashire
Oak-tree Pug25th MarchEdburtonWest Sussex
Ringed Carpet25th MarchBy Lough Allua Cork
Small Phoenix25th MarchCratloeLimerick
Yellow-barred Brindle25th MarchDornieHighland
Common Heath26th MarchCloonaleigha BogSligo
Ruby Tiger26th MarchWicklowWicklow
Great Prominent27th MarchEast LulworthDorset
Purple Thorn27th MarchBarkbooth LotCumbria
Garden Carpet28th MarchTitchfield CommonHampshire
Golden-rod pug28th MarchCoombe BridgeDurham
Pebble Prominent28th MarchFreshwater Isle of Wight
Scarce Prominent28th MarchDornieHighland
Kentish Glory29th MarchDulnain BridgeHighland
Puss Moth29th MarchWadhurstEast Sussex
Sloe Carpet29th Marchundisclosed siteEssex
Barred Tooth-striped30th MarchEast KentKent
Chocolate-tip 30th MarchPuddletownDorset
Flame Carpet1st AprilKillearnStirlingshire
Pale Prominent5th AprilTaynuiltArgyll
Chamomile Shark7th AprilHowickNorthumberland
Pale Tussock7th AprilBroadweyDorset
Swallow Prominent 7th AprilWestcottBucks
Flame Shoulder8th AprilHennockDevon
Least Black Arches8th April HowickNorthumberland
Red Twin-spot Carpet8th AprilWiveliscombeSomerset
Shuttle-shaped Dart11th AprilSnelsmoreBerks
Oblique Striped13th AprilSandwich BayKent
Lesser Swallow Prominent16th April Ainsdale Sands NRLancashire
Barred Umber20th AprilSilverdale MossLancashire
Square Spot20th AprilSilverdale MossLancashire
White-pinion Spotted 24th AprilBuryas BridgeCornwall
Light Feathered Rustic26th AprilDungeness Kent
Common Carpet27th AprilRugbyWarwickshire
Green Carpet27th AprilTincletonDorset
Lime-speck Pug27th AprilSandwich Bay Kent
White Ermine27th AprilPuddletownDorset
Cabbage Moth28th AprilMaidenheadBerkshire
Lobster 29th AprilWash CommonBerkshire
Maiden’s Blush29th AprilGorlestonNorfolk
Pine Hawkmoth30th AprilHeath and ReachBedfordshire

Table 2: Macros re-emerging

Scarce Tissue22nd MarchMilton CPCambridgeshire
Autumn Green Carpet25th MarchDornieHighland
Tissue30th March HighwoodWorcestershire
Bloxworth Snout7th AprilRodwellDorset

The Brimstone Moth in Devon, the Small Dusty Wave in Surrey and Flame Carpet in Argyll are all, on a national basis, exceptionally early records. The Waved Umber and Pebble Prominent were the earliest ever in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight respectively. The Common Heath in Sligo, Ruby Tiger in Wicklow and Puss Moth in East Sussex all catch the eye as well before the normal flight period but were typical of this year's batch of early spring records. The Chamomile Shark at Howick (Northumberland) on 7th April was the fourth for VC68 and the earliest ever recorded in that vice-county.

Chamomile Shark, Howick (Northumberland), 7th April 2012 (Stewart Sexton).

Before the 'colder' period set in, moth-ers out in various deciduous woodlands sites were able to record reasonably good numbers of Frosted Green, Purple Thorn and Lunar Marbled Brown.

Frosted Green, Wyre Forest (Worcs), April 2012 (Roger Wasley).

Purple Thorn, Wyre Forest (Worcs), April 2012 (Patrick Clement).

Lunar Marbled Brown, Wyre Forest (Worcs), April 2012 (Roger Wasley).

Recorders in some gardens were rewarded with small numbers of Powdered Quaker and Early Grey.

Powdered Quaker, Croome (Worcs), March 2012 (Roger Wasley).

Early Grey, Gretton (Glos), March 2012 (Roger Wasley).

Further to tables 1 and 2, table 3 illustrates the emergence and re-emergence dates of some micro moths. Again, this is not intended to be a definitive list for the whole of the British Isles; it is merely a collation by the author from personal communication and online newsgroups and websites.

Table 3: Some micros emerging and re-emerging

Acleris rufana105722nd MarchTaynuilt Argyll
Large Pale Clothes Moth24522nd MarchCorytonGlamorgan
Caloptilia falconipennella28923rd MarchNorwichNorfolk
Caloptilia rufipennella28424th MarchCalderdaleYorkshire
Schreckensteinia festaliella48524th MarchRhoose PointGlamorgan
Adela cuprella14925th MarchChilboltonHampshire
Epinotia immundana113625th March Hatherleigh, Highampton Devon
Esperia sulphurella64925th MarchRomseyHampshire
Mompha epilobiella89325th MarchFlixtonManchester
Stigmella aurella05025th March BewdleyWorcestershire
Pancalia leuwenhoekella89926th MarchMill Hill NRWest Sussex
Stigmella hybnerella09926th MarchBewdleyWorcestershire
Apple Leaf Skeletoniser38927th MarchGorlestonNorfolk
Pyrausta cingulata136727th MarchSennen CoveCornwall
Pyrausta despicata136527th MarchMill Hill NRWest Sussex
Pyrausta nigrata136627th MarchMill Hill NRWest Sussex
Pyrausta purpuralis136227th MarchMill Hill NRWest Sussex
Cydia ulicetana125528th MarchCogden BeachDorset
Indian Meal Moth147928th MarchRhoose PointGlamorgan
Semioscopis avellanella66628th MarchCoombe BrideDurham
Pyrausta aurata136129th MarchOvertonHampshire
Acleris abietana105930th MarchEshottNorthumberland
Agonopterix subpropinquella69230th MarchNorth Cliffe WoodYorkshire
Semioscopis steinkellneria66730th MarchDilmore Wood Yorkshire
Digitivalva pulicariae47231st MarchOrlandonPembrokeshire
Lesser Lichen Case-bearer1771st AprilWyre ForestWorcestershire
Mompha divisella8898th AprilBrockenhurstHampshire
Philedonides lunana100914th AprilCalderdale MoorsYorkshire
Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner366a15th AprilCroft HillLeicestershire
Incurvaria masculella13017th AprilMarston Vale MCPBedfordshire
Neofaculta ericetella79721st AprilStoke CommonBuckinghamshire
Adela reaumurella15022nd AprilThe Knapp NRWorcestershire
Elachista rufocinerea60822nd AprilChurch Wood Kent
Micropterix calthella00522nd AprilCoed y WenalltGlamorgan
Ancylis badiana112627th AprilRugbyWarwickshire
Platyedra subcinerea80827th AprilHollesleySuffolk
Cedestis subfasciella44329th AprilIpswichSuffolk
Grapholita jungiella125130th AprilKenfig Pool NNRGlamorgan
Phtheochroa rugosana92530th AprilBromhamBedfordshire

The two Acleris rufana (1057) at Taynuilt (Argyll) and on nearby Mull are perhaps not too unexpected, as they prefer moorland and damp woodland habitats. Another at Holystone (Northumberland) on 27th March was, more surprisingly, the first record for VC67.

Acleris rufana, Holystone (Northumberland), 27th March 2012 (Tom Tams).

An Acleris logiana (1051) at Warnham LNR (W Sussex) on 30th March was great reward for a conservation worker doing daytime physical management work at the site. Micros re-emerging from winter hibernation are always an added early spring challenge for many rusty moth-ers. Caloptilias are no exception, and Danny Arnold seems to have got his eye in for Caloptilia falconipennella (289) at Upper Rochford (Worcs), with five records of this likely under-recorded moth at his constant effort site there in just three years. A scarce 'spotted form' of Caloptilia elongella (282) was a more tricky identification, and illustrates the need for great caution when trying to use library photographs alone for identification. A Digitivalva pulicariae (472) near Orlandon (Pembrokeshire) on 31st March was a first for the locality.

Caloptilia falconipennella, Upper Rochford (Worcs), March 2012 (Danny Arnold).

Caloptilia elongella, Upper Rochford (Worcs), April 2012 (Danny Arnold).

Digitivalva pulicariae, Orlandon (Pembrokeshire), 31st March 2012 (Rosemary Royale).

The first monthly Wyre Forest Moth Group outing of the year came up trumps on 1st April with two male Lesser Lichen Case-bearer (177) — a species rarely seen at the adult stage. According to records on the National Moth Database, North Worcestershire appears to be the best place to find this tiny yet beautiful micro. Remarkably, the wingless female has hardly ever been seen in the wild.

Male Lesser Lichen Case-bearer, Wyre Forest (Worcs), April 2012 (Patrick Clement).

Later in the month, a moth course held at Cilgerran (Pembrokeshire) on 23rd April produced another county first in the form of Pammene argyrana (1228). A Pyrausta nigrata (1366) was recorded on the south side of Bredon Hill (Worcs) in mid-April, and was the first in the area for over a century. On one late March day at Mill Hill NR (W Sussex), no fewer than three different species of day flying Pyrausta were on the wing.

As a miserable April and early May draws to a close let us hope that, for butterflies' and moths' sake, the weather improves. Arguably the best bit of news in late April was confirmation from the authors that the long-awaited book Field Guide to Micro-moths of Great Britain and Ireland should be on sale by the end of May. I have personally been waiting for something like this for years, and I hope it will inspire many other British and Irish moth-ers to advance to another identification level. In this way, we will surely be able to add immense knowledge to the recording of our smaller moths...


Townsend and Lewington. Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. Revised edition, British Wildlife Publishing, 2009.
UK Moths online photographic guide

* The numbers stated after a number of micro moth species in the text are the British Checklist Species numbers as assigned by J. D. Bradley in the Log Book of British Lepidoptera (2000).

Written by: Steve Whitehouse