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Hertfordshire & Middlesex Branch
Saving butterflies, moths and our environment

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Day Flying Moths

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Although many moths fly by night there are a number of distinctive species which fly either exclusively by day or are as active during the day as they are at night.

Many may well be under recorded and to help here is information on a few of the species that may be found in the Hertfordshire and Middlesex area. Some are more common and widely distributed than others and some are very hard to photo!

There are various books and guides available such as the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland Paul Waring and Martin Townsend (Illustrated by Richard Lewington) or the FSC Field Laminated Guide to Day Flying Moths. Alternatively there are now many online resources such as UKmoths where a lot of help with identification is available

Two exciting and spectacular day flying moths to look out for are the migrant Hummingbird Hawk-moth and the recently established Jersey Tiger.

69.010 BF1984 Hummingbird Hawk-moth
Macroglossum stellatarum
© photo: Butterfly Conservation

A fascinating and spectacular member of the Hawk-moth family that when feeding resembles a small hummingbird as it hovers over flowers taking nectar with its long proboscis.

This is a migrant species and in some years there are many reports. In other years only a handful of sightings are reported.

The larvae foodplant is bedstraw (Galium).

Butterfly Conservation have a special recording project for migrant species such as the Hummingbird Hawk-moth called Migrant Watch

72.030 BF2067 Jersey Tiger
Euplagia quadripunctaria
© photo: Liz Goodyear

A member of the Tiger moth family, this species which is a common sight in Europe has in recent years expanded its range from an original small population in South London.

Through July to late August, it is now regularly reported from north London and will fly during the day and night. It is becoming more common in parts of Hertfordshire especially in the east of the county.

It has a range of herbaceous larval foodplants.

From May look out for the Mother Shipton and the Burnet Companion, both in the family Noctuidae. These brown moths are easily confused with Grizzled and Dingy Skipper butterflies - see Identification Guide page. Another moth that flies at this time of year and again from July to September is the Latticed Heath, which can also be confused with Grizzled Skipper. This moth is a member of the Geometridae family

1894 Latticed Heath - Sandra Standbridge

72.084 BF2462 Mother Shipton
Callistege mi
© photo: Sandra Standbridge

Named because of a resemblance to a portrait of Old Mother Shipton a sixteenth-century soothsayer on each of the forewings and is found in meadows, downland, open woodlands and hedgebanks. Its larvae feed on clover and the pupa is a cocoon spun within a twisted grass blade. When disturbed it flies fast and low close to the ground and once settled is difficult to see. It is not attracted to flowers as the adult does not feed.

72.083 BF2463 Burnet Companion
Euclidia glyphica
© photo: Trevor Chapman

Probably more widespread than the Mother Shipton. It inhabits hedgerows, wet meadows, woodland margins and downland. The larvae use clover and pupate in a cocoon of silk and plant debris spun on the ground

70.218 BF1894 Latticed Heath
Chiasmia clathrata
© photo: Sandra Standbridge

Fairly common, it inhabits downland, embankments, heathland, open woodland and brown field sites. The larvae use lucerne and various species of clover and trefoil

There are also some quite small day flying moths including members of the Pyrausta family of micros and two small macro species. The sizes of these smaller moths are very similar and several are flying alongside each other.

73.048 BF2397 Small Yellow Underwing
Panemeria tenebrata
© photo: Liz Goodyear

In May and June this macro moth can be found in grassy areas visting a variety of flowers. It is a small moth with a brown upperwing and yellow underwing which can be seen when it is settled. It is smaller than any butterfly and is most likely to be mistaken for Pyrausta aurata (see right).

The Small Yellow Underwing larvae feed on common and field mouse ear.

63.006 BF1361 Pyrausta aurata
© photo: Andrew Wood

This brightly coloured micro moth is always associated with herbs such as mint and marjoram. It can be found in gardens and is often referred to as 'the Mint Moth'.

This species is very similar to Pyrausta purpuralis and care needs to be taken identifying the two.

72.067 BF2470 Small Purple-barred
Phytometra viridaria
© photo: Liz Goodyear

This pretty little macro moth is a very local species and only recorded on some of the chalky downland sites in Hertfordshire, such as Aldbury Nowers. It can be be found flying between May and July especially if you look very hard up the side of steep chalk slopes.

One of the larval plants are the flowers and leaves of common milkwort (Polygata vulgaris)

63.009 BF1366 Pyrausta nigrata
© photo: Liz Goodyear

This distinctive dark micro moth is also associated with herbs such as wild thyme and marjoram which are found on the chalky downland areas of north and west Hertfordshire.

It isn't very common and when in flight it is not dissimilar to P. aurata or P. purpuralis but with care the difference should quickly become apparent.

In June the Burnet moths begin to emerge. Burnets are brightly coloured, black and red, day-flying moths which are attracted to various wild flowers. There are 7 species of burnet moth in Britain, 2 of which are common and widespread in our area. These are the Six-spot Burnet and the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet

54.008 BF169 Six-Spot Burnet
Zygaena filipendulae
© photo: Liz Goodyear

This moth flies from the end of June to late July, and is the most widely distributed and commonest burnet species. It can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including chalk downs, derelict meadows, waste ground and roadside verges. The larvae feed on Common and Greater Birds-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus and C. uliginosus, whilst the black pupa can be found enclosed in an opaque cocoon, which varies in colour from bright yellow to dirty white and is attached to grass stems and other vegetation. The adult has 6 red spots on each forewing.

54.009 BF171 Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet
Zygaena lonicerae
© photo: Archie Lang

This flies from mid June to late July. It is also widespread, in England at least, apart from the south-west. It is common on roadside verges, occurring also on chalk downs, railway embankments and in roughmeadows, woodland clearings and marshes. In addition to Lotus the larva also feed on Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis.This species also has black pupa enclosed in transparent cocoons attached to grass stems but these tend to vary from pale whitish-yellow or greenish-yellow to white. The adult has 5 spots on each wing, with the single spot near the wing tip. People often confuse the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet with the very similar Five-spot Burnet Zygaena trifolii. This species is actually represented by two sub-species; ssp. decreta which is probably extinct in south-east England and has been absent from the London Area since 1948; and ssp. palustrella which is restricted to chalk grasslands.

72.031 BF2069 The Cinnabar
Tyria jacobaeae

Another cause of confusion is with this black and red species often encountered during the day but which is in the family Arctiidae with footman and tigers. The Cinnabar is not strictly a day-flying moth either but is easily disturbed from rest in long vegetation during the day. Its larvae are the familiar yellow and black devourers of Ragwort Senecio jacobea. This species is also widely distributed in England, flying from May to July and inhabiting meadows and wasteground where the foodplant is abundant.

Adult © photo: Andrew Wood & Larvae © photo: Liz Goodyear

72.017 BF2026 The Vapourer
Orgyia antiqua

From July until October this is the commonest day-flying moth. Only the male is seen flying as the female is little more than a wingless egg sack. The male flies fast and often quite high along lines of trees and hedges seeking out the female with its large sensitive antennae. The female does not move from her pupal case and can be found on twigs or fences surrounded by groups of several hundred eggs. The caterpillar is red and back with pale yellow tufts and very distinctive and can be found on many wild and cultivated plants including hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, oak Quercus sp., willow Salix sp., Buddleia davidii and cultivated roses. It is probably under recorded since it has even been found in the heart of London, with a large colony on the plane trees in Leicester Square.

This species when seen flying around tree-tops can be confused with members of the Hairstreak family of butterflies.

Adult © photo: Liz Goodyear & Larvae © photo: Clare Gray

Some of the more unusual day-flying moths include:

70.130 BF1870 Chimney Sweeper Odezia atrata
© photo: Liz Goodyear

This unusual almost black moth apart from the white edges flies in June. This is a very local species in our area found mostly just south of the M25 in north London. Two of the best sites where it will be encountered are Trent Park and Forty Hall, both in north Enfield. It has also been recorded in north Hertfordshire

Its larval foodplant is Pignut Conopodium majusa, a small umbellifer type plant. It is an extremely difficult moth to photo!

70.203 BF1661 Orange Underwing
Archiearis parthenias

© photo: Andrew Wood

This flies in bright sunshine mainly at tree top height from mid March to April. Its larvae feed on birch Betula pendula, and it is probably under recorded. Its chocolate coloured upperwings and orange underwing make it quite distinctive if it descends to ground level. It has even been seen drinking from mud puddles

70.229 BF1909 Speckled Yellow Pseudopanthera macularia

This attractive moth flies from mid May to the end of June. This is a very local species in our area since it prefer sunny rides in older woods, such as the Broxbourne Woods complex.

The larval food plant is mainly Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia).

© photo: Steven Penn (left) & Liz Goodyear(right)

70.204 BF1662 Light Orange Underwing
Boudinotiana notha

This has a similar appearance, habits and flight period to the Orange Underwing but its larvae are restricted to aspen Populus tremula.

(no photo available)

Several other moths will be encountered during the day by disturbing vegetation including various Carpets and Shaded Broad-bar but these are not day-flying species although are still worthy of a record.

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