Tag Archives: moth

Longhorn Moths and Silver-Ys

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, you really do not know what you’re going to find round the next bend in the road in Wicklow. Here’s something really remarkable I found feeding on the Cow Parsley – a Longhorn Moth:

Longhorn Moths, just like Longhorn Beetles, get their name from their extremely long antennae, which in this species are truly immense.
Longhorn Moths, just like Longhorn Beetles, get their name from their extremely long antennae, which in this species are truly immense, being almost twice the length of the moth’s body.

And the excitement didn’t end there – this particular species is one of the two most colourful species found in Ireland, known only by its scientific name of Adela croesella.  It is (as far as I know) only found in the Burren, on the west coast of Ireland. So to find it in Wicklow is very exciting. Only the males have such long antennae, apparently to impress the females with, as is often the case with extremely exaggerated bodily appendages.

A Silver-Y moth, named after the beautiful 'y' shaped mark on its wings, which is upside down when the wings are folded, as in this photo.
A Silver-Y moth, named after the beautiful ‘y’ shaped mark on its wings, which is upside down when the wings are folded, as in this photo.

Today I was very glad to find my first Silver-Y of the year, which had to be rescued from a polytunnel. Silver-Ys migrate to Ireland from southern Europe and North Africa, and it seems they also attempt the return journey, although some will attempt to survive the winter in greenhouses. This one might actually be a larva which hatched out in the polytunnel itself.

Finally, a word about camouflage – for anyone who doubt species of white butterfly have adequate camouflage, just look at this female Green-veined White feeding on a cystus flower – truly impressive camouflage as it feeds:

Just another petal on one of many flowers unless you look more closesly.
Just another petal on one of many flowers unless you look more closesly.

Watch out for the Silver-Y

Right now Wicklow is swarming with Silver-Ys, muscular moths which migrate from North Africa and southern Europe every summer. Some years they are in small numbers, and some years in large ones, and this year they are in the latter. You will see them flying by night mostly, but individuals are very noticeable by day too, moving from place to place or perching on walls and windows. They come to garden plants by night in hovering swarms which are very impressive.

A Silver-Y feeding on garden pinks in my garden.
A Silver-Y feeding on garden pinks in my garden.

The moth’s scientific name, Autographa gamma, literally means ‘self-written y’. Both the common and scientific name are due to a silver-coloured ‘y’ marking on each forewing, as you can see clearly in the photo below.

A Silver-Y feeding on Bouncing Bet, a wild flower which is also cultivated.
A Silver-Y feeding on Bouncing Bet, a wild flower which is also cultivated.

Silver-Y moths are believed to attempt to migrate home in autumn, but some will instead opt to hibernate, and with some success as I have discovered them springing to life in sheds in springtime. It’s difficult to know how long they can live but we do know Painted Lady butterflies not only migrate from North Africa to Ireland, but also can successfully make the return journey in autumn, so the robust Silver-Y should be equally capable of this feat. As with so much in nature, however, it remains to be conclusively proven.

Moth Weather

Rain arrived yesterday, and we’re due to have a lot more over the next few days, but the moths love it. There have been very few moths around this year due to the protracted winter, and then the very dry sunny days of the last few weeks. Moths generally like it quite humid, which is why quite a few appeared at my window last night.

Brimstone Moth - Opisthograptis luteolata
Brimstone Moth – Opisthograptis luteolata

The Brimstone Moth can usually be seen flying along hedgerows on the darker side of twilight, which is around 10pm at night at the moment, on a cloudy evening. They frequently come to light. There is also a Brimstone butterfly, but we don’t have that in Wicklow, as it preferes limestone land, and Wicklow is almost entirely acidic.

Garden Carpet - Xanthorhoe fluctuata
Garden Carpet – Xanthorhoe fluctuata

The Garden Carpet is one of the commonest species in Wicklow, and can often be found flying by day for short distances, before hiding under leaves. Both of the moths above are about the same size, roughly covering the area of a two-Euro coin being typical medium-sized moth species.