Tag Archives: moths

High Summer Beauties

Although the Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, summer doesn’t really mature until the end of July when it becomes High Summer, and this is the best time to see moths and butterflies. This year the warm and sometimes moist conditions have greatly helped the blooming of flowers and growth of foliage, in turn supporting insects, especially moths and butterflies. One of the most beautiful moths is the toxic Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which is usually seen flying in daytime, but this year a significant number came to the lighted windows at night. You might still see some. They are red and black and about the size of a butterfly:

These moths love meadows. They can fly in daytime because they are distasteful to birds, and they advertise their toxins with bright bold colour patterns.

However, most moths much prefer night time, such as this Small Magpie (Anania hortulata), which likes to come to lighted windows, but can be disturbed from long grass in meadows and along hedgerows:

This species is called ‘small’ magpie because there is another, larger Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata), which looks very like a butterfly and feeds on honeysuckle and other night-blooming flowers. Many flowers close up for the night, but not this lot. I encountered one a few days ago and it landed on my hat just long enough for me to get a bad selfie with the moth before it flew off into the night sky:

Why do I wear a brimmed hat at night? Spider-webs. Spiders spin their webs mostly by night and there is nothing worse than walking through a fresh one and getting the web in your eyes. Back to the moths – keep an eye out for the lovely Grass Emerald (Pseudoterpna pruinata), which is on the wing right now and comes to window light. Here’s one I found a few days ago:

For all of the brightly-coloured species many are more drab, and better camouflaged, but are beautifully-patterned, such as the Mottled Beauty (Alcis repandata), which comes in a number of variations, such as these two which arrived side-by-side by the porch light to perch below the Grass Emerald, which stayed put for a few days. These Mottled Beauties were very handsome, despite lacking the colour of some moths species.

   If you have fruit trees, even small ones in pots, you have a very good chance of finding Herald Moths (Scoliopteryx libatrix ) at these time of the year. I found three feeding on Logan berries this week, and two were sitting on the same berry, eating from opposite sides of the fruit:

   These moths are so-called because they will hibernate and overwinter, reawakening in late winter to herald a new spring. They are very beautiful and unusual moths, quite chunky and appearing to have a luminous orange “H” mark on their backs.

Not all moths are quite so easy to find. Some require you to look for them, in the undergrowth, and one of the most handsome of these species is the Bordered Beauty (Epione repandaria ). I was very fortunate to get some good shots of one of these moths this week, and carefully used flash so as to illuminate it without causing it to panic and flee:

Heritage Week

Tonight at midnight National Heritage Week starts and runs until Sunday, 27th August. There are events celebrating Irish heritage all over the country and Wicklow has many too. This year the emphasis is on my favourite subject, natural heritage. However, as usual every kind of heritage is covered. You can see a full list of events here: http://www.heritageweek.ie/

Even if you don’t attend any of the events, or if you attend all of them (not really possible) you can celebrate natural heritage in your own way. I’m starting by photographing moths tonight.

   Here are some interesting ones I’ve already found, and which you can see tonight too, as they’re very common. Firstly the beautiful Mother-of-Pearl moth (Pleuroptya ruralis), which I’ve written about recently. It really does look like its wings are made of mother-of-pearl as they have the same sort of shine as the inside of an oyster shell:

And here is a lovely moth called the Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) as it has a marking on its wings which look somewhat like a Hebrew letter. The caterpillars of these moths can commonly be found on lawns in spring, and sometimes even during winter months.

July Moths

Some butterflies only fly for a number of specific weeks or months, but the same is also true for quite a number of moth species found in Wicklow. There are a few you might want to keep an eye out for, as they fly mainly only in July. Probably the most noticeable is the beautiful Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapterix sambucaria). These moths normally take to the skies in late June and fly throughout July, but disappear by the end of the month. There is still a small chance of seeing this butterfly-like, butterfly-sized moth:

The Swallow-tailed Moth usually appears along hedgerows or in gardens about half-an-hour after sunset, and it flies swiftly at head height, rarely stopping. However, wait long enough and you might find one feeding on flowers, or, if you are very lucky, one might rest on a wall in the light of a window, as in the case of the one pictured.

Another common species, but smaller, is the Small Magpie (Anania hortulata), which is extremely common along hedgerows and ‘waste ground’ and can be seen flying soon after sunset and even occasionally in daylight when foliage is disturbed. This beautiful moth flies from June until the end of July, occasionally into  August.

However, there are moths which can be found flying throughout the summer, and some of them are very beautiful and very common. One of these is the feathery, fairy-like White-plumed Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla) which will fly from June until the end of August, and even into September. Look for it in gardens on lawns, and along hedgerows. Like the Swallow-tailed moth it seems to glow in the dark, even though this is due to the brightness of its colouration and not actual glowing.

The White-plumed Moth pictured was attracted to light at a window. They don’t often come to light, usually preferring very dark areas of gardens.

Another moth which is extremely beautiful and found all summer, but which is less easily seen, is known only by the scientific name Carcina quercana. I usually call it the ‘Poncho Moth’ because its wings resemble a poncho. You will find this creature along hedgerows but also along river banks and sometimes meadows near the sea. It has extremely long antennae.

This Poncho Moth landed on a car parked beside a river.