These are all day-flying moths, through some also fly at night. There are in fact many more day-flying moth species but these are amongst the ones encountered most often or are so striking that that they will usually catch your eye.
For more information about all our resident and immigrant macro-moths, go to the Somerset Moth Group website or refer to the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend with over 1700 illustrations by Richard Lewington.
Forester Adscita statices
Quite small and easily overlooked despite their metallic green forewings, Foresters often visit flowers to take nectar and use a wide variety of common grassland species including clovers and Field Scabious. The adults are on the wing from mid-May though June and July and sometimes into August.
Like the Small Copper butterfly, the caterpillars feed on Sorrel and Sheep’s Sorrel which are usually to be found on grassy sites on practically every soil type. After overwintering, they pupate in May low down in the vegetation. The species has a patchy national distribution and though it is fairly widespread in the Mendips it is less frequent elsewhere in Somerset.
Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae
Lively little moths, busy around nectar-bearing plants such as knapweeds and thistles from the end part of June into August. The main larvae foodplants are Bird’s-foot Trefoil and, in moister ground, Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil. Having overwintered and recommenced feeding in spring, they then form very distinctive cocoons that looks as though they are made of fine paper and usually placed high on a grass stem. The males can identify females, probably by scent, even before they emerge from their cocoons and will wait close by for emergence so as to maximise their chances of mating successfully.
The species is quite widespread though the British Isles in unmanaged grassy places where there are larval foodplants and nectar plants for the adults.
Oak Eggar Lasiocampa quercus
The adults fly in July to August, with males (illustrated) active especially on sunny afternoons and females, which are similarly patterned but paler buff or golden brown, tending not to be on the wing until dusk.
The eggs are laid on a wide variety of plants including Heather, Bramble and various shrubs, though Oak is not used despite the species’ name. The eggs soon hatch and the caterpillar stage lasts until the following June before pupating in leaf litter in a tough cocoon from which it emerges in July. Widespread over most of Britain and in Ireland, Oak Eggars are quite common in Somerset.
Emperor Saturnia pavonia
A spectacular moth, arguably one of the most elaborately pattered of them all, the Emperor Moth is the only British representative of a family mostly found in tropical America.
The adults do not feed so that their whole activity relies on the success of the larval stage in building up the energy reserves that power the males in rapid flight in spring sunshine, searching for females which they find by scent. The eggs are laid on a wide variety of common woody plants including Heather, Blackthorn, Hawthorn and willows and also Meadowsweet and Bramble. In consequence they are widely distributed in the British Isles though in Somerset they are mainly found in the north Quantocks where they probaly utilise the heathers for egg-laying
July Belle Scotopteryx luridata
On the wing from end of May or early June until early August, July Belles usually fly at dusk but may be seen during the day when disturbed from a resting place in low vegetation. The commonest larval foodplant is gorse so they tend to be found mainly on moorland and downland where it often occurs so, unsurprisingly, most records in Somerset are from the west of the county
The wing pattern of this species is rather like that of several others such as the Brown Siver-line described below and they are most similar to another species, Lead Belle, which also feeds on gorse and flies in May and June, so at that time of year confusion between the two is easy though if it’s on the wing in July it is almost certainly a July Belle.
Green Carpet Colostygia pectinataria
A charming little moth but a deceptive one as the green ground colour of the wings fades to white or off-white. However, the basic pattern remains the same and is distinctive. Like the |uly Belle, they usually fly at dusk but may be easily disturbed from their resting places during the day.
Except in northern Britain, Green Carpets have two adult generation, the first in May to July and the second in August to September. They are reasonably widespread nationally and in Somerset as the caterpillar foodplants are various species of bedstraw, including Hedge Bedstraw and Heath Bedstraw. …
Chimney Sweeper Odezia atrata
Another small moth but one that is instantly recognisable with its sooty wings. The principal larval foodplant is Pignut, a small umbellifer that occurs in many woodland rides and margins, in hedge-bottoms and on limestone grasslands.
The adults appear in June and July and fly by day when the sun is shining. They appear to be more common in northern Britain than in the south and west. In Somerset most records are from the Mendips and Exmoor.
Brown Silver-line Petrophora chlorosata
With Bracken as the larval foodplant, the Brown Silver-line may occur in a wide variety of habitats and situations and the adults are often seen by day from mid-April though into June when they are disturbed as you walk through the Bracken.
The two distinct lines across the forewings and the spot between them are a fairly basic pattern shared by several species but the colour of the wings and the association with Bracken are good identification guides. The species is widespread through the British Isles and in Somerset may be found wherever Bracken is growing.
Common Heath Ematurga atomaria
This species is very variable in appearance; the overall colour ranges from white through tones of brown to grey and the detail of the intricate pattern may also vary.
On moorland, the caterpillar feeds on heathers but in grassland it uses trefoils, vetches and clovers. The adults fly in May and June and there can be a second later generation.
Widespread though the British Isles, Common Heaths are mainly found on higher groundin Somerset, a distribution reflecting the pattern of land use, with much more surviving semi-natural habitat in these areas.
Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum
One of the most widely recognised moths, darting from flower to flower and then hovering with wings moving so fast to be a blur as it sucks nectar through a long proboscis.
Hummingbird Hawkmoths are migrants from the Continent, typically arriving in southern England in August and September when flowering Buddlejas are an irresistible attraction for them, though they may appear as early as April and as late as December. There are occasional records of individuals hibernating in unheated outbuildings or holes in walls or trees and some breed successfully here, the caterpillar foodplants including Lady’s Bedstraw or Hedge Bedstraw.
Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria
This is one of many species now extending their ranges, probably in response to climatic change. It got its name when it was first found in the Channel Islands but it then colonised Devon and has gradually spread along the south coast and northwards. It is now one of the most noticeable day-flying moths in Somerset, frequently appearing in people’s gardens.
The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of planting including Stinging Nettles, dead-nettles, plantains and Ground-ivy and Bramble. The adults, with their distinctively striped fore-wings, fly from late July to September and visit flowers including thistles and Buddleja.
Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula
The is another striking day-flying moth, to be seen in June and July, and one that will flash its scarlet underwing as a threat when disturbed. Comfrey is the favoured caterpillar food-plant and as it required moist growing conditions this handsome moth is most likely to be encountered in wetland sites including wet woodland rides, stream-sides and marshy ground. As they grow, the caterpillars may disperse to feed on a variety of common plants including Stinging Nettles, Bramble, Honeysuckle, Meadowsweet and willows.
The Scarlet Tiger’s distribution is restricted to western and southern England and Wales. In Somerset the species is fairly widespread but less so in the west of the county..
Cinnabar Tyria jacobeae
The Cinnabar is another rather easily recognisable moth, the only vaguely similar species being the burnets, which have multiple spots on the glossy wings. Cinnabar caterpillars feed on Ragwort and this makes them distasteful if not toxic to predators so rather that seeking concealment they advertise themselves with the classic warning garb of yellow and black worn by wasps and many other dangerous invertebrates.
The adults fly by day in sunshine or when disturbed from mid-May until early August. Fairly widespread throughout the British Isles, as is the foodplant, they have declined recently for no known reason.
Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica
An attractive if not spectacular moth, on the wing from mid-May to early July, active by day in sunshine or even warm cloudy weather. At rest, the hind-wing is often partly exposed and shows its dull orange-brown banding.
The larvae feed on clovers and trefoils such as Bird’s-foot Trefoil so Burnet Companions may be found in any area of unmanaged flower-rich grassland on calcareous or neutral soils. Indeed the name refers to the fact that they and the Six-spot Burnet often occur together.
Widely distributed in the south of England and Wales and scarcer in the north, the species is widespread in grasslands in the Mendips and southern Somerset.