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Day flying moths ...and moths that fly in the day

By Peter Wilde

Orange Underwing


Orange Underwing Credit Dave Appleton

More easily seen than photographed, this spring species can be seen flying around the tops of birch trees on sunny days in March and April. Eggs are laid on bare branches so that emerging larvae can feed on the catkins and later the young leaves. If you're lucky, one may descend to give a closer look, especially later in the day.

Photo: Dave Appleton




Emperor Moth


Emperor Moth

A fairly common and spectacular moth of heathland and bogs where heather grows. Foodplants include heather, bramble, hawthorn and many other shrubby plants. Males fly frantically in bright sunshine from mid-April to May, but greyer females (see image) are only attracted to light.




Cinnabar Moth

This common moth can be found around ragwort, its foodplant. The long flight period extends from May to August, so fresh adults may be seen alongside the well-known black and yellow larvae (see inset to photo).





Citrus Forester


Citrus Forester

This scarce limestone species is found on open grassland on Whitbarrow and Yewbarrow in May and June. It is active by day and despite its name does not inhabit woodland. The foodplant is common rockrose.

Photo: Rob Petley-Jones


Speckled Yellow


Speckled YellowThis lovely spring moth is common in the south of England but is a more localised species in Cumbria. Found in open woodland and hedgerows, especially between Coniston Water and Windermere and around Derwentwater. Foodplants include wood sage and woundworts. Flies in bright sunshine from mid-May through to June.


Burnet Companion


Burnet CompanionThis species of dry and damp grassland may at first sight be mistaken for the dingy skipper butterfly. On the wing in late May and June, it is a rather local species in Cumbria, being found at coastal sites and around Penrith. Often comes to rest with hindwings exposed, when the orange bands aid identification.


Common Heath


Common HeathThe common heath often flies in sunshine on moorland in Cumbria around Ling during late May and early June. The similar latticed heath is less likely to come to rest with wings open and the male doesn't have the feathered antennae of the male common heath.


Chimney Sweeper


Chimney SweeperThis unmistakeable black moth with a white fringe has an unusual foodplant - pignut. This plant is widespread in Cumbria and has a brown edible tuber with a nutty taste. Don't dig it out though as it is a declining species of grazed pasture and waysides. Both sexes fly in sunshine during June and early July.


Yellow Shell


Yellow ShellThis relatively small species usually flies at dusk but is readily disturbed and frequently flies short distances in daylight, especially in the early morning.
It is usually about throughout June, on heaths and sand places.


Brown Silver Line


Brown Silver LineA dusk-flying species that is often disturbed and seen in bright sunshine during late afternoon in June around bracken (its larval foodplant). Where it occurs, it may be seen in quite large numbers and the background colour varies in inensity from one to another. It is common and widespread in the county.



Mother Shipton


Mother ShiptonThis lovely moth is named after the Knaresborough witch known as Old Mother Shipton because the cream-edged brown marking on the forewing has a distinctive eye, hooked nose and pointed chin.

It flies in sunshine in June on grassland and heath. Although common in the south of England it becomes less frequent to the north and is relatively scarce in Cumbria.


Purple Bordered Gold


Purple Bordered GoldThis small geometrid moth is a speciality of Meathop and Foulshaw Mosses, having a very local distribution in the north of England. Its foodplant is marsh cinquefoil. It flies quite strongly in the early morning (a good time to see it) in late June and July - but is a little beggar to photograph as it always alights at awkward angles, as is evident from the photo and inset. This is the totarubra form common in the north of England, having much more purple and only small areas of yellow (apart from the yellow fringe that gives rise to its name).

For an image of the more normal form found in the south of England see images on the UK Moths Website


Least Minor


Least MinorThis red data book species is found on the limestone at the head of Morecambe Bay (otherwise only in Yorkshire and Northumberland). It is very easily disturbed from vegetation and will fly in sunshine, most frequently in the afternoon, during July. Its foodplant is glaucous sedge.

Photo: Rob Petley-Jones



Narrow Bordered Five Spot Burnet


Narrow Bordered Five Spot BurnetThe five spot burnet moth found in the county is the narrow-bordered form. On the wing in July its larval foodplants are usually meadow vetchling and red clover.




Pyrausta purpuralis


Pyrausta purpuralisThis pretty little micro-moth of the pyralid family flies by day in sunshine, mainly on limestone heaths where its foodplant thyme is common. It is double brooded but I usually see its second brood in July.



Manchester Treble Bar


Manchester treble Bar

This rare relative of the treble-bar is recorded only at Meathop Moss in the south of the county. It is much smaller than its cousin and the reddish flush makes it a much more attractive species. Although not typically day-flying it is often disturbed and flies on warm days on its raised bog habitats where its foodplants bilberry and cranberry grow. Flight period is July to August.



Six Spot Burnet


Six Spot BurnetThis is one of two common burnet moths found in the county, having six spots on each forewing. The foodplant is bird's-foot trefoil (found on sand dunes and grassland) but the adult is usually encountered feeding on thistles and knapweed in July and August. The larva pupates in June inside a cocoon that is attached near the top of a grass stem (see inset). A small area may hold dozens of such cocoons, often looking very exposed as they blow in the breeze.



Hummingbird Hawk Moth


Hummingbird Hawk MothIncreasingly seen in Cumbria, especially in August and September, this spectacular immigrant moth can be seen nectaring at garden flowers like busy lizzie. Like the bird of its name it does not land on the flower but hovers and extends its long proboscis to suck up the nectar. The forewing speed is phenomenal (see the blur on the photo!), although the orange patch of the hindwings appears stationary, but whether this is an optical illusion I'm not sure!



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