What Flies in July?

I’m back with another blog to tell you all about what moths you can find in July, and how to get children interested in moths.  It is currently National Moth Week while I am writing this (18th-26th July) too and a peak time for many moths so what better time to write another moth blog!

This July hasn’t been the best weather for moths with many cool, windy, drizzly nights which moths aren’t a fan of, and neither am I!  Luckily, last year in Gloucestershire the weather was much better, and I was able to catch and identify many more moths.  In fact, just to give you an idea of the numbers of moths that can be caught one night in July in Gloucestershire – on the 17th July 2019 I caught 300 moths of 44 different species and yes it took me a few hours to identify and release them all! The photos included in this blog are all my own and are taken either this July (2020) in Yorkshire or last July (2019) in Gloucestershire.                                   

Whilst most moths fly at night, in the UK there are actually more moth species that fly during the day than the number of UK butterfly species!  Some moths can also be seen in both night and day, while others only fly at night.  Moths really like to mix things up!

Night and Day

Antler Moth: Although it would be really cool if these moths had actual antlers, this is not the case. Instead, Antler Moths (Cerapteryx graminis) are distinguished by lovely cream antler shapes on their forewings which are accompanied by dark streaks and smooth pale shapes of different lengths and sizes.  They are common throughout the UK in various grasslands and can be seen during the day, particularly in the north and most often in the morning.  Antler moths can also fly at night which is why I happened to catch one in my moth trap.  The adults feed on ragwort and thistles, whilst the caterpillars, which are found from March to June, mainly feed on grasses such as Purple-Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea) and Sheep’s Fescue (Festuca ovina). 

Antler moth

Silver Y

These moths are aptly characterised by a silver Y shape on the middle of each forewing.  You do have to tilt your head for it to become a ‘y-shape’ but  If you see one of these from the 17th July to the 9th August then be sure to count it in any Big Butterfly Counts you do.  Silver Y moths (Autographa gramma) can be seen flying during the day and are also known to fly during the night and are often attracted to light.  By day the adults feed on buddleia or lavender, so I guess they must have a preference for purple. 

Silver Y moth

During the day

You may have seen Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) or other species of burnet moths recently which can also be counted in a Big Butterfly Count.  Like other species of Burnet moths, Six-spot Burnets have black fluffy-looking bodies and black wings with red spots, however as the name suggests, this species is easily distinguished from the other burnet moths by having six spots. It also has clubbed antennae which is a confusing feature as many people will tell you that butterflies have clubbed antennae whereas moths do not. Well, I guess the burnet moths are an anomaly for this characteristic!  The bright patterns of this moth aren’t just to make it look pretty for us to look at, the bright red spots warn predators that these moths are in fact poisonous. When attacked Six-spot Burnets release hydrogen cyanide which is obtained during the larval stage when they feed on Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).

These moths make a buzzing sound whilst flying and can be found feeding on thistles, scabious and knapweed.  Cleeve Hill is a great place to see these in Gloucestershire, but as they are the most common Burnet moth throughout the UK, and fly from late June to August, you have a good chance of seeing them anywhere where their food plants are growing.  This is a perfect moth to look for with children throughout the summer holidays!

Other moths that can be found during the daytime in July are Cinnabar moths and some species of carpet and wave moth.

Six-spot Burnet

During the Night

Large Yellow Underwing: One moth that is particularly common this month is the Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), however the first night I caught one this year in my garden in Yorkshire was on the 15th June.  This could be due to global warming as many wildlife enthusiasts have noticed different species of wildlife are appearing earlier than usual, every year.  I think many people would agree with me that the underwings of these moths are not yellow but orange.  When photographing these moths it is very difficult to capture their underwings. Instead you will see the top of their wings which can vary from a dark brown to reddish-brown.  On the individuals that are lighter it’s easier to see the kidney and oval shapes on each wing and a black dot near the leading edge of the wing tip.  I’ve noticed these moths are more jumpy than other moths.  When I am trying to coax them onto a leaf or twig to be released, they look like they are asleep until they suddenly jump (and make me jump too)!  You may have seen these moths resting in the daytime on vegetation or camouflaged on garden sheds or other buildings.

Large Yellow Underwing

Herald moth: I love everything about this moth, including its name! The Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)! It’s such a bold and royal sounding name!  I was so excited to see this one sat next to my moth trap last year in Cheltenham. Its wings have a beautiful frilly trailing edge and are brown with bursts of orange stretching from the base to the centre of each wing.  Adults feed on many varieties of fruit, such as blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, apricots, plums and elder. These moths have been found to overwinter and hibernate in large numbers within caves and barns, so if you happen to enter either of these dwellings over winter have a look around for these beautiful moths!

There are many other species of moths that are around in July such as the Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria), Buff Arches (Habrosyne pyritoides) and Scalloped Oak (Crocallis elinguaria).

Herald moth

How to get children to love moths

As it’s the summer holidays now, this is a perfect time to get children interested in moths! Now, it isn’t easy to get children to love a group of insects that are mostly nocturnal but, like I said earlier there are more moths that fly during the day than butterflies so whilst you’re visiting parks, gardens or nature reserves keep a good look out for moths! They might be visible like the Six-spot Burnet or some of them might be hiding under leaves, so look everywhere!

If you have a moth trap or can borrow one this is the easiest way to catch moths and show them to children the following morning.  Or, you can make your own DIY moth trap by shining a bright torch at a white sheet hung up in your garden and wait for moths to arrive.  Another way you can get your children to see moths is by simply walking around your garden at night with a torch, which I did recently and I was surprised by how many moths I saw! One of them was this Brimstone (Opisthograptis luteolata), which was resting on lavender, pictured here!

Brimstone

These methods will, however, mean that your children have to stay up past their bedtime, but it is really good fun when you find moths, so I think it’s worth it! Apologies in advance for any messing up of bedtime routines!

If staying up late is a no go for your children then why not look for moth trap events at nature reserves around you as many of these will be in the morning and you will be able to see what moths have been caught in the moth trap the night before!  Some of them may not be as colourful as the ones pictured here, but be patient, keep going to the events and you’ll be rewarded with a beautifully colourful moth that will capture your children’s hearts! Just imagine if your child was lucky enough to have a close encounter with an Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor), like I did!

N.b.Many nature reserves may not be able to run events this year due to Coronavirus so please check their opening times, event schedule and any other regulations before attending.

To see which moths I catch throughout the rest of the year and for more photos and information, check out my Instagram page dedicated to moths, @megs_moths. I use this page to share my photos and videos of the moths I find and communicate information about their characteristics and tips on when and where to find them.  I am determined to make sure moths don’t get overlooked as they are key pollinators, found in many habitats all over the world and are of course very beautiful!

Elephant hawkmoth 3