The Marvellous Moth! By Keeping it Wild trainee Omar

Rosy striped credit Omar Abu-Seer

For many, moths are seen as simply too plain to catch the eye in a fast-paced city where flashiness and bright colours are synonymous with beauty. What many don’t realise is that alongside the plainer-looking moths found in our capital we have many that are just as flamboyant as the butterflies we all love. Below are ten tremendous moths I have found in London over the past few months that cover a whole spectrum of colours, shapes, and sizes.
Common plume moth

Common plume moth credit Omar Abu-Seer

Common plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

The common plume moth is one of many types of plume moths, so named because their wings have bristles with small hairs on them that look like feathers or plumes. When the plume moth is at rest it does something fantastic – instead of laying its wings flat on its back like most moths, it rolls them up tight like a roller blind and holds them almost perpendicular to its body. This peculiar shape that it takes on lends it another common name: “T-moth”.

Knapweed Conch Moth (Agapeta zoegana)

Knapweed Conch Moth (Agapeta zoegana) Credit Omar Abu-Seer

Knapweed conch moth (Agapeta zoegana)

The numerous common names of this moth are a good lesson on the importance of scientific names. The Knapweed conch moth/ Sulphur knapweed moth/ Yellow-winged knapweed root moth/ Root borer moth (so many titles!) is a Eurasian moth so, naturally, you can find it across Europe and Asia. It is a brilliant banana yellow patterned with chestnut brown marks. I personally think that these markings, when seen from above, give the impression of a rabbit-like face!

 Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

Jersey tiger moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

A native of the eastern countries of Europe, and West and Central Asia, the Jersey tiger moth made its way to Britain via the Channel Islands (hence it’s the name). Striking black and white stripes on the upper wings hide a flash of speckled orange on the underwings, often seen only when the moth takes flight. The Jersey tiger looks positively tropical and their incredible pattern, large size and day-flying antics mean that they are easily recognisable which is great for people who are new to mothing. This species is slowly becoming more frequent as our climate warms up but if you’re desperate to see them head to the Greek island of Rhodes where the famous Valley of Butterflies is found. Once there, you’ll realise that it’s an inaccurate name as the “butterflies” that settle in the valley are actually thousands and thousands of Jersey tigers!

Straw Dot Moth (Rivula sericealis)

Straw dot moth (Rivula sericealis) credit Omar

Straw dot moth (Rivula sericealis)

When I saw this moth several things came to mind. Pencil shavings. A regal individual wearing a huge cloak when the moth’s head is pointing up. A tribal mask when it is pointing down. The straw dot moth feeds on various grasses and is becoming scarcer in the northern half of Britain. I came across this individual whilst doing a butterfly transect at the London Wildlife Trust’s Saltbox Hill nature reserve, as part of the Brilliant Butterflies project.

Rosy striped

Rosy striped credit Omar Abu-Seer

Rosy-striped knot horn moth (Oncocera semirubella)

After a couple of weeks of desk-based learning as part of the Keeping it Wild traineeship, we were given the opportunity to do outdoors-y things. This rosy-striped knot horn moth was spotted whilst I was taking in the beauty of Hutchinson’s Bank. Its wings have a pearlescent quality to them and its body is an attractive pink and gold. This tiny rhubarb and custard micro moth was the first moth I took an interest in on the traineeship, and it’s lucky I did. After weeks of trying to identify it, I finally did and checked it out on the national moth recording scheme. I found out that not only was this species designated Nationally Scarce/ Nationally Notable B, but that I was the first person to have found it and recorded it in London mothing history. Not bad for my first moth!

Mint Moth (Pyrausta purpuralis)

Mint Moth (Pyrausta purpuralis) credit Omar

Mint moth (Pyrausta purpuralis)

The mint moth is a delicate thing. Small and extremely skittish, you have to be patient if you want a photo of it. As can be guessed from its name the mint moth uses mints as a food plant, as well as some other herbs like marjoram and lemon balm. The mint moth has a burgundy upper wing with sunshine-orange spots which has led to its other common name “Small purple and gold”. These spots are useful as they help us differentiate the mint moth from a very similar-looking species, the “Common purple and gold” (Pyrausta aurata).

Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)

Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) credit Omar 

Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)

The brimstone moth (not to be confused with the brimstone butterfly!) is an easily identifiable moth. Like the Jersey tiger, this is also a moth whose colouring and marks give it away immediately with its mellow yellow colour and two white markings like spiked crescent moons. This colour is where it gets its common name from, brimstone being the old term for the yellow chemical sulphur. The brimstone moth is most often seen at night.

Straw Grass Veneer Moth

Straw Grass Veneer Moth credit Omar 

Straw grass veneer moth (Agriphila straminella)

As I walked through various grassland areas, I would often disturb a large number of grass moths. One of them was the Straw grass veneer moth, which caught our eye with the large protrusion on its head. We came up with our own common name for it, the Dumbo moth. We also commented that the protrusion looked like a musical instrument- it was thus dubbed the trumpet moth and eventually “the Louis Armstrong moth”. Scientific? No. Fun and appealing? Yes! I mention this only because I think that enjoying what you’re coming across is often just as important as learning the actual science behind it. Letting people engage with nature in their own way helps create a personal connection to what they see, and personal connections lead to more people becoming invested in the world around them, something that is especially important during the current climate – and also in a city like London.

Horse-Chestnut Leaf Miner (Cameraria oridella)

Horse-chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria oridella) credit Omar

Horse-chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria oridella)

Of all the micro-moths I have come across this has got to be one of the smallest! Measuring only several millimetres long, I knew I had to dig out my hand lens to get a decent picture of it. This Lilliputian lepidopteran’s name comes from its main larval food plant – the horse chestnut tree. The larvae tunnel through the leaves (hence “mining”), feeding on it until they are ready to make a cocoon within the leaf to become a pupa. Although you probably have not seen this moth you’re likely to have seen the mark it makes on the trees – ever seen a green horse chestnut leaf with orangey-brown spots and splodges? Seen a horse chestnut tree in summer that looks like it’s already in autumn with crunchy, auburn leaves? That’s probably the horse- chestnut leaf miner moth! Despite the very visual damage, there is no evidence to suggest that the tree’s performance is actually affected.

White-Shouldered House Moth (Endrosis sarcitrella)

White-shouldered house moth (Endrosis sarcitrella)

White-shouldered house moths (WSHM) are known to be an occasional nuisance. Of the 2500 species of moths we have in Britain they are one of only a few that have any impact on humans and, unfortunately, humans themselves have exacerbated these impacts. The WSHM was originally found in Europe and Asia. As humans moved around the world – to trade with or colonise different populations- they took dried goods with them not realising that they had taken some very small acquaintances along with them too, thus spreading the WSHM around the world. It can now be found across the majority of the globe and is common because it is a synanthrope- a wild organism that directly benefits from human activity (dried fruits? Grains and cereals? Tubers? Old textiles? All delicious to this moth!) - which is why we often find it in our homes.

Yes, for some people they are a nuisance however I think they’re cool because of some very interesting appendages on their head. When I took this photo of the WSHM I studied it and saw what appeared to be curved horns sprouting out of its snow-white head. Horns! With some research, I found out these were not horns but something called labial palps. Microscopic hairs cover these palps and it is believed that they help the WSHM and other Lepidoptera identify whether something is edible. How cool!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about moths I have found in London, and that this has piqued your interest and encouraged you to take a closer look next time you see a marvellous moth.