Think of the word 'moth' and you could be forgiven for picturing a drab, brown citizen of the night. But did you know the UK is home to a number of moths that are active during the day, many of which rival butterflies for colour and beauty?

Summer is the perfect time to spot them nectaring on wild flowers or visiting the garden. Which of these species might you encounter on an afternoon's walk? 

1. Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

Did you know?

Cinnabar caterpillars absorb toxins from their foodplants; their bright colours warn potential predators that they are poisonous.

Appearance

This flashy moth is unmistakable, even in flight. Look for bright red underwings and black forewings with red markings.  

Where to find it

Widespread and common across the UK and easily disturbed on sunny days. Look for it in grassy areas, woodland rides, gardens and scrubland.

When to see it

On the wing from May - August.

Foodplants

The yellow and black striped caterpillars are readily spotted feeding on ragwort, often in large numbers.

2. Hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

Appearance

It's the behaviour of this species that first gives it away; its distinctive hovering flight lends the moth its name. It has a brown head and forewings, orange hindwings and black and white markings towards the tail end.

Where to find it

This moth is a summer visitor to our shores, migrating from southern Europe, although some adults seen later in the summer may be the result of breeding here. In good years it can be spotted anywhere in the UK. It's a common visitor to gardens with plenty of flowering plants.

When to see it

On the wing in greatest numbers from June - September.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on bedstraws and wild madder. Adults probe for nectar with their long tongues from buddleia, honeysuckle, red valerian, lilac and other nectar-rich flowers. 

3. Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma)

Appearance

An unassuming grey-brown moth that draws attention to itself with its fluttery, busy flight as it visits flowers. Look for the pale, upside down Y-shape on the forewing which gives the moth its name.

Not to be confused with the scare silver Y which is found on moorland and whose silver mark is split in two.

Where to find it

Common and widespread across the UK. While it breeds here it also arrives in numbers from elsewhere in Europe each summer. Found in habitats with plenty of flowers, including grassland, gardens and scrubby areas.

When to see it

On the wing from May - September.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on nettles, bedstraws and clovers.

4. Mother Shipton moth (Callistege mi)

Did you know?

This moth is named after Old Mother Shipton, a reputed witch of legend who lived in Yorkshire in the 16th century.

Appearance

The pale markings on this moth's forewings are said to outline the shape of a witch's face. Look also for the brown hindwings speckled with creamy spots.

Where to find it

Can be spotted throughout the UK in meadows, grassy verges and heathland where it takes short flights between flowers.

When to see it

On the wing from May - July.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on clovers and other legumes as well as some grasses.

5. Six-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

Did you know?

This moth's red spots warn of a deadly secret: it converts toxins taken in from its caterpillar foodplants into cyanide, perfect for self defence.

Appearance

This little stunner can be easy to mistake with other buzzing insects when in flight. When at rest look for its furry black body and luxurious antennae. The black forewings have an iridescent sheen and six red spots that can sometimes become fused. The hindwings are red with a black border.

Not to be confused with the five-spot burnet, found in southern England and Wales, or the much rarer transparent and scotch burnets.

Where to find it

Found across England and Wales as well as coastal parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Look for them nectaring on knapweed and thistles in grassy habitats.

When to see it

On the wing from June - August.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on bird's-foot trefoil.

6. Mint moth (Pyrausta aurata)

Appearance

This diminutive moth has pinky-purple forewings with golden yellow spots. A yellow band also bisects each dark brown hindwing.

Not to be confused with the small yellow underwing which can also be seen feeding during the day.

Where to find it

Look for it in meadows, woodland and gardens across England, Wales and southern Scotland. 

When to see it

On the wing from May - September.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on mints and thymes, including garden cultivars.

7. Burnet companion (Euclidia glyphica)

Appearance

Look for dark bands across warm brown forewings and golden yellow underwings. It often only takes short flights between flowers.

Where to find it

Common in southern and central parts of the UK, becoming more scarce further north. Look for this moth in meadows, flower-rich verges and open woodland, often in the company of burnet and mother Shipton moths (hence its name).

When to see it

On the wing in May and June. 

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on clovers, trefoils and vetches.

8. Forester moth (Adscita statices)

Did you know?

The forester moth is a UK BAP priority species due to its declining numbers.

Appearance

This beautiful moth has a rich green sheen to its forewings and long, thick, black antennae. The hindwings are paler.

Not to be confused with the much rarer cistus and scarce forester moths which can be difficult even for experts to tell apart.

Where to find it

Widespread across England and Wales with a population in western Scotland. Found in grassland habitats, heathland and woodland rides and clearings.

When to see it

On the wing from May - August.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on sorrels. Adults are often seen nectaring on thistles and scabious.

9. Chimney sweeper moth (Odezia atrata)

Appearance

This understated moth is almost entirely black but for delicate white fringes at the edges of the forewings. The wings can begin to look browner with age and wear.

Where to find it

Widespread across northern, western and central parts of the UK but scarcer in the south and east of England and Northern Ireland. Active in sunny weather in grassland habitats, woodland edges and hedgerows.

When to see it

On the wing in June and July.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on pignut.

10. Speckled yellow moth (Pseudopanthera macularia)

Appearance

The golden yellow wings are patterned with brown patches that can vary in extent and size. The blotches can also appear darker on some individuals.

Where to find it

Relatively common in the south of England and Wales but more scarce in eastern, central and northern parts of the UK. Absent from Northern Ireland. Found in open woodland and scrubland.

When to find it

On the wing in May and June.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed mainly on wood sage.

11. Argent and sable moth (Rheumaptera hastata)

Did you know?

This moth is a UK BAP priority species due to declining numbers.

Appearance

The black and white patterning on the wings can be somewhat variable but is often described as 'clean', with distinct edges to the black areas. Look also for the curved front edges to the forewings.

Not to be confused with the small argent and sable which has a busier patterning and less distinction between darker and lighter areas.

Where to find it

Can be found locally in most parts of the UK but is nationally scarce and declining. Found in open broadleaved woodland, particularly where coppicing is practiced, and boggy moorland.

When to see it

On the wing in May and June.

Foodplants

Caterpillars feed on birch, bog myrtle and sometimes sallows where they spin leaves together into protective cocoons.

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