Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

April 24, 2009

Pick of the Week 2

Filed under: Moths — Tags: , , , — Heather Young @ 10:49 am

The weather has not been terribly conducive to bumper hauls in the trap over the last couple of weeks, with several quite sharp frosts (compensated for by some stunningly nice sunny days), but there have still been a few Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi), and Hebrew Character (O. gothica), accompanied by a couple of Brindled Pugs (Eupithecia abbreviata), an Early Tooth-striped (Trichopteryx carpinata) and an Engrailed (Ectropis bistortata).

For this ‘Pick of the Week’ however, I am going to encourage you to venture out into the countryside in search of one of our most spectacular moths, the Emperor (Saturnia pavonia). You may not have to go too far; many towns have a local ‘moss’ retaining some good quality habitat, although much of it has disappeared in recent years under housing developments in our branch area.

On the wing during April and May (although I have seen one at the end of June in Lochaber), the males fly during the day, and restlessly patrol the area searching for females. They fly very rapidly, and are often mistaken for butterflies, but don’t seem to settle and bask in the sunshine like peacocks and small tortoiseshells, making them extremely difficult to admire at close quarters! One sunny afternoon at the weekend on my local heath, after half an hour of what must have been, to the casual onlooker, highly amusing antics with a net, I eventually succeeded in capturing one to confirm identification. Unfortunately, he just would not sit still and pose for a photograph like the far more co-operative individuals that populate the egg trays in my trap at the moment, so I set him free to resume his quest, and borrowed some pictures of a newly-emerged male (with the orange hindwings) and female which had been bred from larvae: 

© John Bebbington, FRPS (Secretary, Somerset Moth group)

© John Bebbington, FRPS (Secretary, Somerset Moth group)

© John Bebbington, FRPS (Secretary, Somerset Moth group)

The female is a much better bet for observing in the wild, as she flies at dusk, and can sometimes be found at rest on vegetation before the light fades. She will also come to light, so why not try taking a portable trap if you have one, or a torch and sheet if you don’t, and see if you can tempt one to come to you. Females will lay eggs on just about anything if they do end up in the trap, and larvae can be raised on bramble, heathers or sallows if you fancy giving it a go. If you do, please remember to release the adults back where you found them the next year (unless a new housing estate has sprung up in the meantime, in which case the nearest suitable habitat).


Later in the spring and summer, have a look for the caterpillars – these ones were photographed near Fort William in late June, feeding on the shoot tips of heathers in the perpetual drizzle of a Scottish summer. Each instar, or stadium, of the larva is a little different (these are quite well developed), culminating in a large, fat, green caterpillar with black hoops and yellow or pink warts with little tufts of hair sprouting from them.







Emperor moths are not rare, and are widely distributed across the country in suitable habitat, but for such a spectacular creature, are surprisingly often overlooked: let us know using the comments facility if you manage to find any near you.


My thanks to John Bebbington for allowing me to use his excellent photographs.


Heather Young

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  1. Hello,
    Found my first fat green caterpillar this morning.

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    Comment by Davy Dunes — August 4, 2010 @ 8:49 am

  2. I’ve just seen (Aug 5th 2013) a whole bunch (okay, about 5) of caterpillars in the northern Pentland Hills (near Bonaly Reservoir)

    Comment by Eddie — August 5, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

  3. We saw a caterpillar today near Aviemore in the highlands. Looked pretty well developed, probably a late instar.

    Comment by Ruthi — August 18, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

  4. I have been bilberry picking today near Pickering, North Yorkshire and saw 3 of these beautiful caterpillars feeding on the bushes.

    Comment by Bridget Thompson — August 4, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

  5. Hi
    I saw one of these caterpillars on the road between Craigmore and Feolin on Jura this afternoon. We were cycling and I stopped to wonder at the size and beauty of it- about ten segments, each with a row of about 7 bright yellow protruding dots from a black surround. Body about 2 inches long and very thick. A deep grass or leaf green. Really stunning! We moved it onto the grass as it was definitely in danger. (Shortly after we saw a flattened adder). Great to be able to identify it using this website. Thanks. Lindsay Ballantine and Jim Kieran

    Comment by Lindsay ballantine — August 18, 2015 @ 9:36 pm

  6. Very large (over 2in), mature caterpillar spotted on September 2nd 2015 whilst walking alonside Loch Turret, Perthshire. Quite active but surely looking for a good cocoon spot this late in the year! Wonderful rich green colouring and bright yellow spots on the black bands.

    Comment by David — September 3, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

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