Moths in the Noctuidae family 3, 1, 2

Grey dagger, Acronicta psi, Apatele psi

The grey dagger is common throughout Europe and the British isles, and found in most habitats especially woodlands, hedgerows and gardens. There is one generation a year, though there may be 2 generations in the south.

Eggs are laid singly on the foodplant (see caterpillar) leaves in July or August, and hatch in a week.

Grey dagger caterpillar, Acronicta psi caterpillar on blackcurrant leaf

The caterpillar (see above) is blue/grey with a yellow stripe down its back, and white below the spiracles, red spots above, a black head, a spike on its back just after the true legs, and another spike or hump just before the last pair of prolegs. Foodplants include birch, alder, hawthorn, blackthorn, plum, pear, apple, and many others. Length is up to 38 mm. They feed from August until October.

They pupate in a silk cocoon in the cracks of bark, in rotten wood or in the soil.

Grey dagger, Acronicta psi

Adults emerge the following year in June. Adult length at rest is 17 - 20 mm, and the wingspan is 30 - 42 mm. It is very similar to the Dark dagger, Acronicta tridens.

Lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, Noctua janthe

Lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, Noctua janthe

The Lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, Noctua janthe, above is a fairly common moth throughout Great Britain and Europe, found in woodland, hedgerows, gardens, heaths and moors.

The fore wing length is 16 - 20 mm. Adults fly from July to September. Eggs are laid in August. The caterpillar (length up to 40 mm) feeds at night on white dead-nettle, dock, mayweed, arum lily, and will climb up to get at the young leaves of sallow, hawthorn and blackthorn.and hides in leaf litter during the day. It pupates underground in May. Adults emerge in July. There is one generation a year.

Sallow, Xanthia icteritia

Sallow, Xanthia icteritia

Above is the Sallow, Xanthia icteritia, It is fairly widespread throughout Europe and common in the British Isles, on damp woodland, heaths and moors, and wherever its Foodplants grow.

There is one generation per year. Brown eggs are laid singly or in a short row in autumn near the buds of the foodplant, and are then covered with hairs from the female's abdomen. The eggs hatch in spring. The caterpillar feeds in the catkins at first, then moves on to the leaves. It may descend to eat the leaves of other, low-growing plants. The caterpillar length is up to 30 mm, and it feeds on goat willow, grey sallow and black poplar. In June it makes a cocoon underground and pupates. Adults emerge in August or September. Forewing length is 14 - 17 mm. Markings can vary as can be seen from the photographs above and below. It flies from August to October. the adult drinks nectar from ivy and over-ripe blackberries.

Sallow, Xanthia icteritia

Phlogophora meticulosa, Angle shades

Angle sahdes pupa

Above and below is the Angle shades, Phlogophora meticulosa. It is a fairly common moth in the U. K. Adults are seen in early summer and again in the autumn. It is found in Europe, and in the U. K. is most commonly seen in the south of England, but this one emerged in a garden in upper Deeside, in the North East of Scotland. It is found in parks, gardens, woodland and hedgerows. The foodplants include nettle, docks, dog's mercury, bramble, oak, birch and many more.

Eggs are laid singly or in small groups on the leaves of the foodplant, and hatch after 10 days. The caterpillar feeds at night, and hides under foliage during the day. The caterpillar grows up to 40 mm long, and colour ranges from green through to brown/green and even pink/brown, and can be seen throughout the year. There are one or two generations in a year. Pupation takes place in cocoons just below the ground (the one below was unearthed while weeding in the garden). Adult forewing length is 21-25 mm. Adults are drawn to light, and feed on nectar.

Angle shades, Phlogophora meticulosa

Angle shades adult

Mamestra brassicae, Cabbage moth

The Cabbage moth is found right across Europe, Asia north of the Himalayas, and in North Africa north of the Sahara.

Mamestra brassicae, Cabbage moth, caterpillar

Mamestra brassicae, the Cabbage moth caterpillar is in the photographs above and below. This is the same caterpillar taken just a few days apart. It is widespread throughout Europe, and is common in Britain, though much more common in the south than the north. The caterpillar grows up to 45 mm long, and as can be seen from the photographs above and below the colour varies not just within individuals, but through time. Though young caterpillars do have a bright yellow/pale green ring around each segment which can be seen as the caterpillar moves. Older caterpillars tend to be darker with a pair of black dashes running down the back of each segment, and a pale orange or yellow line along the side at spiracle level.

It is found in fields, gardens and waste ground. The caterpillar feeds on a wide range of low growing plants especially in the cabbage family, but also on trees and shrubs. The one in the photographs was found on Nicotiana, and I have also found some on basil in my greenhouse.

Mamestra brassicae, Cabbage moth, larva

Here are more photographs of Cabbage moth caterpillars. This one was found in my greenhouse eating basil.

Mamestra brassicae, Cabbage moth caterpillar

Mamestra brassicae, Cabbage moth caterpillar

Cabbage moths, Mamestra brassicae, have one generation a year with the eggs laid in groups on the underside of the foodplant leaf in summer. The eggs hatch in about a week. The caterpillars feed at night, and hide on the ground during the day. As their common name suggests they can be a pest on cabbages as they bore a hole into the heart of the cabbage eating right into the centre, and spoiling it for sale. Pupation is in a cocoon, very much the same as the one that the Angle shades, in the ground in autumn with the adults emerging the following June. Forewing length is 14 - 22 mm. And has a chalky white outline kidney-shaped mark. In the north it flies in June and July, and in the south from May - October.

Cabbage moth, Mamestra brassicae adult

If you catch an adult Cabbage moth there is an unusual characteristic that will help you identify it, but you might need a hand lens or camera to spot it. On the inside front leg there is an outward curving spine between the tibia and tarsus, this can be seen in the photographs above and in the close up below. The grid is in 0.5cm. squares.

Cabbage moth, Mamestra brasssicae spine

Cabbage moth, Mamestra brassicae underside

The Cabbage moth above and below hatched out of a cocoon that fell out of some turf I cut that was growing over a concrete path. The turf was frequently walked on, only about 2 - 3 cm deep, dry and heated by the sun. Five cocoons fell out, and I was surprised they were intact. I kept the cocoon on my desk. The moth hatched out at night. On the afternoon before hatching the cocoon wriggled a few times. Perhaps this wriggling movement brings the cocoon to the surface.

Cabbage moth, Mamestra brassicae adult side