Moths offer fascinating and varied beauty when viewed close up; even subtle shading can be made up of brightly coloured scales. These visitors also provide a welcome treat for garden birds.
Many moths are attracted to lights, so check porches and windowsills last thing at night or first thing in the morning, then use our spotter’s guide to spring moths to see what’s in your garden.
Spring moths spotted in the UK are mostly a mix of migrants from warm Mediterranean Europe arriving on the first southerly winds, or those overwintering as chrysalides. Early emergers time their appearance with leaf-burst, avoiding competition with the great flush of summer caterpillars.
Discover nine charming species to identify, with help from our detailed garden wildlife identifier to spring moths.
Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)
Forewings are 19-23mm long and a beautiful rich brown, purplish or pink, marked with orange tints and a swirling cross-mark ribbon of white. Wing tips are notched to give a dead-leaf appearance. Hibernates as adult, so out from March – the true herald of spring.
Grey dagger (Acronicta psi)
Forewings are 17-20mm and midgrey, marked with narrow, black, fluted or scalloped lines. Some are pale-edged, others have pale-pink or warm-brown tints. Dark dagger A. tridens is similar. Feeds on apple, birch, blackthorn and hawthorn.
Clouded border (Lomaspilis marginata)
Forewing length 11-14mm. A pure, powdery white, wing margins are distinctly blotched with chocolate or black. Markings vary, from subtle edging to dominant, sometimes with additional crossbars. Rests with wings outstretched. Feeds on aspen, poplar and willow.
Garden carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata)
Forewings are 13-16mm. One of many carpet moths, so called for their rug-like patterns. Pale grey with darker blotches that are rounder and more blobby than other angularly marked or barred species. Foodplants include alyssum, bittercress and garlic mustard.
Eyed hawkmoth (Smerinthus ocellata)
Its forewings, at 36-45mm, are delicately swirled with brown, beige and pink; a quick flick reveals orange hind wings, marked with blue and black eye spots. Its thorax has a velvety, deep-brown bar. Feeds on poplar, sallow and willow.
Nut-tree tussock (Colocasia coryli)
Forewing length 14-17mm. A stout, fluffy moth, in brown and greys. Usually darker near the head and paler at wing tips, the two regions are separated by a dark ribbon mark. A small kidney mark and dark zigzag are usually present. Foodplants are trees such as birch and hazel.
Pebble hook-tip (Drepana falcataria)
Its forewings, at 17-21mm in length, are a rich orange-brown, while its hind wings are paler, and marked with a red-brown cross-streak and wavy, greyish bars, with the wing tip curled into a hook. Convincing deadleaf lookalike when at rest. Feeds on alder and birch.
Silver Y (Autographa gamma)
Forewing length is 15-21mm. Coloured in marbled dark and light browns and grey, sometimes purplish; wing edges are paler. Its crest is tufted when at rest. Has a bright white Y (or gamma) mark. Flutters, with wings a blur if disturbed during the day.
Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)
The 14-21mm forewings are a deep yellow, with small, brown marks along the foredge and a small, darkbordered, white crescent dash. Hibernates as caterpillar or chrysalis, depending on its previous summer/autumn feeding conditions. Feeds on blackthorn and hawthorn.
For more identification guides to UK wildlife, take a look at our amphibians and reptiles ID, or our small mammal ID guide.
Many thanks to Chris Shields, for providing the beautiful illustrations used in this feature.