Garden wildlife identifier: spring moths
Discover some of the UK's most fascinating moths to look out for in the spring months.
Moths offer fascinating and varied beauty when viewed close up; even subtle shading can be made up of brightly coloured scales. These visitors, and their caterpillars, also provide a welcome treat for garden birds.
Many moths are attracted to light, 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. Its caterpillars feed on the leaves of willow and white poplar.
Grey dagger (Acronicta psi)
Forewings are 17-20mm and mid-grey, 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. Its caterpillars feed on the leaves of apple, birch, blackthorn, limes, elms 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. Its caterpillars feed on the leaves of 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. Its caterpillar 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. Caterpillars feed 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. Caterpillar foodplants include 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. Caterpillars feed on alder (Alnus glutinosa) 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. Caterpillars feed on a wide range of plants, including nettles and bedstraws.
More like this
Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)
The 14-21mm forewings are a deep yellow, with small, brown marks along the for-edge and a small, dark-bordered, white crescent dash. Hibernates as caterpillar or chrysalis, depending on its previous summer/autumn feeding conditions. Caterpillars feed 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.
Don't miss our May issue. Subscribe now and get your first 6 issues for just £14.99
Our Grow Your Own guide is full of step-by-step advice and practical know-how, plus includes four packs of veg seeds! Only £9.99.