Magpie Moth - Western Isles - Hebrides Insects

Magpie Moth

Magpie Moth - Western Isles
Abraxas grossulariata

The Magpie moth is really pretty with its variable black markings on the white wings and the lovely bright yellow orange spotty stripe it can easily be mistaken for a butterfly.

Seen regularly now in The Western Isles - on The Isle of Lewis, Harris and the Uists

This pretty medium sized moth with a wingspan of 35 - 42mm, can be seen, particularly in the early morning on the heathers of The Western Isles moorlands. The magpie moth is a moth of the Geometridae. family whose members are often also called loopers

It has a strange ecology, the larvae feed on gooseberries in gardens in the South, but up in the Highlands they have adapted to feeding on heather and are sometimes very numerous.

Magpie Moth - A "Looper"
The magpie moth is called a "looper" as the larva has six 'proper' thoracic legs at the front - but only one pair of prolegs in front of its claspers at the rear. This means that while the majority of caterpillars move with a rippling action, this is one of the looper action group. A geometridae characteristic is that they are slender bodied broad winged moths whose larvae are called measuring worms. There are over 300 different types of these moths can be seen in in the British Isles

Easily Mistaken for a Butterfly
The magpie moth is a really pretty moth and at first glance can easily be mistaken for a butterfly with its variable black and white patterning and the lovely bright yellow orange spotty stripe in the middle of its forewings, quite near to it's head. The hind wing is whiter with a row of black spots on the outer margin.. You can see this moth from June through to August, here in the Western Isles. There is a similar moth called The Small Magpie Moth - but this one lacks the yellow spots on the wings and is much smaller.

Common In Britain - Not so common in The Far North - Orkney and Shetlands
The magpie moth is quite common throughout Britain, however further North, being the Orkney's and Shetland Isles etc, until recently it wasn't to be seen, but it is now regularly to be seen especially in Orkney. The caterpillar, which is pale green with bold, black spots and a rusty line down the sides, is probably so brightly coloured in order to warn off predators. The caterpillars over winters as a caterpillar and pupates in May or June.

Adults magpie moths drink nectar from flowers., whilst the caterpillars love the heather

The magpie moth pupates in a flimsy cocoon on or close to the foodlpant

Moths Closely Related to Butterflies
Moths are closely related to butterflies - people are often under the illusion that throughout the Scotland and the Uk that there are more butterflies than moths - however there are actually about 60 species of butterfly to be seen throughout the UK as opposed to 2500 species of moths. Moths can be seen all the year round including the winter months

Life Cycle - Egg - Pupa - Adult
The life cycle of a moth consists of an egg, caterpillar, pupa, and then the adult moth. Some species of moths live as adults for only a few days, while others live for many months and hibernate over the winter. Some live as caterpillars for 3 to 4 years.

Animal Food Source - Pollination
Moths are a vital food source for many other animals - many birds eat moths - and some species of moths are important pollinators.

Moths Vision

Moths see very differently from us. they can see ultraviolet rays (which are invisible to humans).

Moths Hearing
Butterflies and moths hear sounds through their wings.

Study of Moths
The study of moths is called - 'lepidoptery'

Johnstons Organ
Butterflies and moths both have an organ - the Johnston's organ which is at the base of their antennae. This organ is responsible for maintaining the butterfly or moths sense of balance and orientation, especially during flight.

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