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Moths and Butterflies

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a moths and butterflies is to look at the antennae. A butterfly’s antennae are club-shaped with a long shaft and a bulb at the end. A moth’s antennae are feathery or saw-edged. Wings: Butterflies tend to fold their wings vertically up over their backs. Moths tend to hold their wings in a tent-like fashion that hides the abdomen. Butterflies are typically larger and have more colourful patterns on their wings. Moths are typically smaller with drab-coloured wings. Anatomy: Moths have a frenulum, which is a wing-coupling device. Butterflies do not have frenulums. Frenulums join the forewing to the hind wing, so the wings can work in unison during flight. Behaviour: Butterflies are primarily diurnal, flying in the daytime. Moths are generally nocturnal, flying at night. However, there are moths that are diurnal, such as the Buck Moth and there are butterflies that are crepuscular, that is, flying at dusk and dawn. Cocoon/Chrysalis: Cocoons and chrysalides are protective coverings for the pupa. The pupa is an intermediate stage between the larva and the adult. A moth makes a cocoon, which is wrapped in a silk covering. A butterfly makes a chrysalis, which is hard, smooth and has no silk covering.

Poplar Hawk Moth

Poplar Hawk Moth

The poplar hawk moth is but one of 1,000 species of hawk moth throughout the world; most are found in the tropics. The poplar hawk moth is nocturnal and feeds and mates at night. During the day it rests on tree trunks where it is perfectly camouflaged because of its gray brown wings. Because of the lack of a ‘frenulum’ (a structure that normally holds the wings together), it can hold its hind wings further forward than its forewings, giving it an unusual appearance at rest. When it lifts its forewings, it will reveal fiery red spots on its hind wings to frighten off an intruder. It mates in May or June. The female lays round, shiny, yellow eggs on poplar, aspen, willow, or sallow tree leaves. The proboscis on the adult is non-functional, so they do not feed during adulthood. They rely on energy stored in their bodies during the caterpillar stage. The adult lives for 3 – 4 weeks and dies after mating or laying eggs. Caterpillars hatch from the eggs seven days later. They are mainly bright green and have orange red breathing holes, called spiracles, and a thorn like spike near the end of their tails. The caterpillars wave the spiked end to scare away predators. They resemble the leaves that they hang from while feeding.

Oak Eggar Moth

Oak Eggar Moth

Oak Eggar Moth Eggs

The Oak Eggar Moth (wingspan of 45 – 75mm), despite its name, does not feed on Oak, but is so-called because the shape of its chrysalis resembles that of an acorn. The food plants are mainly heather and bilberry, but also include bramble sallow, broom, sloe, hawthorn and hazel. They are often confused with butterflies but their flight is fast with sharp changes in direction as they sweep low, back and forth, tasting the air, over the vegetation in which females that have emerged the night before, are resting. The male Oak Eggar Moth is most often seen flying on sunny afternoons while the female flies early in the evening. Once a female has been found the male will mate with her and then move on to find another female. Egg laying for an Oak Eggar moth is a fairly random affair – sometimes, she simply drops the eggs (2mm in diameter) onto the ground whilst flying around and in some cases she will release them in a cluster in one location. The larvae of the Oak Eggar Moth can grow up to 6.5cm long. They are dark brown with a line of white spots along their flanks and sometimes a row of red markings is visible lower down. The hairs grow in tufts and act as a defence against predation since they can cause skin irritation, but they are still eaten by some specialists such as the cuckoo. It can take up to 2 years for the full life cycle depending on the warmth of the climate.

Death’s Head Moth

Death's Head Moth

 

 

 

The Death’s Head Moth is a large hawk moth with a wingspan of 90–130 mm (about 3.5 to 5 inches). Being one of the largest moths to be found in Europe, it is easily distinguishable by the human skull-shaped pattern of markings on the back of its head. Because of these markings, it has featured in films such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Silence Of The Lambs & The Mothman Phrophecies. The moth also has numerous other unusual features. It has the ability to emit a loud mouse-like squeak if irritated. This sound is produced by expelling air from its proboscis. It often accompanies this sound with flashing its brightly marked abdomen in a further attempt to deter its predators. It is commonly observed raiding beehives for honey at night and is attacked by guard bees at the entrance, but the thick cuticle and resistance to venom allows it to enter the hive. It is able to move about in the hives unmolested because it mimics the scent of the bees. It rests during the day in trees or in the litter, holding the wings like a tent over the body.

Fox Moth Caterpillar

Fox Moth Caterpillar

 

 

 

 

 

The Fox Moth is one of Ireland’s largest moths with a wingspan of 60 to 70mm (2.5 – 3 inches). It is found in most parts of the country and can be seen in May to early July. The male Fox Moths are a reddish brown colour (resembling that of a fox) with two, thin yellow stripes running straight across each forewing. Female Fox Moths are paler and more greyish in colour. The male flies by day and night, while the female only flies at night. The Fox Moth Caterpillar can be a little tricky to identify as they change colour as they grow. The younger caterpillars are black with thin orange bands along their length. The older caterpillars are a reddish-brown colour and covered in long grey hairs, known as setae. Although many species depend on camouflage as a form of protection against predators, the hair acts as a defence against birds and predatory insects such as parasitoid wasps, which find it difficult to penetrate beyond the hairs to lay eggs beneath the caterpillar’s skin. The Caterpillars eat a remarkably wide range of plants i.e.: Brambles, Strawberries, Raspberries, Alfalfa, Clovers, Blackthorn, Potentillas, Heathers and Roses. They live communally, protecting themselves with a web and hibernating through the winter. These dark hairy caterpillars can often be mistaken for the dreaded, but unrelated, Processionary Caterpillars, which have severely irritant hairs (similar to the Stinging Nettle or Poison Ivy). The caterpillars of the Fox Moth can be picked up and handled, although if you have sensitive skin you might find that they will give you a rash. The caterpillar won’t be too impressed either and will form a coil in self-defence. They can be found in grassland habitats including moorland, damp meadows, sand dunes and open woodland.

 

Buff Ermine Moth

Buff Ermine Moth

 

 

 

The Buff Ermine Moth (34- 42 mm wingspan) is a hairy moth with a variable pastel, yellow to cream colour. The eggs are deposited in large groups in summer. They hatch quickly; the caterpillars eat a lot and grow fast. Young larvae of the Buff Ermine moth often live together in large groups, but they split up once they get older. The larvae are extremely mobile and capable of covering large distances quickly and when threatened, they will either freeze or run away. In autumn, cocoons are woven in which the pupation takes place. The cocoons can be found among leaf litter and other plant debris during winter. The caterpillar of the Buff Ermine Moth will eat almost everything from small garden plants to shrubs and birch trees. Even though the first Buff Ermines appear in April and the last are seen by the end of August, most fly about from mid-June to mid-July. This moth only flies during the night. Should you find one resting during the day, you can easily take some photos as it hardly ever moves and never flies off. This is probably due to the fact that both adult and larva are foul tasting and even slightly poisonous for birds. Adult moths do not eat and they are very common throughout Ireland, the UK and the continent.

Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moth

 

 

 

The Elephant Hawk Moth can be found throughout Britain and Ireland. The adults are seen from May to July and the caterpillars from July to September. It has a typically wing span of 50–70 mm (2.0–2.8 inches). It is spectacularly coloured, shimmer with green and red when in motion. Humans are not very good at seeing in the dark but many animals are active at night and can see what we can’t see. One champion among them is the Elephant Hawk Moth. It flies around in the middle of the night in search of flowers such as Honeysuckles and Petunias and drinks their nectar, hovering in front of them like a hummingbird. The adults have been shown to be capable of making colour discriminations at night-time levels of illumination. The adult moths are eaten by some species of bats.

Small Heath Butterfly

Small Heath Butterfly

 

 

 

Despite its name, the Small Heath Butterfly is not confined to heathland and can be found in a wide variety of habitats. This charming little butterfly always settles with its wings closed, where the eyespot on the underside of the forewing is usually visible, acting as a decoy to any predator. The forewings are tucked behind the hind wings when roosting for long periods, or in dull weather. Males set up territories where they can be found perching, although they also spend time patrolling in search of a mate. When a male encounters another, the pair fly a few meters up into the air before separating. Females will also zigzag over the vegetation in search of a mate. Mating may happen at any time of day and a mating pair may remain coupled from as little as 10 minutes up to 5 hours. Mated females tend to avoid male territories, flying over sparse grassland where they lay their eggs. Both sexes feed on a variety of nectar sources.

Common Blue Butterfly

Common Blue Butterfly (33 Images Stacked)

This Common Blue Butterfly was photographed in August (2014) in a disused limestone quarry in Kilkenny. The quarry, which is surrounded by 11 acres of wild meadow, has not been used in over 60 years. These meadows are populated by a host of wild flowers and are a haven for butterflies. The ‘Common Blue’ butterfly is the most common of the Blues found in Ireland. It has a wingspan of 29 – 35mm and it is tightly tied to dense stands of its food plants i.e., the Bird’s Foot Trefoil and the Common Restharrow. The male is a very attractive shiny blue, whereas the female is mainly brown with her underside being very decorative, with orange crescents and black spots. It is active in sunshine but during dull weather it rests on grass stems with its wings closed. The males fly around their host plants in order to find females. The caterpillars secrete nutrient-containing substances that attract ants and in turn, the ants protect the caterpillars from predators.