Day Flying Moths

Blog post by Robert Morgan on 17 Jul, 2021

It's not just butterflies that can bring joy as they flutter among the flowers - try moths too, says Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer Robert Morgan.

July and August are great months to look for butterflies, but this is also a good time to search for their much maligned cousin, the moth. There are more than 2,500 species of moth in the UK compared to a mere 59 species of butterfly. What many people also find surprising is that a large number of moth species are active during the day, and are often as brightly coloured and just as beautifully patterned as butterflies.

Here are ten day-flying moths to look out for in Norfolk and some great places to visit to see them too.

Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

A brightly coloured moth with red underwings and black forewings with red markings. It is common in grassy areas, woodland glades, verges and most gardens too. The caterpillars are striped yellow and black, being often found in large numbers on ragwort. Along the flood bank at NWT Hickling Broad is a great place to search for cinnabar moths.

Silver-y (Autographa gamma)

This species has a rather fluttery busy flight and can be found seeking nectar from a variety of flowers. It is coloured with a range of greys and browns, but if it rests long enough an ornate letter Y is visible on each wing. This moth breeds in the UK, with the caterpillars feeding on nettles, however many tens of thousands arrive here in July as migrants from southern Europe. In July and August the silver-Y can turn up in most places, look out for them in your garden.


Speckled Yellow Moth (Pseudopanthera macularia)

A small yellow moth speckled with brown markings, it inhabits woodlands and bushy grassland. In Norfolk the population is centred on the Brecklands, with NWT Thompson Common and NWT Wayland Wood being great places to look. Often found near wood sage, white dead-nettle and woundwort.


Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

This one is a cracker to spot. As its name implies, it hovers like a hummingbird whilst feeding on nectar from flowers such as honey-suckle and buddleia. It has a brown head and forewings, orange hindwings, with black and white markings along its body. This moth is a summer visitor to our shores, migrating from southern Europe, although some adults seen later in the summer may be the result of breeding here. In good years it can be spotted anywhere in the UK. It's a common visitor to gardens that have plenty of nectar rich flowering plants.

Mother Shipton (Callistege mi)

Odd to name a moth after a 16th century witch, but the moth's forewing patterning has the uncanny appearance of a hook-nosed old woman. This moth is fond of flying in bright sunshine. It is a species of heathland and old meadows so Buxton Heath or NWT New Buckenham Common would be great places to visit. More common in May, but a second smaller emergence often occurs in August.


Six-spot Burnet Moth (Zyganena fillipendulae)

A wonderful looking moth that is deep black with six spots covering each forewing, although some of the spots can merge. It is found across the county, particularly among flowery meadows and verges, with coastal dunes and cliff tops being favourite haunts. Look out for it feeding on purple flowers such as knapweed and thistle.


Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica)

A mottled brown moth with yellow underwings, aptly named as it is often in association with burnets, however it has a tendency to prefer chalky soil which limits the places it can be found. Searching among vetch, clover and trefoil may prove fruitful, and the chalky embankment at NWT Narborough is a great place to look for this species.


Forester moth (Adscita statices)

This beautiful moth has a rich green sheen to its forewings and long thick black antennae, the hindwings are paler. This is a priority species for conservationists as its population has fallen into steep decline. NWT Holme Dunes or Winterton-on-Sea are still favourable places for them, and they can be seen feeding on a variety of flowers during July and August.


Common Heath (Emoturga atomaria)

This species is variable in colour and pattern, but is generally a light brown with two central bands across the wings. More often associated with northern moorlands, however, Norfolk holds a strong population, particularly around our coast. Generally speaking, where there is heather, there are common heath moths.


Broad-bordered bee hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis)

You are really lucky to find a broad-bordered bee hawk-moth. This moth is very rare across the UK but a strong-hold is Thetford Forest and the Brecklands.

You can find out more about the moths and other terrestrial invertebrates found in Norfolk here.

Header image: Burnet Moth by Steve Harber

Blog images: Cinnabar Moth, Silver-y Moth, Mother Shipton Moth, Speckled Yellow Moth by Nick Goodrum; Hummingbird Hawk-moth by Jackie Dent; Six-spot Burnet Moth by Ian Davis; Burnet Companion Moth by Bruce Carman; Forester moth by Margaret Holland; Common Heath Moth by Tom Hibbert; Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth by Ollie Payton

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