70.205 BF1884 The Magpie (Abraxas grossulariata) (SO)

Moth families and species

A complete systematic species list of the moths that can currently be found in the British Isles can be found on the UK Moths site here.

Similar to the way in which butterflies are distinguished from moths, although each are Lepidoptera, there is a practical and longstanding distinction between macro-moths and micro-moths.

Macro-moths are typically, but not always, larger moths, with mouthparts that are usually, but not always, modified for feeding.

Micro-moths are typically smaller rather primitive moths. Many have mouthparts that are not equipped for feeding.

There is however no clear dividing line between them and confusion can arise.

This page is under development and will include a link to a separate page on micro-moth families.

Photo Galleries of Macro Moth Families

Each family of macro moth species shown on this page has its own gallery of photos, taken by Steve Orridge, our leading BFC insect expert, in and around Buxton. As for other galleries, click on any of the thumbnails to bring up a slideshow of the fullsize photos.

The numbers at the start of each photo caption are checklist numbers.   All photos have the “new” decimal-style checklist number, corresponding to “A checklist of the Lepidoptera of the British Isles” by Agassiz, D.J.L., Beavan, S.D. & Heckford R.J. 2013, (referred to as the “2013 checklist”).

Many, but not all of the photos have a second number, prefixed with “BF”, which is the previous “Bradley and Fletcher number”, derived from “A Recorder’s Log Book or Label List of British Butterflies and Moths” by J.D. Bradley and D.S. Fletcher.

Beyond the numbers, the English names given to these families and species are very poetic and beautiful in their own right, and truly evocative of the extraordinary beauty of these lovely creatures.

The characteristics summaries have been derived from the information given in the guides by Chinery and by Brock, referenced on the Insects page.

3 Hepialidae (Swift Moths)

Characteristics: 4 genera and 5 species. Medium-sized. No proboscis and very short antennae. Front and back wings similar shape, held tightly along sides of body at rest. Flight usually rapid and darting, with fast wingbeats. Males generally smaller than females and with stronger markings. Eggs scattered in flight. Larvae feed underground on roots of wide variety of plants.

52 Sesiidae (Clearwing Moths)

Characteristics: 6 genera and 16 species. Day-flying, sun-loving, medium-sized  moths, many mimicking bees and wasps, often buzzing in flight. Wings lose most of their scales in first flight, and usually rest with wings partly open. Wings have large transparent areas, forewings with dark bars or marks. Antennae clubbed. Larvae live inside roots and stems, usually for 2 years. Before adult emrges, the pupa works its way partly out of the stem.

54 Zygaenidae (Burnets and Foresters)

Characteristics: 3 genera and 10 species. Brightly coloured, medium-sized, day-flying, with slow, drifting flight but quite rapid wingbeats. Antennae slightly clubbed in burnets and toothed in foresters, especially the males. Narrow, round-tipped wings, black with red spots in burnets, green in foresters. Pupae generally have papery cocoon, often attached to grass stems. Larvae plump, usually pale with black spots and hard to distinguish between species.

65 Drepanidae (Hook-tips, Lutestrings and allies)

Characteristics: 13 genera and 16 species. Medium-sized,. Slender abdomen in some. Wings broad and spread out at rest in some, held close to the body in others. Hook-tips have hooked tips to forewings.

66 Lasiocampidae (Eggar and Lappet Moths)

Characteristics: 10 genera and 12 species. Medium- to large-sized, bulky moths. Wings brown or yellowish, some with white spot. Some rest with wings closed. Antennae feathery. No proboscis. Females considerably larger than males. Larvae stout and hairy, usually spinning strong silken cocoons on plants. Larvae of several species hibernate through winter. Most species over-winter in egg stage.

68 Saturniidae (Emperor Moths)

Characteristics: 1 species. Large. Wings large, with central eye-spot. Antennae very feathery. Male day-flyer, rapid flight. Female flies and lays eggs by night, but is weak flyer. Larvae start black and orange, become yellowish-green with long clubbed spines and rings of blue warts. Larvae spin silk cocoons.

69 Sphingidae (Hawkmoths)

Characteristics: 13 genera and 18 species (9 immigrant).Medium- to large-sized. Most are fast-flying, streamlined, with narrow, pointed forewings. Hindwings often brightly coloured, used to startle predators. Stout-bodied. Most have very long proboscis and hover while feeding at flowers. Some have no proboscis and don’t feed. Larvae either camouflaged or bright warning colours. Most have a curved horn at the hind end.

70 Geometridae (Geometer or Geometrid Moths)

Characteristics: 141 genera and 307 species. The second largest British macro-moth family. Varied sizes. Wings relatively large,  broad and often held flat when resting, often swept back into a triangular shape, although some hold their wings up like butterflies. Flight generally weak. Slender abdomens. Antennae feathery in some males, slender in females, never clubbed. Larvae are hairless or only slighty hairy, and have only 2 pairs of prolegs, including the claspers. Larvae often know as ‘loopers’, due to the way they arch their bodies as they move along. Often resemble sticks when at rest.

71 Notodontidae (Prominents and allies)

Characteristics: 17 genera and 29 species (9 immigrant species). Medium- to large-sized, rather stout and often furry moths with sombre colouring. Many are called prominents due to hind edge of forewing having a tuft of hair which sticks up at rest. Larvae often rest with front and hind ends raised. Larvae of processionary moths form processions when they move.

72 Eribidae (Tussocks, Ermines, Tigers, Footman Moths, Snouts, Fan-foots, Marbleds, Blacknecks and Underwings)

Characteristics: 53 genera and 88 species. Varied in size, form and colouring (many species were formerly placed  in other families prior to reclassification).  Wings often broad.

Tigers, Ermines and Footman Moths were previously in the family Arctiidae. Stoutly built (Footman slenderly built), brightly coloured (often as warning colours), usually hairy and often poisonous. Larvae very hairy, many known as woolly bears, and usually feeds on docks, dandelions and other low growing plants.

73 Noctuidae (Noctuids)

Characteristics: 175 genera and 368 species. The largest British macro-moth family. Mostly medium-sized, stout-bodies, mainly brown colouring with crytic marking, although hind wings may be brightly coloured in some species. Wings much longer than broad. May be held roof-wise or flat and overlapping at rest. Powerful flyers, with many immigrant species. Sexes generally alike. Larvae are usually plump, with little hair.

74 Nolidae (Black arches, Silver-lines and allies)

Characteristics: 6 genera and 12 species. Small- to medium-sized. Whitish-brown colouring, some have green colouring.