Common Heath

Common Heath moth,, CornwallThis day-flying moth species is on the wing in June across heathlands on The Lizard.
Photo: Sarah Board

Scientific name: Ematurga atomaria

Cornish name: ‘Gouwan’ is the general word for moth

What to look for:

Colouring and appearance: The wing ground colouring is variable, from white and cream, to brown, yellow-brown, and grey. Females are more likely to have paler colouring. There are bands on the wings, varying in number and width, and sometimes merged, sometimes only showing in freckled patches. Males have feathery antennae.
Size: Wingspan, 2.4 to 3 cm.
Where: Heathland and moorland.
When: This is a day-flying moth. A single generation flies in May to June, with a partial second generation in August, especially further south (including Cornwall).
Similar species: The Latticed Heath is similar, but with crisper markings, and settles with wings raised, distinguishing it from the Common Heath, which settles with wings held flat.

Common Heath moth,, CornwallWalking across the Lizard heathlands on a warm summer day, a brush of your hand against the heather will disturb many a flying insect. One such species is the Common Heath moth, a day-flying species. It’s one of those brown moths that, on closer inspection, reveals a rather pretty banding and freckled colouring; the male also has lovely feathery antennae (see the photo, which is of a male).

Heathers, clovers, trefoils and vetches are the main larval foodplants. The caterpillars feed from June to September, and then pupate on the ground surface, or just below, ready to emerge as adults at the start of the following summer.

Did you know…?

…The caterpillars are also variable in colouring, ranging from reddish brown to greenish brown.

More information and references:

Chinery, M., 2005. Collins Complete Guide to British Insects. Collins, London.

Waring, P., Townsend, M. and Lewington, R., 2009. Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (second edition). British Wildlife Publishing, Gillingham, Dorset.

Published: June 2018
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Sarah Board