Noctuidae is from Latin, noctua, meanining “night owl”. The Noctuid moths are the largest family of macro-moths in the British Isles and has over 400 species. Globally there are about 21,000 species which are widespread across many continents. There are 14 main British subfamilies, including the Rustics, Underwings, Darts, Quakers, Snouts and many more. These owlet moths belong to the superfamily Noctuoidea, but the family Noctuidae contains some of the worlds largest moths, and the smallest, with wingspans ranging from 0.8cm to 30.5cm.
Owlet Moths are mainly medium sized, stout-bodied macro-moths, which are predominantly brown or greyish, some with distinct kidney or oval shapes on their forewings which are useful for identifying similar species. Some have quite bright underwings (actually called Underwings) whilst others, like the Snouts, maybe confused with Geometers such is their shape and pose when resting. But most Noctuid moths rest with their wings held closed and close to the body in a triangular, tent-like fashion.
Night fliers, fast and powerful, drinking nectar from flowers, sap or fruit to keep themselves fuelled up. They are very much attracted to light, and it is most likely one of these that fly through the window at night or buzz around your head when out after dark. Others though, like the Silver Y, maybe seen sipping nectar late in the evening, or even earlier on a hot summer’s day. The caterpillars are typically bald and fat-bodied, and feed at night. Most feed on the stems, leaves and roots of broadleaved herabceous plants, and some on the leaves of trees and shrubs. Some called ‘cutworms’ feed on grasses, and can be serious pests to cereal crops severing roots and stems clean through.
All photographs taken in 2011, rear garden, Staffordshire.. © Pete Hillman 2011.