Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
A few weeks ago my garden was visited by a particularly attractive little moth which remained for a few days and was quite active during daylight – which obviously many moth species are not.
This was a specimen of the ‘Common Footman’ (Manulea lurideola or Eilema lurideola). The common name ‘footman’ comes from a supposed resemblance to the uniform of old-fashioned footman servants. It is a member of the Family Arctiidae which includes the now-uncommon tiger moths, ermines, footman, and a few others.
We actually have five species of Footman in Britain and which are similar and relatively common in southern England and are spreading northwards. These are the Common Footman and the Dingy Footman which are both rather common; then the Buff Footman, the Orange Footman, and the Scarce Footman which as you might expect are generally less common. This is especially so in northern areas. A complication is that all these moths vary greatly deal in colour and this can cause confusion. Common Footman, Dingy Footman, and Buff Footman are all particularly variable. Because of this, the distinctive shape of the forewing when the moth is resting is the key. These are not large moths and have wingspans of around two to three centimetres. The forewings are greyish-green and have a yellow stripe on the leading edge which tapers to a point at the tip. They fold their wings flat over the back when at rest. The hind-wings are a yellowish-straw colour which is noticeable in flight and can make them look quite big.
The Common Footman caterpillars feed on a variety of materials from lichens and algae on trees, bushes, walls and rocks, and leaves of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Traveller’s-joy and Bramble. This is a widespread species across England and common in some areas.
The adult is on the wing in July and August and frequently comes to light. They are sometimes to be seen basking in the sunshine on tree trunks, walls, or posts; as was the case with my little visitor. They overwinter as small larvae which hatch as caterpillars from August onwards.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues