Every step I take across the west paddock at Cosmeston seems to send at least two tiny beige-looking insects flicking off in different directions in front of me. At first, I think they might be grasshoppers or crickets, springing quickly out of the way of my trampling feet but no – these creatures are not making straight leaps, they are fluttering and flying. They’re not easy to follow – as soon as they touch the ground they seem to disappear so I have to focus intently to follow each flight and then approach very slowly to discover what they are.
It turns out they’re not beige at all – they’re a quite striking combination of maroon and yellow, hence their common name, Common purple & gold. This is Pyrausta purpuralis, not to be confused with Pyrausta aurata, a very similar moth of the same family (see more here).
With a wingspan of just 20mm, this moth really is tiny but it’s relatively common throughout Britain, particularly on chalky downs and dry grasslands. The moths I’m seeing now in such abundance are the second brood of the year and fly, both during the day and at night, from July to August. I saw their parents during May and June, though they didn’t seem as plentiful. Perhaps this is a moth species that has enjoyed our hot dry weather this summer.