Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Asteroscopus sphinx – sprawler

Asteroscopus sphinx

Asteroscopus sphinx (Hufnagel, 1766)
Family: Noctuidae

The sprawler is a large brown streaky moth with a very furry appearance. It flies late in the year in broadleaved woodland. First discovered in County Fermanagh in 1992, it has subsequently been found by targeted searches in three additional sites in County Tyrone.

In brief

  • All records are from south-east County Tyrone and County Fermanagh
  • Occurs in mature broadleaved woodland and old wooded estates
  • Best time to see: adults are flying in late October and November. Larvae should be looked for between April and early June
  • Reasons for inclusion: extremely rare and localised
  • Any sightings should be reported.

Species description
A large greyish brown moth streaked and dotted with black. The wings (length of forewing 17-22 mm) are broad with a long black streak along the back edge of the forewing. The head and upper part of the body are extremely hairy and the males have feathered antennae.

Life cycle
Adults are on the wing in late October and November. The adult moths do not feed during their short flight period. Small batches of eggs are laid in cracks and crevices on tree trunks and there they remain for the winter before the larvae emerge the following spring. The larvae are most active at night feeding on the foliage of various trees including oak, hazel and hawthorn. The larvae climb to the ground to pupate in a cocoon beneath the surface of the soil.

Similar species
Due to the size, colour, furry appearance, and late flight period, this moth is unlikely to be confused with any other moth in Northern Ireland.

How to see this species
This species frequently comes to light traps, and so a visit to broadleaved woodland in late October and early November might prove worthwhile. It has been reported that males will visit the light trap after midnight whereas females will appear earlier. The moths rest up during the day on tree trunks and branches.

Current status
This is a rare moth in Northern Ireland having only been discovered in Crom Estate, County Fermanagh in 1992. Since then it has been found in three other woodland sites in the south-east of County Tyrone and one in Fermanagh. It is possible that other sites for this moth in Northern Ireland will be discovered.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?
The sprawler is a Species of Conservation Concern because it is extremely rare and localized.

Threats/Causes of decline
The sprawler is vulnerable to the loss of mature broadleaved woodland habitat.

Conservation of this species

Current action

  • One of the known sites for this species is designated as an ASSI by EHS, and is under the management of the National Trust.
  • The Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans for Mixed Ashwoods and Oakwoods contain measures which are relevant to the sprawler.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • The status of the sprawler will be surveyed and monitored and appropriate conservation action undertaken, if required.

What you can do

  • Report all moth sightings to the Moth Recorder for Northern Ireland, Andrew Crory, or use the Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland (BCNI) sightings web page at The BCNI database is managed by CEDaR and these records will then be used to update the Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland website.
  • Join Butterfly Conservation. Butterflies and Moths are in serious decline — with your support Butterfly Conservation can take action to reverse this.

Further information

A page with some information and excellent photographs

The Ulster Museum web page

Baynes, E.S.A. (1964). A revised catalogue of Irish macrolepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths). E.W. Classey, Hampton, Middlesex.

Leverton, R. (2001). Enjoying Moths. Poyser, London.

Porter, J. (1997). The colour identification guide to caterpillars of the British Isles. Viking, London.

Skinner, B. (1988). The colour identification guide to the moths of the British Isles. Viking, London.

Thompson, R. and Nelson, B. (2006). The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland. National Museums Northern Ireland.

Waring, P. and Townsend, M. (2003). Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing, Hants

Text written by:
Allen & Mellon Environmental Ltd.