Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Spilosoma lubricipeda – white ermine

Spilosoma lubricipeda

Spilosoma lubricipeda (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Arctiidae

The White Ermine is a medium sized white moth variably marked with black specks giving it the appearance of an ermine coat! In Ireland there is a relatively common form where the white background colour is replaced by buff. This moth can be found in a wide variety of habitats where the caterpillars feed on various herbaceous plants. It is on the wing from late May to early August. This species has undergone a 65% decline in the UK over the last 25 years.

In brief

  • Relatively common across Northern Ireland
  • It is a Northern Ireland Priority Species because of declines detected in other parts of the UK where it has undergone a 65% decline over a 25 year period

Species description
A medium sized white moth, occasionally buff, with a variable number of black specks scattered over the forewings. The wings are held “tented” over the black and yellow abdomen. The caterpillars are cloaked in tufts of stiff dark and white hairs. A broad orangey line can usually be seen through the hairs, running down the centre of the back.

Life cycle
The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of herbaceous plants including docks and nettles. The pupa is secreted in a cocoon amongst plant debris. The adult emerges in late May/June and is on the wing throughout July and into early August.

Similar species
The adult is most commonly mistaken for the similar sized Muslin Moth. The latter is shorter winged and there are far fewer black specks on the white forewings. In some cases individuals can be very similar so a quick look at the abdomen will solve the problem. The abdomen of White Ermine is always largely yellow on the upper surface.

How to see this species
Present in all counties and in a wide variety of habitats. It is likely to be present in large, mature gardens. Easily attracted to light.

Current status
Relatively common throughout Northern Ireland.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • Listed as a UK Priority Species and therefore on the Northern Ireland Priority List by default
  • Rapid decline (65% over 25 years 1968-2002) assessed using Rothamstead trap data

Threats/Causes of decline
It is thought to be declining in the UK as a result of many factors, including habitat change, pollution and the use of pesticides.

Conservation of this species

Current action
In Northern Ireland there are no specific actions proposed for this species other than to continue to gather records.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Encourage submission of records

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

The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland

MothsIreland Website

The state of Britain's moths - an explanation as to how declines have been calculated

Background information on the Rothamstead Trap Surveys

UK Moths Website with an up-to-date distribution map

Thompson, R. & Nelson, B. (2006). The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland. NMNI, Belfast.
Waring, P. & Townsend, M. (2009). 2nd edition. Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife.

Text written by:
Allen & Mellon

iNaturalist: Species account : iNaturalist World Species Observations database