Species Account

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Summary Data

Season (Adult / Immature):

National Status: Local

Local Status: Uncommon and local resident.

Local Record: Grade 3   See here for explanation

Flight time: One generation, Jul-Aug

Forewing: 15-18mm.

Foodplant: Lichens.

Regional breakdown:

Year first recorded1904184220061883
Year last recorded2014201420142014
Number of records2343823913
Number of individuals11156644312
Unique positions517586
Unique locations547526
Adult records2341823912
Immature records2000

For the county, we have a total of 2603 records from 119 sites. First recorded in 1842.


72.046 Scarce Footman 2020 abundance
© C H Fletcher
72.046 Scarce Footman 2020 map
© C H Fletcher
72.046 Scarce Footman 06
© Terry Box, 3 Aug 2019
72.046 Scarce Footman 05
© Andy Nunn
72.046 Scarce Footman 04
© Dave Shenton
72.046 Scarce Footman 03
© Damian Money
72.046 Scarce Footman 02
© Dave Williamson
72.046 Scarce Footman 01
© Damian Money

Species Account

Sutton & Beaumont, 1989: This species was mentioned from several sites by Porritt (1883-86, 1904) however, the authors of the last list (YNU, 1970) decided that these records actually referred to E. sericea (Gregson) and listed all their records as such. Current opinion is that E. sericea, if it is a separate species at all, probably does not occur in the County and so the old records are referable to E. complana. There are also several recent records confirming this species' presence in the County. [Several records are mentioned at Spurn from 1970 onwards].

Argus 47, 2001-04:
VC63. Rossington, 3.7.2002 (RIH). NEW VICE-COUNTY RECORD.

2012 (CHF): The spread of this species has been interesting. Following the first record at Spurn in 1970, there was no spread to other parts of the county for 36 years, in fact the first 1200 county records were from Spurn. In 2006 records started appearing in the south-east corner of VC63 and the following year it appeared further up the coast in VC61. It is now slowly advancing north west at a rate of about 5 kilometres a year.

2020 (CHF): Porritt listed records of Scarce Footman from Bramham, Scarborough, York and Everingham. It was probably never a common moth and Yorkshire formed the northern limit, certainly on the east side of the country, though it may have extended further north on the west. The 1970 Yorkshire list decided Porritt was referring to Northern Footman and also mentioned a record of Northern Footman from Sheffield in the 1950s, but in 1989 Sutton and Beaumont disagreed and stated it was unlikely that Northern Footman had ever occurred in the county. This is likely to be correct. Scarce Footman and Northern Footman were given separate numbers in the old B&F list but are now lumped together in the A,B&H list, so Northern Footman is now considered a rare subspecies, restricted to raised peat bogs and boggy moorland from Lancashire to North Wales.

Like so many other species, Scarce Footman retreated south to the line from north Norfolk, through the midlands to south Wales. Quite why so many species did this in the first half of the 20th century is quite fascinating. Expansion of its range seems to have started in the 1960s and it followed the usual trend of appearing first in Yorkshire at Spurn, in 1970. It evidently found Spurn to be the promised land. A place it had been dreaming about which had everything a moth might need, and the most wonderful tasty lichen, so it built up its numbers there and showed no inclination to go anywhere else. In fact, for the next 36 years, the next 1,238 records on the database are all from Spurn. For an expanding moth this is a quite remarkable lack of ambition.

In 2006 it all changed. A new wave of moths arrived suddenly at four sites in the south of VC63 and the following year moths were found at several sites further north in VC61. It is not clear whether they were part of the same coordinated influx from the south or whether the Spurn moths had been looking at the travel brochures at last. The line of advance has been slow and steady since then, rather in the manner of Varied Coronet with no tendency to send out advance scouts further north and west that we see in other species. It reached VC62 in 2012, VC64 in 2013 and VC65 in 2016. The line of advance shows no sign of stopping. New 10K squares are ticked off methodically. 10 in 2019 and a remarkable 12 in 2020 – the biggest number for any species. The map shows many of these are in the north of VC62 where it has now almost reached our northern limits. Westerly spread has gone as far as Skyreholme (Appletreewick), Golcar and Thornton (Bradford). The dot in the far west of VC65 is a 2019 record likely to have come from a population in south Cumbria.

Like most Footmen this is a lichen feeder, and like most lichen feeders it has been expanding its range. Cleaner air is usually trotted out as the reason, but I just wonder if it is a simple as this. The stop-start colonisation is unusual. We appear to have had two invasions, but why was the first sedentary and the second more adventurous? The graph of records per year is unexpected. It shows good numbers at the Spurn Colony until 2000 then a fall. Since the 2006 invasion however, numbers have been slowly and steadily rising, but the rise in numbers is comparatively small compared with the territory conquered.

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