35.116 Scrobipalpa obsoletella (Fischer von Röslerstamm, 1841)

Status and Distribution

Widely scattered but local over much of England with a preference for coastal eastern and southern regions but has also been found regularly inland; locally common on Scilly Isles; rare in Scotland, Wales and Ireland and apparently absent from the Channel Islands.

If a specimen was not available for subsequent examination, some historic records of this species may include those of S. nitentella, from which it was not distinguished until 1935.

An 1878 'Pembrokeshire' record by C. G. Barrett is included on the maps (random coastal dot used to indicate record). It is recommended that efforts are made to see if an extant specimen exists.

National Status: Nationally Scarce B
Bradley & Fletcher no: 816
Photographer: © P Kitchener
Location: Suffolk

Provisional map


Foodplant and Larval Feeding Signs

Atriplex spp. (orache) including Atriplex prostrata (spear-leaved orache), see distribution map, Atriplex glabriuscula (babbington's orache) and supposedly Chenopodium spp. (goosefoot).

In Europe on Atriplex littoralis (grass-leaved orache), A. halimus (sea orache), A. tatarica and also on Chenopodium spp. (goosefoot), both on ruderal and halophytic (salt-loving) species.

Dry whitish frass extruding from a small hole in the stem will indicate a larva within the stem and has been found feeding within or between spun fruits of babbington's orache.


Scrobipalpa obsoletella habitat 2014 (Photo: © S Palmer)  Scrobipalpa obsoletella habitat Lancashire 2017 (Photo: © J Patton)  Scrobipalpa obsoletella habitat Lancashire 2017 (Photo: © J Patton)

Saltmarshes, sea banks and other coastal locations where the foodplants occur. Information relating to inland sites where larvae have been found do not appear to have been documented. S. nitentella also occurs in similar habitats and sometimes even on the same individual plant.

Finding the Moth

Larva: feeds within the stem, leaving a small hole with dry whitish frass. On babbington's orache it has been found feeding in a single fruit or, more usually, two spun together. S. nitentella larva have been found on the same plant as those of S. obsoletella.

Adult: flies at night and comes to light often some miles from its nearest foodplant site.

Similar Species

Can be the palest of the saltmarsh species and greyer than most, often lacking any sign of red-brown colouration on the wings. Similar species such as S. nitentella and S. atriplicella usually have more variegated forewing markings.

S. nitentella was only distinguished from S. obsoletella in Britain in 1935 and as a consequence there is some uncertainty as to the true identity of some of the older records.

Because of the sometimes considerable variation within saltmarsh-inhabiting Scrobipalpa species, identification by wing markings alone will often not be possible. Caution and care are the watchwords for this group.

If a moth has been bred from a known foodplant, and therefore also time of year when the larva feeds and the nature of its feeding methods have been observed, this information, plus a freshly emerged moth, will allow the number of possibilites to be reduced considerably. If the bred or caught moth is a very fresh specimen and displays the distinctive markings of some species (see below) then an identification without more detailed examination should be possible in many cases.

Those more readily identifiable when freshly emerged by the forewing markings are listed below. However all of these also have variation in their wing markings which, when the obvious features are obscured or worn, will then resemble some other Scrobipalpa species.

Scrobipalpa suaedella - those with an obvious clear pale ochreous dorsal quarter to the forewing.

Scrobipalpa obsoletella - those with the forewing a pale greyish colour lacking any red-brown colouration and sometimes appearing paler in the final one-third due to a pale postmedial fascia. This species usually has three distinct black spots on each forewing.

Scrobipalpa ocellatella - those with the prominent angled fascia at three quarters on the forewing and dark markings contrasting with the surrounding paler ground colour.

In cases where there is any doubt, particularly where worn light-trapped specimens are concerned, dissection will be essential to obtain an accurate identification until a good familiarity is built up with the range of species and their markings at a particular site.

Even genitalia differences are often small but are constant between the various species. It is advisable to seek confirmation of identifications by genitalia until familiarity is built up with this genus.

May, June, July, August, September, October
May, June, July, August

Two or more generations from May to early September.

Earliest: 7th May 2011 (VC19 and VC61)

Latest: 2nd September 1997 (VC34)