Basin Notes - August 2005

Moth beauties

Most people, when asked the question "Do you like moths?" would reply in the negative. The first image that might cross their minds would be of a small brown thing fluttering around lights in the house or garden. In fact, there are about 900 different macro-moths in Britain (and over 2,500 including the micro-moths) and come in a wide range of sizes, colours and patterns.

This means there are more moth species than birds and butterflies put together. Some recent moth trapping around Angus has revealed 153 different species of moth. It would be very difficult to see that many bird species in the same short space of time it would take to trap that many moths. The difficulty is, or course, that most moths are active at night and fly silently - a challenge to the keen observer and the reason for the use of traps.

The process of trapping moths relies on their attraction to light. A wooden box has some egg trays put in the bottom and a special lamp is mounted over the top of a smooth funnel. When the moths come to the light they slip down the funnel and rest on the egg trays. It is difficult for them to fly up the funnel so they are trapped. The lamp is switched on at dusk and runs until dawn, when the catch can be inspected.

Not all moths come to light traps and must be attracted using "sugar" or pheromones, but moths can be seen during the day while they are roosting and careful inspection of sheltered nooks and crannys in your sheds and garages can be rewarding. Also searching among the favourite food plants and nectar sources at dusk or dawn can reveal these delicate creatures about their business.

Moths come in a large range of sizes and patterns and all have vernacular names as well as their scientific ones. A trapping session at the Basin Wildlife Centre recently produced Elephant Hawk Moth, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Map-winged Swift, Garden Carpet and Clouded-bordered Brindle among the 28 species caught that night.

The Elephant Hawk Moth is pink and green and has a wingspan of 60mm (2.5 inches). The others are smaller and have more dowdy colouration but viewed close-up with a magnifying glass can display astonishing patterns and colours.

Moths play an important part in pollinating flowers while they drink the nectar offered by the plant to attract them. They also provide a valuable food source to birds, bats and spiders. The less attractive side of their nature is in the caterpillar stage where they can decimate the leaves of their favoured food plant. However, the caterpillars are a vital food source for birds, who feed them to their young and, indeed, try to time the hatching of their eggs to coincide with the maximum caterpillar population.

So don't ignore these under-rated beauties that are probably in your garden right now.

If you want to find out more about moths then you can visit the following websites

Or look at the following books (both rather expensive)
Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland By Paul Waring, Martin Townsend & Richard Lewington and
Colour Identification Guide to the Moths of the British Isles By Bernard Skinner.