Assistant Ranger Sophie Brown shares her tips on helping to monitor the health of Britain’s moths.
Moths are one of the hidden gems in our gardens.
This is because they mostly fly at night….mostly. There are a few stunners that are out and about in the day but they can be easily misidentified as butterflies, for example, the cinnabar moth, garden tiger moth and the Green Long-horn moth.
For those that are out at night and a bit more elusive, the best way to spot them is to use a light source.
We still don’t know why moths are attracted to light, but I’m very glad that they are as it has given me the opportunity to see what happens in my garden while I’m tucked up in bed. The best way to do this is to buy or make your own moth trap.
Here’s an example of a skinner moth trap that I use at home and here is a homemade version I put together. It’s basically a cardboard box with some egg boxes and a lamp.
You can use any container really. As long as there is somewhere covered for the moths to go into and they have something they can grip onto at the bottom (this is what I use the egg boxes for).
Moths, like butterflies, are in the order of insects called lepidoptera, which means scale wing, this is because their wings are covered in tiny scales. The dust you see when they flap around too much are dislodged scales, so it is important to reduce their stress and therefore reduce their flapping.
It is also how some species, like the Green long-horn moth, have iridescent wings. The structure of the scales causes the light to refract in such a way that to our eyes it appears iridescent, and can change colour depending on the angle we see them from.
Once it’s dusk, you are ready to put out your moth trap.
To give your light an extra boost you can put an old sheet underneath the trap. This will give the moths another landing point, it just means you have to be mindful where you step in the morning!
Don’t forget to check the forecast. Ideal moth trap weather is overcast with a bit of drizzle, but if it’s too wet you will have cardboard/moth soup at the bottom of our trap and unhappy electrics.
It’s best to get to the trap as early as you can in the morning, giving you the added bonus of being able to listen to the dawn chorus.
Everything feels different at this time of day and it’s a lovely quiet time to spend with your moths.
It’s worth being careful when first opening the trap as you can occasionally get something that’s not a moth, like a bumblebee! They are quite dopey this time of day so best to give them time to warm up and they will fly off on their own.
Hopefully you’ve got some moths in your trap and you are keen to find out what they might be. There is a brilliant app designed by the CEH which uses your location and the date to give you a list of the most likely moths you are to find in your trap!
Once you think you might know what it is you can upload your records to either iRecord or straight to the National Moth Recording Scheme.
Adding a photo to your record can help the verifiers confirm your record.
If you are now hooked on moths (and why wouldn’t you be!) and want to get to grips with their identification a bit more, you can sign up the Garden Moth Scheme next spring and/or look at these resources: