Marvellous midsummer moths
PUBLISHED: 14:58 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 16:03 20 February 2013
Moths suffer from a terrible public image. Many people regard them as boring, brown, jumper-munching pests. The truth is very different. Moths are marvellous and Garden Moths Count (20-28 June 2009), run by the charity Butterfly Conservation, aims...
Moths represent a hidden wealth of wildlife on our doorstep. Over 2,500 types are known in Britain, and over 300 might easily be found living in or visiting an average Cotswold garden in a single year. Finding moths is fun and helps conservation. You'll never think of moths as boring ever again! Text courtesy of Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation.
Marvellous, midsummer moths
Garden Moths Count
Garden Moths Count is an exciting nationwide online survey and anyone can take part, young or old, without needing to be experts or have special equipment.
This year's Garden Moths Count (20-28 June) is asking the public, gardeners and their families to go out and discover the marvellous, midsummer moths in all our gardens, from town centre to the heart of the countryside. In particular, the search is on in the Cotswolds for the beautiful Scarlet Tiger and, to tie in with the Charles Darwin's bicentenary, the amazing Peppered Moth.
In addition to the Peppered Moth and Scarlet Tiger, there are 18 other moths to look out for, all easily recognized and some that can be seen during the day. It takes place from 20-28 June 2009 at www.mothscount.org.
The Peppered Moth is one of the world's best-known examples of evolution by natural selection, Darwin's great discovery.
In heavily-polluted British cities the normal, pale, speckled forms of the Peppered Moth were no longer camouflaged from predators on the soot-blackened trees. Black (called 'melanic') versions of the Peppered Moth thrived in these situations and the normal form became quite rare. In recent decades, as pollution has been greatly reduced, the balance swung back the other way. Now black moths are more obvious on the lichen-encrusted tree trucks and so the speckled Peppered Moths have again come to dominate populations.
But all is not well with Darwin's moth. Despite its amazing ability to survive the worst of the industrial revolution, numbers of Peppered Moths in Britain have fallen by 61% since the late 1960s.
It is not clear what is causing this decline but we need the public to become citizen scientists for a night or two to try to find out more. Does the Peppered Moth still live in your garden? If so, are they speckled or black?
The beautiful Scarlet Tiger moth, which flies in the daytime during June and July, seems to be doing well. Its traditional stronghold is in the West Country from Cornwall to the Cotswolds, but it is spreading, perhaps in response to climate change.
This moth is often seen in gardens because one of the plants that its caterpillars like to nibble is Comfrey, commonly grown for use as a fertilizer. It also occurs in wet habitats across the countryside, including damp meadows, marshes, along riverbanks and on the coast.
The Scarlet Tiger's spectacular colours serve as a warning to potential predators such as birds. The moths are poisonous as a result of alkaloid chemicals that they absorb as caterpillars from the Comfrey leaves on which they feed.
How far has the Scarlet Tiger spread in the Cotswolds? If you are lucky enough to see this beautiful creature please put your garden on the map by sending in your observations.
This fast-flying moth is often seen hovering, humming-bird-like, next to garden flowers using its long proboscis with pin-point accuracy to drink nectar. The flowers of Buddleia and Red Valerian are particular favourites. Sometimes, Humming-bird Hawk-moths are seen flying around the eaves of houses, and examining cracks and holes in walls, possibly looking for a place to roost or hibernate.
The Humming-bird Hawk-moth undertakes extraordinary migrations each year, arriving in southern Britain from North Africa and the Mediterranean region. They travel day and night over the ocean, but once here are mostly active during the day.
This moth is increasingly common in Britain and is beginning to survive our warmer winters - as a result of climate change. Some have already been recorded during 2009, but numbers normally increase during the summer as a result of local breeding and ongoing immigration.
The bright-pink and olive-green Elephant Hawk-moth is a common species found in urban and rural gardens alike. As it is nocturnal, most people are sadly unaware of this beauty flying in their backyard.
Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillars feed on Willowherbs in the countryside, but also on Fuschias in gardens. The caterpillars can be quite alarming as they grow to the size and thickness of a finger by late summer, have large eye-spot patterns on their bodies and what looks like a sting at their rear end. However, they are a completely harmless and fascinating part of our garden wildlife.
The moth flies from May through to August, so Garden Moths Count in late June is an ideal time to hunt out this glorious insect.
You can find moths almost anywhere, not just in the countryside but in gardens, urban parks and patches of waste-ground, even in the busiest cities. Many will already be living in and visiting your garden.
Most flowers that attract butterflies also attract moths, which come to feed on nectar both at night and by day. A torchlight safari of your borders will reveal nocturnal visitors.
Moths can also be attracted by simple baits made from sugar and beer or fizzy drinks. Recipes can be found on the Moths Count website.
However, the best way to find moths is by using light. It is well known that moths are attracted to lights at night, though the reason for this remains unclear. Try leaving an outside or porch light on after dark, and look for moths on lighted windows or lit walls and fences. A white sheet hanging up with a bright torch shining on it can also be effective. Some moths will settle on window panes if curtains are left open, or will come in to light through an open window.
The best way to see lots of moths is to use specifically designed moth traps. Information can be found at www.mothscount.org.