In the UK, there are 59 species of butterfly but approximately 2,500 species of Moth!
Buff-tip Moth: Nancy Brown Cinnabar Moth: Nancy Brown
Famous for being night flyers, many actually fly during the day or both. As well as being as beautiful in colour and design as our butterflies, Moths are also the masters of disguise and some have incredible camouflage markings that look just the same as bark and leaves.
Children, may like to look at this fun and informative introduction fact-sheet about moths from Butterfly Conservation.
Helpful ways to distinguish between moths butterflies are:
Wings at rest: Moths usually hold their wings downwards, flat, or against their body. Butterflies usually hold their wings up and closed.
Antennae: Moths have more feathery textured antennae. Butterflies have smooth antennae often with a thicker “bulb” at the end.
Pupa: Moths tend to make a cocoon wrapped in silk. Butterflies make a hard, smooth chrysalis shell.
Moths are an essential part of the ecosystem as food for a wide variety of UK wildlife including bats, birds, frogs, toads, and small mammals like hedgehogs and shrews. Moth caterpillars are particularly important as a food source for birds feeding their young. Moths are also great pollinators as they move around plants feeding on nectar.
As with so much of our British Wildlife, they are in decline. Since 1968, moths are down by 28% and in the South on England particularly: by 40%. The beautiful Garden Tiger Moth is down by an alarming 92% since 1968. -- So, what can we gardeners do to help Moths?
We can grow hedges as well as / instead of having fencing. Species particularly beneficial for moths and other insects are beech, blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, privet and the beautiful spindle.
We can cut down on hedge trimming, doing it less often or leaving some to grow into a natural shape.
Leave long grassy areas in the garden and grow nectar rich and food plants for adult moths plus, plants to feed caterpillars.
We can cut down on the use of pesticides and find organic alternatives.
With trees and shrubs and some of our larger, more robust plants in the garden, a bit of caterpillar munching will do no harm, but we also have young plants we’d rather keep the caterpillars away from. The wildlife friendly ways to deal with them are to simply pick off by hand the leaves with eggs or caterpillars on and move them to another part of the garden… or even try them on the bird table as a protein rich snack with the seed. -- Alternatively, encourage the birds over towards the plants that the caterpillars are eating with bird feeders / trays. -- Spray plants with water to wash off eggs and caterpillars. Some of them may get eaten by other predators on the ground. -- These methods will need to be done regularly to keep on top of the situation through the growing season.
Seeing butterflies and moths in the garden always lifts the spirits but there's something extra magical about the slightly mysterious moth. It can be quite an eye opener having an investigation at night with a torch or a headlamp... if they don't flutter and find you and the light first!
If you're keen to know more about what moths are in your garden, Butterfly Conservation could help you identify species with their What's Flying Tonight app type tracker.
Plus, read more fascinating info about moths from the RSPB here: myth-busting-moths
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