Did you know there are around 2,500 species of moth in the UK? We aren't perhaps quite as familiar with our moths as we are butterflies (as many of them are nocturnal) but there are certain characteristics you can look out for to help you identify them. For example, what shape are their wings? Are they frilly or triangular shaped? Or are they patterned with spots or stripes?
When the weather is super warm and sunny you might see a five or six spot burnet moth in our wildflower meadow. Burnet moths are active in the daytime and have wonderfully vibrant wings that make them relatively easy to spot. You can tell the difference between a five-spot and a six-spot by counting the red dots on the wings – a bit like counting how many spots a ladybird has.
Five Spot Burnet Moth (Lucy Hodson)
A similar moth we have on the reserve is the cinnabar moth. They can be confused with the burnet moth as they are similar in colour but, whereas burnet moths have spots, the cinnabar has two red stripes on the rounded forewings. The caterpillars are patterned with a vivid yellow and black stripe and can be found munching away on ragwort plants (which are actually poisonous!)
Another species of moth you might see in the daytime is the green fairy longhorn moth. These are micro-moths and are very tiny with a wingspan of approximately 14mm – 18mm. They have amazingly long antennas, furry black bodies and lovely metallic green wings that shimmer in the sunlight.
Green Fairy Longhorn Moth (Wali Taylor)
The best time to see most moths however is at night (as the majority of them are nocturnal). You might see them fluttering around bright lights such as security lights or streetlamps.
Some of the other moths we have on the reserve include the elephant hawk moth, small magpie moth, twenty plume and mother of pearl.
The elephant hawk moth is instantly recognisable with its pretty gold and pink striped pattern. The adults, which can be seen flying from May until August, are particularly fond of honeysuckle; the caterpillars can often be found on rosebay willow herb.
A few years ago, our work party volunteers found an eyed hawk moth caterpillar whilst re-landscaping the islands out on Forge Mill Lake. You can read all about that exciting discovery here.
The twenty plume moth (also known as the many-plumed moth) can be seen all year round and is nocturnal.
We have several books on moths in our volunteer room and we use them regularly to help us identify the various species on the reserve. With so many species in the UK it would be very difficult to remember them all by heart! We also use them during our moth-trapping evenings which usually take place in summer and early autumn.
Volunteers Jenni and Andy identifying moths in May 2019
If you’d like to find out which moths live in your garden, why not take part in the Amazing Moths Wild Challenge? One of the easiest ways to spot moths is to hang a large white sheet from a washing line and place a bright torch beneath it. Moths are attracted to light (there’s an interesting article from National Geographic on why here) so all you need to do once your sheet and torch is set up is download the Amazing Moths activity sheet and wait for the moths to arrive.
We don’t have any moth nights planned as of yet, but be sure to keep an eye on our Facebook page for future events!
Discover more about moths over on the RSPB website: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/other-garden-wildlife/insects-and-other-invertebrates/moths/
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