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Discover the Wonderful World of Moths

Charlotte Varela from the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside tells us all about these fantastic creatures, and how you can get a closer look!

What is brightly-coloured, has wings covered in cool patterns and a big long tongue that sucks nectar out of flowers? Not butterflies… I’m talking about marvellous moths!


Canary shouldered thorn moth sitting in a clear plastic cupMoths are a little misunderstood and very mysterious. Many people don’t realise that they are really important pollinators – drinking nectar from flowers, picking up pollen on their way and dropping it onto the next bloom – and though some species fly during the day, most moths are active in the dead of night so are rarely seen. But this doesn’t mean you have to live a moth-free life – there are lots of ways you can try to see them even after the sun goes down.


This is called ‘moth trapping’. It might sound a bit grizzly, but moth trapping doesn’t harm these insects and it’s a great way to find out what might be flying around your garden while you’re all cosy inside. It involves using light or a food source to attract moths to you, rather than having to go and hunt for them.


I spent last summer and autumn doing just this. I’ve always loved moths and was determined to discover what visited my little urban garden, so I bought a moth trap that uses light. The light sits above a wooden box with a gap in the top, so when the moths fly into the light, they fall down the gap and into the box. Inside there are lots of egg cartons for them to hide inside until morning. When the sun comes up all you need to do is turn off the trap, gently take out the egg boxes and see which moths you’ve caught.


Sallow kitten moth

Inspecting a moth trap is like opening presents on Christmas Day. There could be all kinds of surprises waiting for you: the bright pink and green elephant hawkmoth, striped like a mint humbug, or the adorable white fluff and orange stripes of the sallow kitten (photo on the right - it's so fluffy!). Other moths, like the canary-shouldered thorn (you can see it in the top picture sitting in a cup!), are the same bright yellow as Pikachu the Pokémon, while some, like the large yellow underwing, look dull and brown on top but hide bright orange flashes of colour on their bottom wings. Then there are the weird and wonderful moth names: scarlet tiger (photo at the bottom of the page - just look how vibrant those colours are!), burnished brass, heart and dart, beautiful golden Y, flame carpet and blood-vein, to name just a few!


But you might not just catch moths in your trap – part of the fun is uncovering things like parasitic wasps, or sexton beetles that feed on dead animals! Some people have even caught pond-dwelling diving beetles in their moth traps.


One of the best things about moth trapping is that you don’t even need a traditional box-style trap. You can attract moths with just a white sheet and a powerful torch, or by making a wine rope.


Of course, it always helps if your garden is an attractive place for your local moths to visit. Create a moth and caterpillar buffet by avoiding pesticides and planting flowers they love feeding from. Honeysuckle, clover, buddleia, red valerian, scabious, lavender and fuchsia are all adored by different species of moths, and some can be planted in pots in gardens with less space.


With many moths in decline, it’s so important to help these incredible insects to thrive in your garden, and to help other people understand just how important and how wonderful they really are!


Scarlet tiger moth - Copyright Malcolm Storey