Shining a light on moths
Friday 22nd June 2012
Emperor Moth (c) A Crory
To celebrate National Moth Night from 21 - 23 June, we asked our resident moth expert, Andy Crory, to shine a light on the secret world of these often misunderstood creatures.
What would life be like without moths? No more annoying little brown things fluttering around lights at night. No more holes in your clothes. Surely we can’t have much to thank moths for?
Moths are pretty hard to ignore in the natural world, especially when there are a whopping 150-250,000 species! Moths come in all manner of shapes, sizes and colours and although some species can be regarded as pests, only a few of them eat holes in your clothes!
Here in Northern Ireland, moths can be found pretty much anywhere, from the tops of mountains down to the shore. They are also well represented with over 480 species of the larger ‘macro’ moths found here - add the ‘micros’ and that makes over 1,000 species!
The sheer variety of species aside, moths fulfil an essential role: they help pollinate plants; their caterpillars recycle nutrients; and they provide a major food source for birds, bats and other mammals. Moths are also seen as a key indicator of the health of our environment, as they are highly sensitive to habitat loss and climate change.
The most common question asked about moths is ‘What is the difference between a butterfly and a moth?’ Not much is the answer. They are both closely related and belong to the order of insects known as Lepidoptera. All butterflies have lobed antennae and fly during the day, but then again so do some moths. In fact, more species of moth fly during the day than there are butterfly species in the UK!
Several Ulster Wildlife Trust reserves are simply outstanding for moths. Slievenacloy Nature Reserve, in the Belfast Hills has become known as a moth ‘hotspot’ whilst the Umbra Nature Reserve, near Coleraine is a great place to look for day-flying species such as the six-spot burnet.
Almost unbelievably, the average garden can support over 100 species of moth! Some of the more interesting moth’s you might spot include the hummingbird hawkmoth which flies and behaves just like a hummingbird; the brimstone, so-called because it looks like a piece of yellow sulphur; and the buff tipp which has evolved an amazing camouflage that makes it look like the end of a broken birch twig!
You can help attract these fascinating creatures to your garden with just a few simple steps:
- Let a corner of your garden grow wild with patches of weeds such as nettles, docks and piles of old leaves for moths to hide in the daytime.
- Plant plenty of herbs and wildflowers as both food plants for caterpillars and sources of nectar.
- Only use chemicals in the garden as a last resort - look for a green alternative.
- If you have space, plant native trees such as oak, willow, birch, and also fruit trees which can support a wide variety of moths.