0 Moths - The forgotten insect?

Moth Wooly Bear caterpillarWhen you're looking around the golf course or sports ground for local wildlife, it's easy to spot the obvious or common species, such as birds; maybe a blackbird singing on a nearby tree, a woodpigeon flying over; butterflies in the summer months, such as Peacock or Red Admiral or, if you have water nearby, you might see a dragonfly.

But there is one particular insect that most people would probably dismiss as annoying little brown jobs; moths. Perhaps trying to get in an open window attracted by the light, but there is a lot more to moths than you might think.

There are over 2,500 species of moth recorded in the UK, compared to only seventy species of butterfly. These are split into two distinct groups - the larger macro moths and the much smaller micro moths, although, just to confuse matters, some of the larger micro moths are bigger than the smallest macro moths, but this is only with a selection of species. But just how do you tell the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

There is no perfect separation between butterflies and moths that applies across the world, as there are always exceptions.

The best separation for UK species is that butterflies have clubbed antennae and moths have other types, such as feathered or single threads, without clubbed ends. The general rule of thumb is that butterflies are day-flying and brightly marked, whereas moths are mainly nocturnal and less colourful (although, again, there are many exceptions). Of the macro moths in the UK, 133 are considered to be day-flying. Quite a few micro moths also fly in the day, but the numbers are less certain.

Moth deaths head hawkApart from their size, moths also vary greatly in appearance, some are brightly coloured and some are quite plain. You can find moths in a vast range of habitats such as back gardens, parklands, sand dunes and even in the middle of a town. They often have very interesting names. There are groups of moths called Daggers, Quakers, Darts and Carpets. Some moths are named for where they are found, the food plant they feed on or because of certain markings on the body, such as the rather obvious Death's Head Hawk Moth which has a skull like marking on its back.

To find out more about the different moth families and for more info on how to identify them go to:

But the question is, how exactly do you see a moth? And where?

Most people's first view of a moth is probably one of the day flying moths, such as the cinnabar moth, or maybe a 'little brown job' trying to get in an open window attracted by the light, so when you tell somebody that there are 2,500 species in the UK, people are usually quite shocked as you just don't see them around compared to butterflies. Most moths are night flyers and the best way to see them is to set up a light trap and there are several different types.

Light traps have two main components, the trap design and the light source, both influence numbers caught. The two most widely used types are Robinson with 120 Watt MV bulbs and Skinner traps with 15 Watt actinic bulbs. Both have their pros and cons and catch good numbers.
Our best night in 2016 for moths was on Saturday 16th July, when we caught 113 moths of 64 species using a Robinson type trap. Since September 2015, we have recorded over 160 species of moth. It truly is a fascinating and rewarding experience when going out mothing and it's even possible to do it in the pouring rain … if you really want to!

Check these links to find out more about moth traps and what you need to start mothing:

Moth 1There are some caterpillars of moths that gardeners/greenkeepers need to be aware of that are considered a pest or are poisonous. The Browntail Moth has caterpillars that are very hairy and, if you come into contact with them, can cause breathing problems, severe skin irritations and headaches, and I can vouch first hand for this. I was cutting round some trees that had these caterpillars on and inadvertently brushed up against them which resulted in a severe hot rash round the back of my neck and side of my face; not at all pleasant.
The Oak Processionary Moth is another pest species and can devastate oak trees, and its caterpillars are also a risk to human health by causing skin irritations and allergic reactions.

Another one with poisonous hairs is the 'Wooly Bear' caterpillars of the Garden Tiger Moth.

There are quite a few species that have caterpillars that are sometimes regarded as pests of crops and ornamentals. Silver-Y, Diamond-backed Moth and Turnip Moth on brassicas, Codling Moth on apples, and Winter Moth on fruit trees, Brown-line Bright-eye on tomatoes, Box-tree Moth on Box hedges etc.

Moths will feed on nectar, so there are many plants available to feed on but the caterpillars are different and sometimes only one species of plant or a selected few are its food source. As an example: The Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar feeds on willowherbs, fuchsia and bedstraw.

Check this link for more info: http://mothscount.org/text/65/caterpillar_foodplants.html

Recommended books

Check this link for details on books that you might need to help with your mothing:
I can recommend these 3 books;
British Moths: A Photographic Guide - Second Edition
Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (Second Edition)
Field Guide to the Micro-Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (Sbk)

Also there are many local Moth Groups. The best way to find yours is to look online. They will be able to answer questions and help out with identification and possibly loan you a trap to help get you started.

Hopefully, after you have read this, you will feel inclined to go and try some moth trapping and find out for yourself just how rewarding it can be.

Article written by Steve Thompson, Conservation Greenkeeper at John O'Gaunt Golf Club

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