In a bid to improve my moth identification skills (and to catch some moths I’ve always wanted to see), I started moth trapping last summer in my back garden at home in Yorkshire. I’m very passionate about pollinators and their conservation, so learning more about moths (which are very over-looked and important pollinators) was something that I was very keen to do. I have also been moth trapping not only for my own interest, but for the mothing group, who used to meet up at the Garden weekly to moth trap before the first lockdown in 2020 and are still not yet able to meet due to restrictions.
Moth trapping (or mothing) involves putting out what looks like a large container filled with egg boxes (which the moths sit on and hide under), with a large and very bright bulb on top, which attracts the moths to the trap during the night. The moths then fall through a gap in the top of the trap into the container below, where they will remain (unless they manage to escape) until early morning. The moths can then be removed from the trap and identified, before being hidden from birds in vegetation and out of the sun. There are different types of trap available – the one I have at home is a Skinner trap, and the one I use at the Garden is a Robinson trap. However, you can also make your own moth trap, simply using a white sheet with a bright light directed at it, or you can keep a bright light on in a room in your house and see what is attracted to your window.
Recording moths has become very important, as like a lot of insect species, they’re in decline due to habitat loss and climate change. According to the State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2021 report, 41% of our approximately 900 macro moths have significantly decreased in number, such as the Lappet (Gastropacha quercifolia) and the Orange moth (Angerona prunaria). Recording all types of wildlife informs scientists and conservationists about where certain species are found (rare or common). It also means that any trends or changes in abundance and distribution can be detected. This allows conservation efforts to be more targeted to where it is needed most. Recording can all be done from your garden or any local outside space, so you don’t even need to go far to be able to record wildlife. You can even record it just by looking out of your window! Abigail Lowe, the Garden’s PhD student, explains how you can record wildlife in your garden and where to submit your records to in this blog: https://botanicgarden.wales/blogs/2020/04/get-started-with-wildlife-recording-in-your-garden/
Moth trapping is something I really love doing, and I really enjoy the challenge of trying to identify the tricky ones. I’ve been able to start moth trapping it at the Garden recently now that the weather is better and the nights are warmer. Catches have been quite variable, with some nights still dropping quite cold and resulting in lower catch rates. In spite of this, I’ve been catching moths I’ve always wanted to catch, like the beautiful Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) and the huge Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi), as well as other amazing moths like The Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita), the Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolabraria) and the unbelievably fluffy Puss Moth (Cerura vinula). Other insects also turn up in the trap, like the common cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha), which I think are very cute, and various species of caddisfly.
On the 4th of June, I was greeted by a Lime Hawk-moth (Mimas tiliae) in the trap, which is a medium-sized moth with very distinctive wing markings. I was absolutely thrilled about this, as it was the first time I’d ever seen one (and it was cooperative enough to sit on my hand for photos before flying away). Catching and recording this moth was about to get even more exciting than I first thought though…
I emailed my records to the Garden mothing group, as I always do each time I trap. It then became apparent that the Lime Hawk-moth had not been recorded at the Garden before (at least as far as the group were aware). This prompted me to check record data for the species, and my record did seem to be pretty far away from any other previous records. After contacting the county moth recorder, it turned out that my record is the most in-land record for this species in Carmarthenshire. This is really exciting news, and means it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for again in the trap!
Fox R, Dennis EB, Harrower CA, Blumgart D, Bell JR, Cook P, Davis AM, Evans-Hill LJ, Haynes F, Hill D, Isaac NJB, Parsons MS, Pocock MJO, Prescott T, Randle Z, Shortall CR, Tordoff GM, Tuson D & Bourn NAD. (2021). The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2021. Butterfly Conservation, Rothamsted Research and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wareham, Dorset, UK.