Thursday, 14 January 2016

moths: mysterious; misunderstood; maligned.

Moths: mysterious; misunderstood; maligned.
green silver lines
And neglected too.

There are 2500 species of moths in the UK. But few, if any of us can name any moth species. 

And although butterflies have pleasant associations of sunny summer afternoons and are renowned for their fragile beauty, moths are associated with night time and eating our trousers.

But in 2015 we learned to love our moths. With the help of a special moth light, we discovered a total of 134 fascinating species in our garden.

If not an addiction, identifying moths certainly became habit-forming.

actinic moth light in action
My job on warm evenings was to set up the light and place egg boxes inside the moth trap box. When the actinic light drew moths in, they would buzz about and slip down a funnel into the box below the bulb and then snuggle into the corner of an egg box.

The light was left glowing overnight and then, armed with lots of small specimen pots I would attempt to catch the sleepy moths and bring them back to the kitchen table to be received by intrigued noises from The Identifier-in-Chief.

The identification part is ticklish tough, I can tell you - and frequently way above my pay grade. But once accomplished the identified species is added to our list and the little critter then released into the shelter of a bushy grass to wait till evening.

elephant hawk moth
I must apologise to the friend who asked me what we did with caught moths when I answered that we press them between the pages of books like wild flowers. That was not funny. At all. I see that now.
No moths are harmed during our catching and identifying activities.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are others who share our interest - with moths being a convenient excuse to gather for pleasant evenings of beer and food. And, this being the age of social media, the identification and celebration of moths is twittertastic too.

Once listed, we submit our records to the County Recorder. And this data is added to the information submitted by all other collectors which leads to a better understanding of how moth populations are faring.

And just like canaries once used to detect gas in coal mines (they fainted or died), moths can give valuable information about the wider health of the environment.

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