Ever wondered what goes on in your garden at night? Perhaps you sometimes hear an owl, or see a hedgehog shuffling its way across your lawn. If you're lucky, you might see badgers (last year's Make Your Nature Count survey found 10 % of people do!).
I like to think I'm fairly familiar with what goes on within its boundaries during the day.But what goes on under cover of darkness?
To find out, I've been dabbling in the world of moths. Mention moths to many people and they might well say 'Moths? They eat clothes!' Well, yes, the larvae of clothes moths do eat some clothes, but they're much less common these days because we wear less wool and fur. I don't keep my clothes in the garden, so moths are very welcome there.
In fact, a garden with lots of moths shows a healthy environment. And let us not forget that many birds eat moths, and their caterpillars are crucial for feeding young chicks in spring and summer. All those green caterpillars in the beaks of your local blue tits have to come from somewhere.
Using a special bit of kit - a 'moth trap' - I've been able to find out which moths are lurking in and around my garden. The trap is basically a wooden box with a bright light on the top. A sloping lid of clear plastic means that moths which are attracted by the light can't easily find their way out again, and I stack empty eggboxes inside for them to hide under. The bulb is left on overnight and I go and check what's inside it in the morning. Then they're released unharmed.
Onto the moths. This is the aforementioned 'elephant' - an elephant hawkmoth, that is! With that garish colouring, it certainly won't win any prizes for camouflage. Perhaps it doesn't taste very good, so the brightness is to deter predators?
This big fella is a privet hawkmoth. One night we had 11 of these big beasts in the trap - it's amazing there was room for anything else! Despite their size - they have a wingspan of up to 12 cm! - all the hawkmoths seem pretty friendly and docile. They perch on your finger quite happily.
In the moth world, you don't have to be big to be impressive. Though it's much smaller than the hawkmoths, this little beautiful golden y is one of my favourites. I love its intricate markings.
Another small but special moth is the buff-tip. It's spectacular in a different way: it's the moth that looks like a broken twig, to put off would-be predators.
And here's the burnished brass - very aptly named. It really does look like shiny metal in the sunshine.
One of the things that fascinates me about these moths is that they're mostly active in the dark! I'm not quite sure of the purpose of all the bright colours, beautiful markings and fancy shapes. I just know I enjoy seeing them. You've got to smile when you see a fluffy, big-nosed creature like this male drinker.
I'm starting to love the weird, wonderful world of moths. They have some splendid names: there's the leopard moth, the ruby tiger, the large emerald, the bright-line brown-eye and the brown-line bright-eye. (Hmm. Not sure about those last two)
The good news is that none of these species is rare. Though they look exotic in their different ways, they'll be in many of your gardens too. Why not spend some time looking for them? You don't need a special moth trap; you could try leaving an outside light on. Or put a white sheet on the ground, and place a bright torch on top of it. You can even make wine-based concoctions to attract some moths! Lots of RSPB nature reserves run moth-trapping events too.
We need to find out more about our moth populations, so you can help conserve them by sending in what you've seen to Moths Count.
But as to why moths fly towards light, it seems nobody really knows!
Great report about your moths
They are something to enjoy and there are a few around now to observe and ID
I have noticed that they like to come in late at night with the attraction for lights
As for the colouration, most of them are grey coloured in my eyes.
So now will look a little harder now - promise!!
Have always fancied doing a bit of moth trapping! May do one day. Some superb photos of moths you have there! The Privet Hawkmoth is especially impressive!
My cat, Pollyanna, is bringing in at least 3 or 4 Privet Hawkmoths a night at the moment. I find them half chewed on the floor. There is a lot of privet aroung the area as like in the city centre. At least she is not bringing in birds.
We got a lovely swallow-tailed moth in our bathroom last night! I had never seen an elephant hawk moth before we went camping to Naburn near York and there was a beautiful one in the sink in the toilets! It was so beautiful. It made me realise how beautiful moths are.
Posted on Friday, 23 July 2010 at 11:42
What a shame your cat is allowed to be so destructive - why can't she be kept in at night? I find the indulgent way that cat owners speak of their cat's killing behaviour a bit irritating. I don't dislike cats at all, but owners need to bear in mind that they are packing into small areas of land at densities that no other natural predator would live in - birds and other wild life don't stand a chance unless owners take some responsibility. Comments such as 'at least she's not bringing in birds' are really annoying. I assume you wouldn't find it so amusing if my dog brought in your cat - afterall, that's natural behaviour too.
Katie - what a DELIGHT. Butterflies are special to me but I've always delighted in moths too - just not seen too many of them (due to being in bed, I suppose) but your article has enthused me . What wonderful images! Two summers ago I had 'something' decimating a favourite fuchsia bush of mine. After a while I determined to investigate and find out what was going on !!!! I discovered 5 Elephant Hawk Moth butterfiles happily devouring my shrub. What a privilege - I was amazed - had never seen anything like them before. Of course I found out what they were online. I knew my shrub would recover for the following year and I did feel privileged at helping to rear 5 beautiful moths . Sadly, I've never seen them fly but trust all 5 survived and changed into the beautiful creature you show above.
As expected, an attack by a cat hater.
As expected - an attack by a cat Hater. JoW likes dogs, I like cats. Also I have been a member of various wildlife groups (in some cases founder member) for more years than I will admit to you, so I am not exactly uncaring. I could mention dogs and attacks on children, but all I will say is live and let live
The Elephant Hawkmoth is in fact perfectly camouflaged as it likes to spend much of its time in patches of pink and green Willow Herb. According to the Robins who live around here (Cumbria) they taste great!
Haven`t seen any hawkmoths recently,but found some hawkmoth caterillars on or around my willow tree in my back garden the other week, so theres still hope! got all sorts of othr caterpillars though, the big hairy ones you daren`t touch!
Haven`t seen any hawkmoths recently but have seen some of the big fat caterpillars though!
The moth photos are absolutely beautiful; shall be setting a moth 'trap' with my grandchildren when they stay. Sadly, very few butterflies this summer in my garden so far and no eggs/caterpillars on the stinging nettles as yet. Elephant hawk caterpillars appear in my neighbour's fuchsia bush!
I am NOT a cat hater, but as an allottment holder, there is a worrying decline in shrews/slow worms/frogs/mice and small birds since the arrival of cats in newly built houses nearby. PLEASE, cat owners, try to keep your cats in at dusk and nighttime - however, I know from experience this is not easy. In australian states now, there is legislation to keep cats indoors and a curfew because of the drastic decline in their small marsupial population. There are many factors contributing to our dwindling wildlife beyond our personal control, but keeping the feline population under control is our responsibility.
HAPPY MOTH WATCHING!!!
Dear oh dear, dont get all defensive Poly's slave. He admitted he was not a cat hater, but you have to be realistic. Cats, as we know, unless they are not fed well, kill without ever intending to eat the "prey". No one sensible should hate them for that, its our fault for domesticating them so the numbers are too much of a strain on nature. If people want to keep cats, and they always will, they need to be responsible and keep them in when most destructive.
I'm sure being the founder member of these organisations is very concientious, but that doesnt balance out a lack of responsibilty in this case.
And as for attacks on children by dogs; who is to blame for that...us again. And thats another thing. These recent apparent attacks by the fox; we have habituated foxes by our domestic habits, leaving rubbish out, destroying their natural environment etc, so bringing them closer to our everyday lives. Bl***dy fantastic I say, but as a species we have had such an effect on the environment and its other inhabitants that we need to keep foxes out of our homes by increasing basic security, not blaming and destroying the foxes as I am sure some will call for. Hopefully no-one on this site!
Dear Katie, I have been trapping and recording moths in Devon for a few years now and I'm very pleased that you have brought them to the attention of more people .They are beautiful creatures and if more people saw and understood them I'm sure they would discover an amazing amont of beauty and have perhaps more time for, and might be inclined to help preserve such lovely creatures all the best mothman
Great work, and great photos.
Although you describe in words the 'moth trap', I can't quite picture how to make one (specifically how the plastic cover is orientated).
Can you post a picture / sketch of the design. I'd love to do this in my area.