Get started with Mothing

Andrew Cormack

Gwent Wildlife Trust volunteer and supporter Andrew Cormack gives a guide to Mothing.

An aspect of our enjoyment of wildlife that wasn’t affected by the recent lockdown was our garden mothing - our moth trap can’t go more than 25 metres from a mains socket anyway! 

All we need is a dry weather forecast, preferably without too much wind and with clouds to hide the moon, and the trap can continue our investigation of garden wildlife while we sleep.

And there’s a lot to investigate: in three years of running the trap we have captured and released more than 200 species of moth in the garden.

That’s more than all the birds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies and mammals put together!

There's no danger of running out, though: the Gwent county list of macro-moths currently stands at 584 species!

Show some moth appreciation

For some reason, moths have a bad reputation. Yes, there are a very small number of inconspicuous species that eat fabrics (you won’t find those in a trap); and, yes, there are a few that are dull, brown, and hard to distinguish. But most are attractively patterned and some are more colourful than any butterfly. The Elephant Hawk moth pictured below, which is common in gardens in June and July, is bright pink!

Female Elephant Hawk moth

Nadine Evans

Top mothing tips!

You can look for moths during the day: a small number of species are active in daylight and others can be disturbed from vegetation.

When you cut the grass later in the year, the large clumsy insects that fly away are likely to be Large Yellow Underwings, for example.

But for most species you need to look at night. That’s a lot easier than it sounds. Though no one really knows why, most moths are attracted to light.

If you leave a light on indoors after dark and leave the curtains open, you’ll often find moths on the outside of the glass.

Next level up is to create a target specifically for them: a sheet hung on a washing line and illuminated with a lamp or strong torch works well.

You can find info on moths on the The Wildlife Trusts website along with advice on moth ID.

Mothing equipment

In the summer months techniques I've mentioned above, should attract sufficient moths that it’s exciting just to sit and watch them arrive.

At other times you may want a Moth trap that you can leave unattended overnight and open in the morning to see what has arrived. Traps, by the way, do not harm moths at all, and are typically a box with a light on top and some form of barrier that makes it easy for moths to fall or fly in, but harder for them to climb or fly out.

If you put some egg boxes or trays in the bottom of the box, trapped moths will usually just crawl into the shade and  simply rest until you release them.

You can buy moth traps, or build your own (search online for instructions), but if you are using a mains-powered light outdoors, it’s safest to have that made up by a professional electrician. There are special bulbs, LEDs and fluorescent tubes that are specifically designed to attract moths.

A moth trap

Andrew Cormack

My garden moth trap

Moth ID guides

To identify what you have caught there are excellent identification books available. But to get started, you don’t need those. 

As well as The Wildlife Trusts guides, Butterfly Conservation (who also cover moths), have guides to garden moths and moths that fly during the day

The free 'What's Flying Tonight ' app lists the 50 species most likely to be found in your location on that date, with a picture of each one. If you can, take a picture (mobile phones work well) for comparison.

Once you think you know what you have, check on the wonderful UK Moths website for more pictures and a description, and our local Monmouthshire Moth and Butterfly Group to check whether the species is known in your area and at that time of year.

 

 

 

Log your moth discoveries

Please report what moths you find. There are only a small number of people actively searching for moths in Gwent, which limits our knowledge of what exists where. You can submit your records (with photos if you have them) to the County Recorder, Martin Anthoney, at chemlep@btinternet.com.

Mothing in my garden

You can find out what moths I discovered this summer in my garden in the latest edition of Gwent Wildlife Trust's Wild About Gwent Magazine. The Trust's magazine is free to all members. Find out how get a copy here

Gwent Wildlife Trust's membership magazine summer 2020

Sarah Harris

Gwent Wildlife Trust's summer 2020 membership magazine Wild About Gwent.