Some Hampshire day flying moths
Six Spotted Burnet Moth
Oak Eggar Moth
Jersey Tiger Moth
Scarlet Tiger Moth
Hummingbird Hawk Moth
The Moths of Hampshire
Around 1940 species of moth have been recorded in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Of these some 1820 are resident and 120 are migrants. Of the 1940 total species 750 are large macro moths (of which 650 are resident) and the remaining 1190 (of which 1170 are resident) are the smaller micro moths.
Unfortunately, like butterflies, moths have suffered a widespread decline. Ultimately this highlights wider environmental damage caused by our impact on the natural world. Moths play vital roles within food chains, being food for birds, bats and mammals and important pollinators of plants. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation caused by urbanisation and intensive agriculture are linked closely to the decline. But while we have lost around 40% of our total moths, since 2000 we have gained several dozen new moth species, colonising over from the continent.
The Forester Moth Small and easily overlooked despite their metallic green forewings, Foresters often visit flowers to take nectar and use a wide variety of common grassland species including clovers and Field Scabious. The adults are on the wing from mid-May through June and July and sometimes into August.
Like the Small Copper butterfly, the caterpillars feed on Sorrel and Sheep’s Sorrel which are usually to be found on grassy sites on practically every soil type. After overwintering, they pupate in May low down in the vegetation. The species has a patchy national distribution and though it is fairly widespread in the west and quite rare in Hampshire seen mainly around Porton Down
Six Spotted Burnet Moth Quite small and easily overlooked despite their metallic green forewings, Foresters often visit flowers to take nectar and use a wide variety of common grassland species including clovers and Field Scabious. The adults are on the wing from mid-May though June and July and sometimes into August.
Like the Small Copper butterfly, the caterpillars feed on Sorrel and Sheep’s Sorrel which are usually to be found on grassy sites on practically every soil type. After overwintering, they pupate in May low down in the vegetation. The species has a patchy national distribution and though it is fairly widespread in Hampshire
Oak Eggar Moth the adults fly in July to August, with males active especially on sunny afternoons and females, which are similarly patterned but paler buff or golden brown, tending not to be on the wing until dusk.
The eggs are laid on a wide variety of plants including Heather, Bramble and various shrubs, though Oak is not used despite the species’ name. The eggs soon hatch and the caterpillar stage lasts until the following June before pupating in leaf litter in a tough cocoon from which it emerges in July. Widespread over most of Britain and in Ireland, Oak Eggar’s are quite common in Hampshire
Emperor Moth A spectacular moth, arguably one of the most elaborately pattered of them all; the Emperor Moth is the only British representative of a family mostly found in tropical America. The adults do not feed so that their whole activity relies on the success of the larval stage in building up the energy reserves that power the males in rapid flight in spring sunshine, searching for females which they find by scent. The eggs are laid on a wide variety of common woody plants including Heather, Blackthorn, Hawthorn and willows and also Meadowsweet and Bramble. In consequence they are widely distributed in the British Isles though in Hampshire mainly found on heathland in the New Forest.
Green Carpet A charming little moth but a deceptive one as the green ground colour of the wings fades to white or off-white. However, the basic pattern remains the same and is distinctive. Like the July Belle, they usually fly at dusk but may be easily disturbed from their resting places during the day.
Except in northern Britain, Green Carpets have two adult generations, the first in May to July and the second in August to September. They are reasonably widespread nationally and in Hampshire can be found on the chalk and in meadows as the caterpillar foodplants are various species of bedstraw, including Hedge Bedstraw and Heath Bedstraw. …
Common Heath This species is very variable in appearance; the overall colour ranges from white through tones of brown to grey and the detail of the intricate pattern may also vary.
On moorland, the caterpillar feeds on heathers but in grassland it uses trefoils, vetches and clovers. The adults fly in May and June and there can be a second later generation.
Widespread though the British Isles, Common Heaths are mainly found on Heathland and in scrubby meadows, a distribution reflecting the pattern of land use, with much more surviving semi-natural habitat in these areas.
Jersey Tiger Moth This is one of many species now extending their ranges, probably in response to climatic change. It got its name when it was first found in the Channel Islands but it then colonised Devon and has gradually spread along the south coast and northwards. It is now one of the most noticeable day-flying moths in Hampshire and Isle of Wight frequently appearing in people’s gardens.
The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of planting including Stinging Nettles, dead-nettles, plantains and Ground-ivy and Bramble. The adults, with their distinctively striped fore-wings, fly from late July to September and visit flowers including thistles and Buddleia.
Scarlet Tiger Moth this is another striking day-flying moth, to be seen in June and July, and one that will flash its scarlet underwing as a threat when disturbed. Comfrey is the favoured caterpillar food-plant and as it required moist growing conditions this handsome moth is most likely to be encountered in wetland sites including wet woodland rides, stream-sides and marshy ground. As they grow, the caterpillars may disperse to feed on a variety of common plants including Stinging Nettles, Bramble, Honeysuckle, Meadowsweet and willows.
The Scarlet Tiger’s distribution is restricted to western and southern England and Wales. In Hampshire it’s found quite commonly in Woodland especially around Winchester the species is fairly widespread but less so in the west of the county.
Cinnabar Moth The Cinnabar is another rather easily recognisable moth, the only vaguely similar species being the burnets, which have multiple spots on the glossy wings. Cinnabar caterpillars feed on Ragwort and this makes them distasteful if not toxic to predators so rather than seeking concealment they advertise themselves with the classic warning garb of yellow and black worn by wasps and many other dangerous invertebrates.
The adults fly by day in sunshine or when disturbed from mid-May until early August. Fairly widespread throughout the British Isles, as is the foodplant, they have declined recently for no known reason, still fairly common in Hampshire especially on the chalk.
Burnet Companion An attractive if not spectacular moth, on the wing from mid-May to early July, active by day in sunshine or even warm cloudy weather. At rest, the hind-wing is often partly exposed and shows its dull orange-brown banding.
The larvae feed on clovers and trefoils such as Bird’s-foot Trefoil so Burnet Companions may be found in any area of unmanaged flower-rich grassland on calcareous or neutral soils. Indeed the name refers to the fact that they and the Six-spot Burnet often occur together.
Widely distributed in the south of England and Wales and scarcer in the north, the species is widespread in grasslands in the south downs and in woodland rides and clearings.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth One of the most widely recognised moths, darting from flower to flower and then hovering with wings moving so fast to be a blur as it sucks nectar through a long proboscis.
Hummingbird Hawkmoths are migrants from the Continent, typically arriving in southern England in August and September when flowering Buddleias are an irresistible attraction for them, though they may appear as early as April and as late as December. There are occasional records of individuals hibernating in unheated outbuildings or holes in walls or trees and some breed successfully here, the caterpillar foodplants including Lady’s Bedstraw or Hedge Bedstraw. Can be found almost anywhere, like buddleia, where they can be found very often in gardens.
Moth Identification Bible a must!
Skinner Moth Trap
Moth trapping is very rewarding but can be quite a time consuming pastime. Of course the first thing you need is a moth trap, and these can be a bit of a minefield, for size shape and cost. They are also quite easy to build yourself if you have the flair for a bit of Electric cable knowledge and woodwork!
Most Moth traps purchased are the mid-range type called a skinner moth trap these can be purchased from the NHBS website. Once purchased then you good to go but I must say first that the best time to set one up is in an area away from other people. This is because at night the light is so bright it can disturb the neighbours! as I once found out. So now I'm lucky enough to set it up on private land, and it can be on for as long as I like, out of the way of other people. But if you haven't got this luxury then the trap can be set up at the bottom of the garden, or inside a shed with the door open. Ideally you should have a power source, a battery which will last up to 8 hours, or a petrol generator, these can be very noisy, but best try and utilise a plug socket.
The trap should be put on usually on a warm night with very little wind, and left until morning. I normally try and get to the trap about 07:00 when the light is just getting bright, in the summer months. The moths you may have caught are still quite torpid, and can be handled easily if need be, although once warmed up many will fly away, without being Identified if you're not quick enough. In my trap sometimes I use egg-boxes to trap the moths, so they can hide and rest without disturbance, or I utilise old pieces of tree bark. This is good for taking pictures of the moth in more natural surroundings, and you dont need to handle the moths too much, which could cause them distress.
One thing to remember is not to put the moth trap in the same place every day, use it about once a week and then you get a variation of moths, when they start their flight season and any moths captured do not keep coming back to the same trap, and getting tired and distressed.
Below is a picture of my moth trap in the early morning in July last year. Coffee is essential, warm clothing and a camera to record any moths not recognised. Along with my trusted book shown on the left. Also for the more experienced moth trapper, wine roping is another source of trapping where the moths can be trapped by placing short pieces of rope in red wine soaked for some hours and then hung up on a low branch. Several moths like the Red Under-wings are easily attracted to this source of food.
Moth nights are organised by Butterfly and Moth conservation groups and take place at certain times of the year, and are advertised on their web-sites. These are ideal platforms to start Moth trapping and an interest in moths.
Photo by David Green