We're used to seeing butterflies, but there are far more moth species in the British Isles (roughly 2500 moth species compared with around 60 butterflies). Most moths emerge at night and so are seen by few of us.
Some moths fly in the daytime. For example, Burnet moths can be commonly seen feeding on meadow flowers in grasslands throughout the Mersey Forest area with their distinctive blue/black coloration and red spots.
On three nights during August, local naturalists Tom Ferguson and Brian Judd set up a moth trap on the edge of a small woodland planted as part of the Mersey Forest back in 1985. They caught (and then released) over 200 moths of 42 different species.
The distribution of moths is dependent on a number of factors but of critical importance is the availability of food for caterpillars. Each moth has its own particular tastes. Tom explains:
"For example, the Scalloped Oak despite its name is pretty catholic in its taste and feeds on most trees and shrubs. The Swallow Prominent is more specific – feeding on Poplar, Aspen and Willow – whilst the Sallow Kitten also likes Aspen as well as its namesake. The most dramatic and largest moth we found was the Poplar Hawkmoth whose bright green equally large caterpillar feeds on Poplar , Aspen and Willow."
Tom and Brian's trap revealed that some local moths are very colourful. The Buff Ermine is pale cream with prominent dark spots, the Scalloped Oak a dusky yellow whilst the Brimstone Moth which is partial to Hawthorn and Blackthorn is also yellow with russet markings.
"It's true that the majority of moths are very subdued in their colouration" comments Tom, "but in close up the beauty and subtlety of their markings can be amazing. Of those we found the Old Lady and Antler Moth were particularly striking."
The majority of moths are resident to the UK but some species migrate from continental Europe every year. Most of those are seen in the southern and eastern counties of England. However, the Silver Y, so-called on account of the prominent white mark on its forewing, can be seen commonly in gardens in Merseyside flying by day and night and feeding on a wide range of flowering plants.
Moths can be found in most months of the year although very few fly in midwinter. Warm cloudy nights in July and August can be particularly productive and a good time to go looking. Some local wildlife groups and Rangers organise moth trapping evenings.
Tom suggests: "As well as light, moths can also be attracted to sugar solutions and one option would be to hang up in your garden a cloth soaked in a mixture of beer,sugar and treacle and see what turns up. It's not too late to try this year!"