By Bob Foreman
Biodiversity Data Lead - BRC
I’m very much a glass-half-full kind of person and it really didn’t take me long to realise that the COVID-19 crisis was a golden opportunity for me to get out and record everything that moves (and doesn’t move) in my garden. On Tuesday evening, the day we had to leave Woods Mill and set up our desks at home I dusted off my moth trap for the first time this year. We have run the trap at Woods Mill a couple of times this year but I hadn’t had the chance to run it at home yet.
I have been regularly moth trapping in my garden for nearly fifteen years now and in that time have encountered more than 600 species which might sound like a lot but, when you consider that Britain’s moth fauna runs to about 2,500 species, it is only a fraction of what’s out there. Actually, in my Sussex garden I will never see many of these 2,500 species because although Sussex has one of the longest lists of moth species that have been recorded in any county we still are ever only going to see a maximum of a mere 2,000 species. So, with 1,400 odd species that I might still record there’s plenty to keep my eyes out for.
If you’re just starting out with moth trapping now is the best time to do it. Moth species are not all in the adult phase of their life cycle at the same time and at this time of year there are far fewer species on the wing than there are in, say, July, for this reason a moth trap run in March is going to attract a manageable number of moths of only a few species which for the newcomer represents a “doable” identification challenge. If you start trapping in July and your first trap amasses 1,000 moths of 200 species the challenge of identifying everything is going to stretch the skills of even the most experienced moth-er let alone a novice. On the day of writing there are only 75 species in the SxBRC database that have been recorded and of those only about 30 are likely to turn up in a garden moth trap, with a good identification guide, a doable number.
My intention with this is to highlight some of the species that can be seen (you don’t necessarily need a moth trap to see your local moths – an outside light, left on works fairly well as a way of attracting them too).
Days 1 – 7: 17 – 23 March
The nights of 17 and 18 were relatively mild and cloudy which, at this time of year especially, is ideal for moth trapping and the reward from these two nights was 69 moths of 15 species - pretty good going. Later in the week the weather changed and that cold easterly got up meaning that it was pointless putting the trap out for the next few days. When the wind dropped on Sunday evening I fired the trap up again but the clear skies allowed the temperature to drop to -2º C and as a result the trap was completely empty in the morning – moths really don’t like it when it gets this cold and save their energy for when the conditions improve.
Moths, I fear, have a bit of a reputation for being brown and uninteresting (which I strongly dispute!) but I have to admit that species like Common Quaker and Clouded Drab don’t do much to help… however, who could say that an Oak Beauty, which is a common early-spring species is brown and uninteresting? Or the Lichen Button, with its beautiful green marbling which makes it perfectly camouflaged on a lichen-covered tree trunk? Species like Early Thorn and the Common Plume are something a bit different too; the Early Thorn’s natural resting position is with its wings folded above its body butterfly-like and the Common Plume keeps its wings tightly rolled up giving it an odd, T-bar appearance.
While these cold clear nights continue there’s not really much point in trapping but as soon as I do I’ll keep you posted.