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Caithness residents urged to hunt for woodland moths this week


By David G Scott

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Moth enthusiasts, conservationists and the public will be heading for the woods for the UK’s annual Moth Night event this week.

Running on the days and nights of Thursday 19th – Saturday 21st May, this annual celebration of moths is organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation, and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH).

Moth Night highlights the important role played by the 2500 species of UK moths, unsung heroes of our native wildlife both as plant pollinators and essential food for many other animals.

Brimstone Moth Opisthograptis luteolata can be seen in Caithness from May into July in woodlands and gardens.The bright yellow moth can be seen flying at dusk near hawthorn and rowan. This specimen was seen on Cuckoo Hill near Watten earlier this week. Picture: DGS
Brimstone Moth Opisthograptis luteolata can be seen in Caithness from May into July in woodlands and gardens.The bright yellow moth can be seen flying at dusk near hawthorn and rowan. This specimen was seen on Cuckoo Hill near Watten earlier this week. Picture: DGS

Woodland, the theme of this year’s event, is a vital habitat for moths because their caterpillars feed on trees, shrubs and lichens, while woodland flowers provide nectar for adult moths. Woodland also provides relatively warm, sheltered conditions, ideal for a wide variety of springtime moths to fly in.

Mark Tunmore, editor of the journal Atropos and Moth Night founder, says: “Common broad-leaved trees such as birches, oaks and willows support hundreds of different moth species here in the UK, which in turn are a vital link in the food chain, particularly for bats and insectivorous birds. Great Tits and Blue Tits, for example, depend entirely on moth caterpillars as food for their chicks. At this time of year, woodlands are at their colourful best and so are their moth inhabitants, with a wide range of beautiful species on the wing.

Birds do not generally like to eat hairy caterpillars because they are bothersome to bite and prey on. However, cuckoos will eat hairy caterpillars. Picture: DGS
Birds do not generally like to eat hairy caterpillars because they are bothersome to bite and prey on. However, cuckoos will eat hairy caterpillars. Picture: DGS

“We are also encouraging daytime moth hunts this year as there are many day-flying species to be seen, including the stunning Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, Speckled Yellow and Argent and Sable. In Scotland it is a particularly special time of the year for moths, with scarce species such as the spectacular Kentish Glory, Netted Mountain Moth and Small Dark Yellow Underwing flying.”

The abundance of moths has declined by one-third in Britain over the last 50 years and a recent study suggested that declines had been even more extreme in more wooded landscapes. However, some woodland moths have done well, benefitting from the increase in broadleaf woodland in the UK, which has more than doubled in area since the late 1960s.

Dr Richard Fox, head of science at the charity Butterfly Conservation, says: “Government commitments to increase tree cover are very welcome. Allowing natural regeneration of woodland and more tree planting will greatly benefit moths as well as helping to tackle the climate crisis. However, it needs to be the right trees in the right places. Planting non-native trees, such as conifers or Eucalyptus, or planting trees on wildlife-rich open habitats such as grasslands and heaths, will have a negative impact on biodiversity, including for moths."

For more information on taking part in Moth Night, which runs 19-21 May 2022, see www.mothnight.info

How to take part in Moth Night 2022

While you can buy light-traps that do not harm the insects, specialist equipment is not required to attract moths. Leaving outside lights on, painting a sugar mixture on fence posts, or draping rope soaked in red wine over bushes can be particularly effective. There is advice at mothnight.info/taking-part/

For help identifying moths, people can check guides to species, the What’s Flying Tonight? app or contact moth enthusiasts via the Moth Night Facebook page.


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