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  • Writer's pictureRoo

The Moths are still flying - keep on trapping!

Despite being stuck at home for most of the year (for obvious reasons we wont mention) we’ve had an amazingly good year for moths. From large stunning beauties such as Emperor Moth, to real rare species such as the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth that visited our garden back in May (first county record since 1936!). But its not over! Never pack away the moth trap as unlike our resident butterflies which largely disappear in winter, there are a range of moths that can still be found flying on all but the coldest nights. The following are a few we are lucky to get in our garden. (Please note we refer to live trapping and strive never to harm any of the moths we encounter).

Emperor Moth (male) and Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

There are some moths that are simply stunning and easy to identify. In October we had the Green Brindled Crescent, with its lovely iridescent green spangling. Also the red and green suitably named Red-green Carpet and the distinctive Black Rustic. This was also the time some of the more problem species start to fly, more of them in a moment.

Green Brindled Crescent, Black Rustic and Red-green Carpet

In November we had quite a few Feathered Thorn with its lovely Autumnal orangey colouring.

Feathered Thorn

Also two tricky moths were commonly in the trap, The Chestnut, with rounded wings and the Dark Chestnut which is almost identical but has more pointed corners to the outer tips of its wings. However the really problematic species are the “November Moths”, November Moth, Pale November Moth and Autumnal Moth. The females are so similar that most identification guides say they can’t be told apart, even when the genitalia are dissected (a method used to identify moths, but not one I would ever try as you have to kill the moth!). The males are a little easier, but not much. Well-marked individuals have a small dark dot on their forewing which is aligned along a cross-line on November Moths , but is isolated and offset from this cross-line in Pale November and Autumnal Moth. The latter two can be told apart in some cases by the angling of the cross line next to the dark spot, but to be sure you need to inspect the tiny spines near the tip of the underside of the abdomen (the octavals on the 8th sternite to be technical). As a result, most people probably wisely just report “November Moth aggregate” and concentrate on other species. I’ve spent some time photographing these moths this year and reckon I’ve had mostly November Moths with one or two of the other species.

November Moth, Autumnal Moth and an unknown "November Moth agg."

So its a good job that one of my favourite moths that flies right up until the end of the year is really easy to identify. The furry-looking December Moth is a really cute little fur-ball that doesn’t really have any similar looking species (the Pale Eggar flying in August to September is superficially similar, as is the Nut-tree Tussock that flies in a second generation from July to early September, whereas the December Moth flies from late October in to January).

Fluff-ball on wings, the cute December Moth

There are plenty of other interesting moths to keep looking for. But likely the commonest you’ll find towards the end of the year is the Winter Moth. Frequently seen coming to well-lit windows as well as a moth trap, and of course also in car headlights, it’s a common species around where we live in Wales. There is a similar species, the Northern Winter Moth which I’ve yet to have confidently identified, but this is apparently far less frequent, having declined in recent years.

Winter Moth

So we’ll be keeping the moth trap fired up over winter and into the start of the new year, when a whole new batch of early flying moths start as early as January. There’s never a dull moment in the year of the moth!

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