Moths form a large but hidden part of urban wildlife. Trapping moths and recording details is an immensely satisfying activity and provides a new perspective on the ecology of your area.
Unlike butterflies which only appear in warm months, there are moths flying in every month.
Not all moths fly at night, and not all night-flyers are attracted to light-traps, but for simplicity of process moth traps win over other methods of study.
Which Moth Trap?
Moth traps can be bought, or made at home.
I favour a home-made Skinner trap with a mercury vapour lamp, but UV bulbs and actinic bulbs also work.
Although slightly less effective at attracting moths, uv and actinic bulbs are less bright than mercury vapour bulbs, and so are less likely to disturb your neighbours' sleep.
All bulbs are likely to fare badly in rain. Some traps have built in rain shields for this reason.
The Robinson trap produces the largest sample, but I was put off by the price.
I have no experience of using the Goodden "moon lander".
I have used the "Safari" trap, which again gives a choice of light sources. Using a UV bulb makes the whole trap glow.
The big advantage is its portability. It easily folds flat and can be taken on holiday.
The big disadvantage is the difficulty accessing the catch. The thin zip opening restricts easy examination of the moths inside.
Some suggest to collect moths all you need is to peg up a white sheet, and to shine a torch at it. This certainly works in the tropics, but is ineffective and uncomfortable in West Yorkshire.
Generally you can switch on your trap at dusk and switch off the following morning. It helps to get up near dawn, when conditions are cool and moths sleepy. You may want some viewing pots to temporarily store moths while you examine them.
Our predecessors killed and mounted huge numbers of moths. Trays of their catches fill a lot of space in museums. Unfortunately colours of such specimens fade, and the loss of natural posture makes identification from mounted specimens more difficult.
We can do better, keeping only records and photographs, and releasing alive all we catch.
Before you can record your moths, you must first identify them.
Taking the best digital picture you can is useful in recording and acts as an aid to identification.
Images from the web may help, both to suggest an i.d. and to support an identification. The next page has photographs of moths caught recently, and below is a list of books which may help.
Butterfly Conservation, Yorkshire has a useful web resource. If all this fails you can get free web advice by registering with iSpot, a natural history information site run by the Open University. Moths are often identified in minutes after posting a picture, which is humbling when you have spent days looking for an i.d.
Books to aid identification
Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland:
Martin Townsend, Paul Waring & Richard Lewington (Illustrator)
Field Guide to the Micro-Moths of Great Britain and Ireland:
Phil Sterling, Mark Parsons, & Richard Lewington (Illustrator)
A Complete Guide to British Moths (Macrolepidoptera : Their Entire Life History Described and Illustrated in Colour from Photographs: Margaret M Brooks (Author), Charles Knight (Author)
More about moths...in flight tonight.
Click pic. to link