Only four types of moth eat cloth!

Magpie and Brimstone moths taken at Lamberton
Magpie and Brimstone moths taken at Lamberton

Moths and Mothers was the title of the talk by Malcolm Lindsay at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s meeting in Duns in March.

Malcolm is chairman of the Central Borders Group of the SWT and has had a long interest in recording moths and butterflies.

Malcolm started by providing some details of the biology of moths and butterflies. There are some 900 species of the larger or macro moths and 1,600 species of small or micro moths found in Britain, whereas there are only 62 butterflies. When recorded over a long period of time moths make good environmental indicators, as any change in their distribution, or rise and fall in abundance is a good clue as to what is going on in the wider environment.

Moths can be found in flight throughout the year with many species in the flying adult state for only a few weeks in their particular season. To cope with the cold winter months some species overwinter as eggs, others as caterpillars, pupae or even hibernating adults.

To find a mate most females attract their partners through the release of a special scent or pheneromes which only attracts their own kind, butterflies on the other hand find their partners by sight.

Some people dislike moths because they eat fabrics but only three or four species will eat cloth out of the 2,500 different species found in Britain.

Mothers have been recording in the Borders for a long time, the early records go back to George Johnstone 1797-1855 and George Bolam 1859-1934, so we have a good base line for comparing between the past and present distributions. A lot of recording was then done from the 1950s onwards by Dr Albert Long and others, then a low point was reached at the turn of this century with only 47 records made in 2000/20001. Now there has been a great resurgence in recording with 11,000 to 12,000 records made each year.

A large new atlas showing the currant distribution of moths across the British Isles is planned in the very near future and there is a big push to record moths in the few remaining under-recorded areas in the Borders.

Some moths fly throughout the day and they may be identified in flight or when they alight on a flowering plant to feed on nectar. To find the moths that fly at night enthusiasts use light traps, they consist of a box or large plastic tub with a special electric light bulb which emits light that attracts moths into the trap, where they sit undamaged until the trapper collects them for identification.

Many species can be difficult to identify, now digital cameras have become an essential tool as it is easy to take a reasonable photo of a specimen and send the image on the internet for an expert to identify, whereas in the past it may have been necessary to retain and kill the specimen for study at a later date.

To be continued.