is the best book for identifying British butterflies and
there is no single book that covers both subjects, but I can recommend
two, one on butterflies and one on moths. The best reference book for butterflies
is, in my opinion, "The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland" by
Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington. This is
published in association with the National Trust and costs £16.99. For
moths there is the "Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland"
by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend, with
illustrations by Richard Lewington. This costs
£29.95. Until I got this book I used to struggle with moth identifications
(and still do but to a far lesser extent!). Apart from that, there is also
"Colour Identification to the Moths of the British Isles" by
Bernard Skinner. This costs around £40, and is useful for showing details
of the under wings, whereas the Waring and
Townsend book shows the moths at rest, with their wings folded, just as you
will encounter them.
kind of trap do you use? I
use a Robinson trap, which many people consider to be the Rolls-Royce of
moth traps. The downside is that it costs the best part of £400, though it
is sometimes possible to purchase one much cheaper through the Internet.
There are other traps, the Skinner and the Actinic. The Skinner works on
the same principle as the Robinson and though less efficient is a much
cheaper trap. The Actinic uses a low light emission lamp and has the
advantage of portability, since it is relatively small and can be operated
from a car battery. The other two require mains electricity or a
the moths harmed by the traps? Certainly
not! Trapping moths is in order to study and record them, not destroy
them. What happens is that they are attracted to the light and then go
inside the trap to roost. They will (usually!) remain there until daybreak
or until the light is switched off, then they make their way out. After
the identification and counting process is completed, they are placed
under cover so that they remain protected from predators, especially
birds, and can leave in their own time, though most will stay put until
the early evening before departing.
you don't kill them and use pins to stick them on boards? Again, certainly not! It is true that
sometimes moths are forwarded for an inspection for scientific reasons
that can, unfortunately, entail them being
killed, but personally I have never done this. If you want to
"collect" moths and butterflies, do it with the camera.
many moths do you get in the trap? The
highest number I have ever had is over 600, but that is unusual. During
the peak period from July to September a normal count used to be between 100
and 250 but these days 40 is a good number. But you have to be prepared
for nights when you get nothing at all. Generally speaking, warm, humid
summer nights are when the highest numbers occur.
is the highest number you have ever trapped of a single species? I had 237 Large Yellow Underwings
one night in September 2005. That was higher than normal, but around here
to get over 100 of this species is not uncommon.
moths only fly during the night? Definitely
not. There are several day-flying species of moth, in fact one of the most
common moths I get asked to identify is the Six-spot Burnet, which is a
very common day-flying moth found along the North Downs in Kent. Another,
though not yet seen in Kent, is the Jersey Tiger, which has started to
colonise counties in the south-west as far inland as Gloucestershire. I
saw dozens of them in the gardens of Hidcote
Manor some years ago, which were proving a great puzzle to other visitors
striving to identify this strange "butterfly".
is the best way to attract butterflies into my garden? There is a whole range of suitable plants that
will certainly attract butterflies (and moths) of certain species, but
what they really like are places that have been left untended. Many modern
species of plants are totally unsuitable for butterflies because they
either do not provide the nectar or because it is there but the
butterflies can't reach it. Some plants they find unattractive, perhaps
because they are the wrong colours. For an example, the cultivated
buddleias in my garden get a fraction of the butterflies on them compared
with one growing wild just a few hundred yards away. The Royal
Horticultural Society publishes a booklet on some of the plants that you
can grow, which you may find a help.
seem to be a lot less butterflies around now than when I was younger. Is
this really the case? Unfortunately
it is. Butterflies and moths have been on the decline for many years, not
helped by recent weather patterns in which we have had a series of cold
springs and autumns. This has had a detrimental effect on butterflies such
as the Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral, which hibernate and emerge to
lay their eggs in the spring, the butterflies from which, in their turn,
are the generation that lays the eggs for the later brood hibernating the
following winter. Thus they suffer at both ends of the cycle. Even more
important than numbers is the sharp decline in the variety of butterfly
species. Within the last couple of decades the Pearl-bordered Fritillary,
which had just about hung on in woods near Canterbury, has finally become
extinct in Kent. Two others, the Wall and the Grayling, are now only seen
in the very south-east part of the county along the coast in diminishing
numbers, while others, the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Heath Fritillary
and Silver-spotted Skipper are confined to just a few enclaves. Several
others are becoming increasingly rare, among them the Grizzled Skipper,
Small Copper, and Dark Green Fritillary.
camera do you use? I
use a Nikon SLR digital camera. Although not an ideal camera in some
respects it is affordable and with a little perseverance can take superb
photographs. I have also been
impressed by the quali9ty 0f photographs taken on mobile phones, very
useful for that instant record when something unexpected turns up.
there any special tips for photographing butterflies and moths? Yes - take lots of photos while you have
the chance and, where possible, try changing the background and the
position with respect to the light. I have sometimes taken 50 or more
photos in order to get the one excellent one you see on the website.
Another is to inspect the photos you have just take immediately
afterwards, because can be quite infuriating to find they are all out of
focus after the moth has flown away.
butterflies and moths make easy subjects for photography? Well yes and no! Most moths are fairly
docile during the day and will readily submit to being picked up on a
pencil gently inserted beneath their body and deposited on a suitable
surface. Others are just the opposite and will either fly away if disturbed,
or, in the case of moths, immediately head for cover. A moth has many
enemies and to survive it has keep still and to try to blend in with its
background or it has to hide.
have seen a caterpillar with a big sting on the tail - is this harmful? No, but you and any potential predators are
encouraged to think that it is! These are the caterpillars of the
hawk-moths and it is an appendage meant to look just like a sting. It
certainly worked in your case. You are far more likely to be "stung"
by other caterpillars, some of which can secret a liquid that causes skin
irritations. As a rule of thumb, avoid using your bare hands to pick up
caterpillars with lots of yellow markings.
the main difference between butterflies and moths that butterflies close
their wings vertically and moths close them flat? You might expect that to be the case but it
is not true. Skipper butterflies do not close their wings vertically, instead they rest with the upper wing open
at an angle of around 30o. On the other hand, several moths of
the Geometrid family, which is the one closest to butterflies in many
respects, can close their wings vertically and in many other ways
including colour can resemble butterflies. Hence why I am sometimes asked
about the big green butterfly that has been seen, which, of course, is a
Large Emerald moth