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You are in: Manchester > Nature > Nature features > A moth not to miss

Elephant Hawk moth (c) Richard Burkmar

Elephant Hawk moth (c) Richard Burkmar

A moth not to miss

How do you woo a moth? Experts say that, with the right flowers, a little wine, a night light and something for a sweet tooth, you could be spending the night with some of the magnificent moths of Manchester.

Moths are very diverse, with around 2,500 British species, compared to only 60 butterflies.

And despite their dowdy reputation, many have beautiful markings and fascinating names, including the Elephant Hawk-Moth with its unmistakable purple and green markings. [pictured above]

Hummingbird Hawk moth

Hummingbird Hawk-Moth

Phil Rispin is a moth expert in the Entomology Department of Manchester Museum and has observed more than 130 species in his back garden. He says that these mysterious insects can be just as attractive as their more colourful cousin – the butterfly.

"Moths are mainly nocturnal so they're often overlooked. Yet a lot of moths can rival butterflies in their markings and decorations," he said.

However, one previously common species, the Garden Tiger Moth, appears to be a casualty of global warming.

"Unfortunately, it’s declined dramatically in recent years, probably as a result of global warming," explained Mr Rispin. "It hibernates as a caterpillar but may be falling victim to a fungus that thrives in the milder temperatures."

Other spectacular moths to look out for across Greater Manchester and Cheshire include the Large Yellow Underwing; the Brimstone Moth; the Scalloped Oak Moth and the rare yet exotic Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, a migratory species that unusually flies in the daytime.

Attracting a moth

For national Moth Night on 7 June, here are some tips on how to attract these unsung beauties into your garden. And they’re not only drawn to the light; moths have a sweet tooth. And they like a drink too!

  • On a warm summer evening, hang a plain white sheet up. Use a bright light like a torch to illuminate the sheet so the moths will be drawn to it
  • ‘wine-roping’ – soak some thick string in a mixture of cheap red wine and sugar and drape over branches;
  • 'sugaring' - mix some treacle and brown sugar with some stale beer and paint on tree trunks.
  • flowers which are most strongly scented at night such as evening primrose, night-scented stocks and honeysuckle are especially attractive to moths.

Moth facts:

  • Butterflies actually developed from the wider moth species
  • Like butterflies, moths undertake the amazing transformation from caterpillar to cocoon and then to flight. Some species can take up to a year to develop from larvae into a moth
  • Whilst some species of moth can only fly short distances, others migrate from North Africa to Britain
  • Most adult moths live for only a few days or weeks, however some can hibernate through the winter and survive for months
  • Although most moths are attracted to nature’s sweet sap and feed on nectar, some have such a short lifespan that they never eat at all.
  • For many years moths have been seen as unwelcome intruders that cause damage to clothing. In fact, it is the larvae of only 6 species of moth that enjoy eating textiles.
  • Moths not only act as pollinators for plants, they are also important prey for an array of other animals including birds and bats.

Manchester Moth

One moth you’re unlikely to see is the Manchester Moth (Euclemensia woodiella) which is now seemingly extinct. Found in 1829 on Kersal Moor by amateur collector Robert Cribb, this small yellow and brown moth was identified as a new species. Unfortunately, his store-box containing 50 or so specimens was burned by Cribb’s landlady in revenge for rent arrears. The moth has not been seen alive since.

Three specimens survive, one in the Manchester Museum. 

National Moth Night is on 7 June.  Information from the Manchester Museum and Cheshire Wildlife Trust

last updated: 06/06/2008 at 17:55
created: 03/06/2008

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