Thursday, 21 August 2008

Have moth trap, will travel

You know how it is when you go away for the weekend; the list of things that you need to pack. In addition to the essential clothes and toiletries I often take my moth-trap, dozens of small sample pots and various field guides to Britain’s moths. I know that I am not alone in this behaviour and there is a growing army of moth enthusiasts who not only run traps at home each evening but also seem hard to separate from their trap when they go away. Much like birdwatching, one of the joys of moth trapping is seeing something new and, since different moths live in different habitats or different parts of the country, it is easy to see the appeal of running your trap somewhere completely different.

A moth trap works by drawing moths in towards a bright light, normally a mercury vapour lamp, which produces light of a different wavelength to that of standard household bulbs. Any moths which collide with the bulb, are stunned very briefly and drop into a collecting box below. This box has a narrow entrance, so escape is difficult, and the moths soon settle amongst the pile of egg boxes added to the box to give them some cover. Early the next morning, the moth-trapper can rise from his or her slumber and check the contents of the box. Depending upon location, time of year and weather conditions the trap can contain just a few moths or it can contain thousands. After logging what has been caught the moths are released to continue with their lives.

Last weekend my trap accompanied me to my parent’s garden on the edge of a market town among the oak and beech woodlands of the Surrey/Sussex border, where a very different suite of moths from those present in my small urban garden are to be found. Sure enough, come morning there were just in excess of 170 moths in the trap of several dozen different species. Among these were common and widespread species, like Large Yellow Underwing, Brimstone and the Dunbar, but there were many others that I don’t tend to catch at home. These included my first ever Maiden’s Blush (no mischievous smirks please) and Small Phoenix, not to mention two rather stunning black and white moths known as Black Arches. I never cease to be amazed by the sheer diversity of moths, the combination of shapes, sizes and colours. Most casual observers, encountering the more familiar moth species, will be completely unaware of just how beautiful many of our moths our. If you have never seen the results of a moth-trapping session then I urge you to go along to a local moth-trapping evening. You will not be disappointed.

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