Aug 8

There is much more to moths than you may have experienced when watching them repeatedly fly into your bathroom light at night. Britain has a whole host of incredible moths; some of which you may have seen before and mistaken for something else. Not only are moths impressive creatures in their own right but they also play a valuable role in ecosystems too – pollinating many plant species and being an important food source. Here in the ARKive office to celebrate Moth Night, an annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland, we have compiled a list of our top 10 favourite British moths.

Hummingbird hawkmoth

Hummingbird hawkmoth image

A remarkable insect, the hummingbird hawkmoth not only resembles the hummingbird in its appearance but also in its feeding behaviour, the way it flies and its unmistakable humming sound. Unlike many moths which lack mouthparts the hummingbird hawk-moth has a proboscis which it uses to suck nectar from plants. Scientists do not believe these moths evolved to look like hummingbirds as a defence mechanism but because that they both have similar demands and have therefore developed similar characteristics to fulfil those demands.

Sussex emerald moth

Sussex emerald moth image

A master of disguise, the Sussex emerald moth is almost indistinguishable against a backdrop of green. In Britain it is only found in two sites but it is present throughout Europe and the western edges of Asia. Adults are nocturnal and active between July and August, with the larvae beginning to appear towards the end of August. The larvae then enter a period of hibernation throughout the winter, re-emerging around the beginning of June the following year.

Death’s-head hawkmoth

Death’s-head hawkmoth image

The death’s-head hawkmoth has an impressive name for an impressive creature. Capable of raiding bee hives, the well adapted dead head hawk-moth has a thick cuticle to protect it from stings, is believed to have some resistance to the honey bee venom and its proboscis is short and pointed to easily pierce the walls of the honey cells. It also produces a high pitched squeak, which is thought to be a mimic of the sound made by the queen bee which causes the workers to freeze. Once it begins sucking up the honey though it has a limited time to escape because the honey clogs it up resulting it only being able to make a clicking sounds as opposed to the high pitched squeal for the next five or so hours.

Dark bordered beauty moth

Dark bordered beauty moth image

Found in a number of sites throughout the UK, the dark bordered beauty moth is actually only present between July and August despite its autumnal colourings. Interestingly larvae from different colonies around the UK will feed on different plants. For instance those found in Scotland mainly eat Short Aspen, whereas those found in England primarily eat Creeping Willow. From egg to adult they live for only about a year and around nine months of that is spent wintering as an egg.

Emperor moth

Emperor moth image

A fitting name for this magnificent creature, the emperor moth is a hardy insect despite its delicate and beautiful exterior, with adults surviving for a couple of months without ever eating. Male emperor moths spend their days flying around searching out a mate while females spend the days resting and waiting. Once impregnated, the females will wait until nightfall before setting out to search of suitable sites on which to lay their eggs. To increase the survival chances of their offspring the female will lay her eggs in multiple sites. Thankfully this beautiful animal is common throughout the whole of the British Isles.

Oleander hawk-moth

Oleander hawk-moth image

This rare migrant species is a special visitor to the British Isles not always being recorded.  Whilst the adult is sometimes recorded in the British Isles, the larvae of the oleander hawk-moth has never been recorded in the British Isles. It is an elegant moth covered in fur with beautiful decoration on its wings and thorax.

Small lappet moth

Small lappet moth

The brilliantly camouflaged small lappet moth is sadly now believed to possibly be extinct in the British Isles, but is still doing well in mainland Europe. It would not be surprising though if it was just being missed due to its superb camouflage which allows it to blend in with rough bark and dead leaves. Not only are its colourings perfect for camouflage but the shape of its body and wings render it almost unrecognisable amongst its habitat.

Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth

Narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth

You would be forgiven for mistaking the narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth for a bumblebee if it were to fly past you, especially as it even behaves like a bumblebee feeding on the nectar of flowers. Its resemblance to a bumblebee gives it added protection from predators as bees are not the choice diet of most predators. Only living for about a month between mid-May and mid-June, the larvae become pupae around the end of August and overwinter that way until emerging again as narrow-bordered bee hawk-moths.

Fiery clearwing moth

Fiery clearwing moth image

The rarest of the clearwing family, the fiery clearwing moth closely resembles a parasitic wasp. Like many other moths it uses this mimicry as a defence mechanism against predation. Unusually the males of this species are a little smaller than the females. The fiery clearwing moth is now restricted to the Kent coast with southern England marking the northernmost extent of their territory.

Scarce merveille du jour moth

Scarce merveille du jour moth image

Completing its life cycle within one year, the Scarce merveille du jour moth is very well adapted to blend in amongst lichen, as shown in the picture above. The larvae mainly eat oak before turning into pupae ready for winter. Found in deciduous woodland of south-eastern England and much of mainland Europe, the furthest extent of its range is parts of Sweden.

Do you love moths? Do you want to get involved in Moth Night? Find out about a public event happening near you here.

Max Sargent

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