I have a bit of a confession to make. Moths used to really give me the willies.
In fact, if I’m completely honest, they’re still not my favourite beastie. But the thing about working for a conservation charity like the RSPB, is that I can’t really avoid them. So like those giant spiders that suddenly appear indoors in September (eek!) I’ve had to find a way to live with them.
But I think it’s probably fair to say that I’m not alone in my moth aversion; lots of people seem to have a rather ambiguous attitude towards them. Unlike the butterflies that we welcome to our gardens, moths are seen as cloth-eaters, and share the same shady world of nocturnal fear that we ascribe to bats (which of course eat moths, as do spiders, frogs, toads and even owls).
Maybe it’s the fluttering thing, or their fuzzy bodies and weird faces that have us shooing them out whenever they come indoors, or hiding under the duvet when you end up with one clattering inside your light shade.
But moths are harmless creatures in their adult form. It’s the grubs that eat clothes, and only a tiny, tiny percentage of the 2,500 species we have in the UK do that, the rest of them preferring leaves, lichens, wood and even other caterpillars. Many adult moths don’t feed at all, and don’t even have a mouth, though a few specialists drink nectar from night-flowering plants like honeysuckle. It’s why mothers (that’s moth-ers) use a sweet mixture to attract them for study, often called ‘treacling’.
Garden tiger moth
If you’d like to face your moth terror, then it’s a good idea to go along to one of these moth treacling sessions, or any sort of organised moth-trapping event. I’ve been several times now, and I would definitely say that my attitude towards moths has veered away from fear towards fascination.
When the moths come out of the trap, they’re sleepy (well, they’ve been up all night!) so they’re not fluttering about in the way so many people find freaky. And the colours of them! Wow. You can look at pictures, you can watch nature programmes on TV, but until you’ve been eyeball to mothy-eyeball with an elephant hawk-moth, or a garden tiger, nothing can quite describe how beautiful they are.
They’re like cartoons almost, every bit as colourful as tropical birds. And they’re in your garden. And you’re hiding from them under the duvet…
So if you want some advice this summer, while most moths are flying, get yourself along to a moth event. And maybe next time when you see a moth head-butting your window, instead of running away, you’ll be grabbing your moth book and trying to figure out what it is.
All pics by Jenny Tweedie