Us Brits like an underdog, don’t we? It’s one of our most admirable traits, I think. So when it comes to moths, it surprises me that many misunderstand this quietly marvellous insect.
I personally think moths are far more glamorous than butterflies, in a humble, unshowy way. Anyone who has seen elephant hawk moths in their garden in neon green and pink, cinnabars in stylish black and red, more unusual puss or ermines that look like they’re dressed to impress in full fur coats, or even wonderfully-named canary-shouldered thorns in brilliant yellow fur, will know of their astonishing beauty.
And they’re also vital to our ecosystems, as pollinators and food for animals. Declines in bat numbers among others have been attributed to moth numbers falling, so we should do our bit to bring moths into our gardens. Among many other uses they have, they’re one of our best ‘indicator’ species. That is, they’re found in such a wide variety of habitats that they’ll be sensitive to changes; scientists can monitor the environment itself by monitoring them, much like canaries in mines were used.
So, what’s the difference between moths and butterflies? Not a lot – though more moths fly by night than by day, have feathered antennae, and most rest with their wings flat to their back as opposed to upright. These sizeable wings camouflage and protect the insect underneath.
Us gardeners can leave old plants and leaf litter in set-aside corners to shelter them, grow plenty of nectar plants with strong scent, particularly at night, such as evening primrose or night stocks. A garden with trees and a wide range of herbaceous plants will feed their caterpillars. Elephant hawks just love fuchsias, too!