Moths are often described as the dull cousins of colour butterflies, but nothing could be further from the truth. The UK boasts around 2,500 moth species, exhibiting a stunning array of colours, sizes, patterns, and intricate markings, along with diverse and remarkable ecologies. Their sheer diversity is truly astonishing.

Take the humming-bird hawk-moth, it is a beautiful day-flying moth. Its hovering flight is a distinguishing feature; it flutters its wings so quickly that it can appear orange and makes an audible hum. It uses a long feeding tube for sucking nectar out of pollen-rich plants. Due to the warmer autumns and winters, we are seeing earlier sightings of this moth, suggesting it maybe becoming resident here in the UK.

Interestingly, several of our moths are named after their caterpillars: the lobster moth and the elephant hawk-moth are good examples. They are reminders of a time before modern light traps made it easier to find the adults and searching out larvae was the main means of recording moths.

Not all moths are night flyers. Like the hummingbird hawk moth several species are diurnal and fly mainly during the day. One of the most common day-flying moths is the stunning six-spot burnet. These are beautiful insects but are poisonous to anything wanting to eat it. Like butterflies a lot of moths drink the sugary nectar from flowers and feed on sweet tree sap.

 Unfortunately, like butterflies, moths have suffered a widespread decline. We have lost around 40% of our total moths, and since 2000 we have gained several dozen new moth species, colonising over from the continent. 

But why does this matter?

Moths are hugely important in the ecosystem. They are vital pollinators, with several plant groups relying solely on moths for pollination. Some moths are more mobile even than bees and can carry pollen further, allowing plants to spread far and wide.  

For many animals, moths are also a crucial food source. Night flying moths are a favourite food of bats, while moth caterpillars provide sustenance for the growing chicks of robins, blackbirds and wrens.  

The decline in moths has negatively impacted other species. Reduced bat numbers over farmland, for example, is linked to reduced moth numbers caused by intensive farming and increased use of pesticides and herbicides.  

 Ultimately this highlights wider environmental damage caused by our impact on the natural world. Moths play vital roles within food chains, being food for birds, bats and mammals and being an important pollinator of plants. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation caused by urbanisation and intensive agriculture are linked closely to the decline.

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust regularly monitors moth species on its nature reserves to determine the presence of rare or declining species.