There are 59 species of butterfly in the UK and we’re all familiar with at least some of them. But did you know that there are around a staggering 2500 different types of moth? When it comes to pollinating, they’re the night shift, largely unseen, and they vastly outnumber their more well-known daytime cousins. They are generally divided into “micros”, many of which are less than 1cm long, and “macros”, the largest of which, the hawk-moths, can have a wing-span of 10cms.
Like everything else in the balance of nature, each species has a particular niche, i.e. habitat, season, food, etc. Moths, like butterflies, lay eggs which hatch into larvae (caterpillars). These often need a specific plant on which to feed, therefore the national distribution of each moth matches that of its food-plant. Some are common and widespread, but others are very rare, e.g. the netted mountain moth, which is totally reliant on bearberry and is found only in the Cairngorms.
So as there’s a good variety of different plants and trees around the Loch, there should be a wide range of moths. The best way to discover what’s there is to run a moth trap.
Let me just say here that no moths are harmed during the trapping process. They’re attracted by the lights, find their way down into the box from where it’s hard to escape, and so settle down to sleep amongst the egg-trays. They’re usually still slumbering the next morning when I can go through them at my leisure before setting them free again.
Moths have some very imaginative names, given to them by early naturalists: rosy footman, conformist, three-humped prominent, uncertain (because it’s hard to identify), lilac beauty, Mother Shipton (the pattern on its wings resembles a 16th Century Yorkshire witch), to mention but a few. Here are some I’ve caught at the Centre over the last few weeks.
Elephant Hawk-moth - called because the caterpillar looks like an elephant’s trunk (not quite as large though!)
Beautiful Golden Y – if you stretch your imagination, the left-hand white mark resembles the letter Y....
In other news, at the western end of the loch the great crested grebes have three young. Meanwhile the shier little grebes are keeping out of sight. If you hear a loud, high-pitched, horse-like whinnying down there, that’s them calling. I suspect there’s a nest there somewhere. Until next time!