Butterflies are overrated, there are just 59 species that breed in the British isles and 19 of those are relatively dull brown and not much to look at. Don’t get me wrong, I love butterflies, there are many beautiful species, and they do have very interesting life cycles, but people pay them far too much attention and in doing so miss out on a gold-mine of Lepidoptera species – Moths.
There is no biological difference between a moth and a butterfly, they are both categorised within the Lepidoptera, any differences in outward appearance are due to adaptations to lifestyle. Some moths are largely nocturnal and so are given the tools they need to live in the dark – large feather-like antennae, insulating hair on their bodies and camouflaged wings to protect them while they sleep during the day. Butterflies, and many moths are brightly coloured to signal both to each other and to predators during the day, and butterflies often have large wings to aid in absorbing the suns heat.
You may not believe me, but moths are beautiful – if you can be bothered to actually have a close look you will see that nearly all the day-flying moths rival the butterflies for colour and pattern, and even the night-flying ones are by no means drab. There are moths with blue, red, orange, copper and yellow underwings, there are bright grass-green moths and ones with striking black and white patterns, there are moths with peacock-like eye-spots, and ones coloured a dainty rose or cream. Some are patterned and coloured like Persian rugs, some look more like twigs or bird-droppings than animals, there is a moth speckled black and red on a white background and even moths with clear, wasp-like wings. The best of the bunch are the hawkmoths – these are the largest and most impressive with thick furry bodies and brightly coloured, oddly shaped wings – one species closely resembles a hummingbird and was named after it’s avian counterpart.
Another great thing about moths is their names; ever wanted to see a Coxcomb Prominent? or a Bordered Gothic? what about a Buttoned Snout, or Canary-shouldered Thorn, or Chinese Character, or Clifden nonpareil, or a Lettuce Shark? Fancy a Merveille du jour or Vapourer or Streaked Plusia? I’m not sure about the Suspected though.
I will admit that there are many moth species that are overall rather drab and browny-grey, but it is not their fault, they need to be dull to avoid being eaten during the day, and what’s the use of colour when you only come out at night? Yet even the brown ones have complex and pretty patterns and shapes embroidered into their wings that make up somewhat for the lack of primary colours. The best thing about moths though is that there are masses of them, not just in terms of populations but there are around 880 larger species in Britain and you can more than double that figure if you include the tiny ones.
I encourage you to notice these neglected but important animals that flutter at your windows, buy a light trap to capture them alive so you can see for yourself the diversity and beauty of moths, if you can’t afford one then search for your local moth group (trust me there will be one!) to find out when a moth trapping event is taking place near you or if you are really lazy then at least leave your toilet window open and the light on and have a look in the morning for any moths that have strayed in!