Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Planting For Moths And Other Pollinators, Illustrated With Moth Pictures From Last Year

Regular Countryside Tales readers will know that I have a huge soft spot for moths and that, during the summer months last year, I regularly ran a moth light box here in our garden in Hampshire, with the result that we recorded over 300 individual moth species. Here are a few below....

Beautiful Golden Y

Elephant Hawk-moth

Swallow Prominent

White Ermine

This year, I have resolved to make the garden even more wildlife friendly, paying particular attention to our night-time pollinator friends. Someone said to me last year that the best way to appreciate the importance of moths is to think of them as doing the work that bees and butterflies do during the day, only moths do that work at night.

Here are a few moth-related facts that you may not know:

1. Moths are not all small and brown. Some are half the size of your hand (Poplar Hawk-Moths), some are bright pink and green striped (Elephant Hawk-Moth), some are the colour of fresh green grass (Emerald moth), some look exactly like twigs (Buff-Tip) and others are bright yellow (canary-shouldered thorn).

Poplar Hawk-moth
Ele Hawk

Canary-shouldered Thorn


2. There are over 2500 species of British moth, but fewer than 70 British butterfly species.

3. Moths are drawn to white flowers in particular because they can see them more easily at night.

4. Night-scented flowers like Nicotiana, Jasmine and honeysuckle have evolved to be night-scented specifically to attract moths.

5. Some moths species migrate over enormous distances to reach our shores. For example, the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (whose arrival here on the 2nd of August last year caused near-hysteria in my house -well, for me anyway), may well have flown all the way from North Africa.

Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, at home, summer 2013

   6. Not all moths are nocturnal. Some, such as the Silver Y, fly during the day.

Silver Y, at home, summer 2013

7. Moths like native trees, plants and flowers, and their caterpillars like native grasses. All the pillar people below were found in our garden last year, and you can bet they are probably in yours too if you are UK based, as all these moths are regular garden visitors here.

Buff-Tip Caterpillar

Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

8. Moths can be attracted to light, to sugar, to nectar and to alcohol.

Ruby Tiger

White Plume Moth

Blood Vein

9. Some adult moths, such as the Poplar hawks, have no mouths and therefore do not feed when in the adult state.

10. Moths don't breath in the same way humans do. They have no lungs, instead they have 'spiracles' which are tiny holes in the side of their bodies.

Black Arches


Scarlet Tiger

Bird-Cherry Ermine

11. Most moth species have two broods a year. Older moths look 'moth-eared' and tatty.

Lobster Moth

Pale Tussock

Pebble Hook-tip

Peppered Moth
 12. There are moths flying all year round, although fewer species are about during the winter. 

The Chocolate Tip is an Autumn moth

Bird's Wing

Buff Arches

Burnished Brass

13. Different moths hatch out at different times of the year. The Sallows, for example, look like autumn leaves and come out in the Autumn, as do the Thorns.

Purple Thorn

14. Moth numbers have declined sharply in recent years, which is not only bad news for them, but for all the other species that rely on them for food, including us! BUT there is plenty we can do to help them, and adding moth-friendly plants to your garden is a simple way to make a really big difference. There will be hundreds of moths in your garden over the year, regardless of whether you live in the town or countryside. Try going out at night with a white sheet and a torch and see who comes to land on it. You could easily get any of the following- in fact, this Privet Hawk-Moth came down to the sheet and torch trick within 5 minutes of us putting it out.

Privet Hawk-Moth



Silver-Green Lines

The Flame (looks just like a face, no?)

Garden Tiger Moth

Pebble Hook-Tip

Peach Blossom

Swallow Tail

Plants to put in your garden to attract and support moths

Spring-Flowering For Nectar:
Aubretia, bluebell, clover, cuckooflower, daisy, dandelion, forget-me-not, honesty, pansy, primrose, sweet rocket, wall flower

Late Summer/ Autumn Flowering for Nectar:
White buddleia, french marigold, knapweed, lavender, marjoram, michaelmas daisy, mint, red valerian, scabious, thyme (and for Oct/Nov flowering Ivy).

Jasmine, honeysuckle, evening primrose, sweet rocket, night-scented stock, Nicotiana alata (other varieties are no good for moths- either low nectar content or the petal shapes prevent them getting at it).

Moth Caterpillar Food Plants:
Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Barberry, Spindle, Beech, Oak, Birch, Apple, Privet, Plum, Cherry, Currant, Rose, Clematis, Native Honeysuckle (Lonicera), Hop, Ivy.

Yellow Tail

Rosy Footman

True Lover's Knot

White Ermine

Leopard Moth

Clearwing Hornet Moth

Other Useful Tips:
Leave native grasses long, both as food sources and places to shelter, also for the pupas. Moths and their caterpillars also need docks, plantain, bramble, dandelions, nettles, bedstraw, foxglove, primrose, thyme, mullein, saxifrage, verbascum, knapweeds and the elephant hawk-moth likes fuchsias.
Allow hedges to grow a little longer if possible and also leave a patch in the garden with leaves/ long grasses etc over winter so they have somewhere to hibernate. Try not to use pesticides as these kills moths very quickly.

If you particularly want to get Hummingbird Hawk-Moths in your garden, their food plants include phlox, jasmine, petunia, buddleia, viper's bugloss, red valerian, honeysuckle, lilac, and (in our garden last year) runner bean flowers.
They have excellent memories and will return to the same plant day after day. Their pillars like lady's bedstraw, hedge bedstraw and wild madder. 

Most of these plants will also bring butterflies into your garden, so you'll be helping all these fantastic creatures in one go (not to forget bees as well of course :-) )....

Ringlet, at home

Chalkhill Blue on Magdalen Hill, Winchester

Chalkhill Blue at Magdalen

Common Blue, Mottisfont

Painted Lady, Devon

Peacock, Devon

Red Admiral, at home

Small Tortoiseshell, Ampfield Woods, Romsey

Speckled Wood at Ampfield

Wall Brown, Devon

High Brown Fritillary, Mottisfont
Brimstone, at home, summer 2013

I really hope that's inspired you to add even one moth-friendly plant to your garden. It doesn't matter how small or large your plot is, changing the plants around will bring different insects to your garden and it will make a difference to their survival. I've finally managed to locate a White Buddleia, which I've been after all winter. It's a patio variety and as such it will sit in a small space but it will be great for the moths and butterflies, and I know we'll see lots of insects using it this year.

If I've inspired you to get a moth box and start trapping for yourself this summer (I always pot the moths first thing, remembering to put them somewhere cool out of direct sunlight, then let them go as night falls once I've recorded them) I'd really love to hear how you get on. 

I'll leave you with one of my all-time favourite moths, and one which sends many moth'ers into paroxysms of joy when it finally turns up in the autumn. The beautiful and aptly named Merveille Du Jour (which I know many of you will have already seen, as I remember doing a slightly mad post when it did finally arrive here. I also know many of you already garden for wildlife so I hope you'll forgive any teaching-to-suck-eggs aspects of this post!)...

Well, I don't know about you all, but I'm about ready for summer to get here now, having looked at all of these beautiful creatures again. I've also just turned round and discovered a very small moth sitting on the window behind me, so perhaps the moth world is putting its seal of approval on this post!

Wishing you all a good evening,

CT x


  1. Hi CT What a wonderful post with a fantastic selection of moths adn butterflies. You know I am not into moths but I do love to see them in blogs and I look forward to better weather when the moths would appear again.

    1. Thanks Margaret :-) Hopefully, we'll get more new species this year.

  2. Well, I am all Springed- Up now, having viewed that plethora of colourful sunny photos! Marvellous stuff, as always. And I should like to report that the MMM honeysuckle put on massive growth last year and has new leaf buds sprouting already for this year. Bring on the moth people!

    1. Me too! Come on Spring! Hurry up!

      Excellent news about the MMM HS (see what I did there?). It's a torch and a white sheet for you (and not in a Halloween scary sort of way). xx

  3. Well I just hope we have another beautiful moth filled summer. Black Arches, my night time office companion, I remember him well.

    1. Oh yes! I'd forgotten you had a Black Arches too- and others, I seem to remember? I think you must live in Moth Valley. Hopefully, there'll be plenty more to work out IDs for this summer :-)

  4. What a great post and a reminder of what you got up to last summer-which seems so far off now as I sit inside with another storm going on.
    I had lots of moths in the garden at night and my white buddleia was a real magnet for both moths and butterflies.
    You have certainly made me more interested in moths although I like all creatures and am always delighted to find my garden is a home for something.
    Still squealed with delight at the sight of the furry lobster moth and the yellow tail, but they are all spectacular creatures.

    1. I remember your white buddleia doing well so hope ours does too. Yes, another storm here too and it took me nearly an hour to get back from college as various roads were flooded and closed. I don't think I'll be able to see a furry moth now without thinking of you! :-)

  5. A really great post CT with some wonderful photos. You did trap some tremendous moths last year :) Pleased to say that we have many of the trees,shrubs and flowers in the garden so perhaps I'll get a few more moths this year :) Interesting to read about the white buddleia as we have one of those at the top of the garden. Next year I'll try trapping up there rather than on the patio as there are a lot of wild flowers and grasses in that area too.

    Still putting up with the laptop - the desk top seems completely kn*ck*r*d. Husband had a look at it last night and I've certainly lost the last 18 months of word and excel docs :( Hopefully, all the photos are safely backed up elsewhere. We'll have to make a decision as to what to do. Thanks for suggestion re: memory stick - we have several lying around. I also think there's a lead with the camera that connects camera to laptop which I used once before in an "emergency". It took a long time but I did manage to do a post that way.

    1. It's going to be interesting to see how this year differs, if at all, in terms of which moths we get and how many. I am really interested in introducing new plants and recording what effect that has.
      What a pain about your computer- and losing all that work! Is that wildlife records on excel? Hopefully not.

  6. A wonderful post, CT and one I'll keep referring to when I'm buying flowers. You saw some lovely moths last year and took some fabulous photos of them and the butterflies. I'm keen to have as many as possible of both in my garden this year. I was thrilled to see the Privet Hawk-Moth last year and I would be over the moon i.e. hugely excited to see a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth again as well.

    1. Thanks Wendy. I also found your post on bee plants really useful, and of course many of them overlap which is great. I too am hoping to see another Hummingbird Hawk-moth- apparently, they are becoming more prevalent in the UK and as such are an indicator species for climate change. I'd be fascinated to hear how you get on moth-wise this year too.

  7. I have just found this wonderful post via Blue Borage`s recommendation.

    Fantastic moth photos. Isn`t that Merveille du Jour a stunner?

    We have already have some of the moth ( and butterfly) friendly plants here but now I have some more ideas - thank you!

    1. Thanks DW. Yes, the MDJ is a spectacular moth and one that causes a stir on various blogs when it starts to arrive :-)
      I'd be very interested to hear how you get on with moths in the garden if you record them.

  8. I obviously missed this one somewhere along the way - alongside many more that maybe sometime I will catch up with! A great mothy overview! Of course fantastic photos as well! We already have quite a few of those plants in the garden, so I shall make a point of doing some white sheet torch survey things this year! I hope you are well :) x

    1. The white sheet and torch trick is really worth trying- we got several interesting species that way last year.
      All well here, hope all well with you and your mum too, honey x


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x