Moth Night: what and when it is, how to take part, and which species to target

Celebrate moths and submit your sightings in this annual recording event. This year's theme focusses on moths found in reedbeds and wetlands.

Scarlet tiger moth. © Bob Eade

As we all connected more with nature during 2020, there was a surge in interest in moth trapping – the act of catching, identifying and releasing moths, usually using a very bright white light and a box. Data suggests a rise of around a third in the numbers of people submitting sightings, and a 50% rise in sales of moth traps. Although moth traps are a good way to attract and catch insects, there are some other methods for doing so, which are detailed below and on the Moth Night website.

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“Mothing is an ideal garden-based activity,” says Mark Tunmore, the founder of Moth Night and editor of the journal Atropos. “So it is no surprise there was increasing interest in these fascinating species as people enjoyed connecting with nature during the lockdowns over the past year. Running a moth-trap provides the constant potential for a surprise and a source of wonder for children.”

There are around 2,500 species of moths in Britain, split into two groups – macro (larger) and micro (smaller). Of the former, there are around 900 species and of the latter, about 1,600 species.

What is Moth Night?

Moth Night is an annual celebration of moth recording in Britain and Ireland. There is a different theme and date each year.

This recording event is organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH).

Normally there would be public events taking place, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are only a limited number taking place.

There are several prizes available to those taking part, more information is available on the Moth Night website:

    • Random draw for 10 participants who submit data
    • Best record of a migrant moth species
    • The recorder who records the highest number of macro-species from a reedbed / wetland site
    • The recorder who records the highest number of macro-species from a non-reedbed / wetland site
    • The recorder who records the highest number of macro-moth species trapped in a garden trap (as a percentage of county total)
    • Photographic competition

This year’s date and theme

This year, Moth Night runs between 8 and 10 July 2021, and focusses on the moth species found in reedbeds and wetlands.

“Moths and wetlands have a lot in common, for they are both important for a variety of wildlife but are both under-appreciated and under threat,” says Dr Richard Fox from Butterfly Conservation.

Moths are important pollinators for wildflowers, and they and their caterpillars are also a vital source of food for birds, bats and many other creatures. Moths have a reputation for targeting people’s wardrobes but only two common species – out of 2,500 in this country – cause damage to fabrics.”

Previous themes of Moth Night have included:

  • Red underwings
  • Clifden nonpareil moth
  • Pyralid moths
  • Moths on flowering ivy

Which species might be found during Moth Night?

We have shared some of the species you might find in reedbeds and wetlands. The Moth Night website shares which other common moth species may be seen during the event.

The What’s Flying Tonight app by UKCEH is another useful tool, which uses the date and your location to show which species may be flying.

Reed dagger moth (Simyra albovenosa)

Reed dagger moth. © Dave Green
Reed dagger moth. © Dave Green

Fenn’s wainscot moth (Protarchanara brevilinea)

Fenn's wainscot moth. © Keith Tailby
Fenn’s wainscot moth. © Keith Tailby

Beautiful China-mark moth (Nymphula nitidulata)

Beautiful China-mark moth. © Iain Leach
Beautiful China-mark moth. © Iain Leach

Brown China-mark moth (Elophila nymphaeata)

Brown China-mark moth. © Ann Collier
Brown China-mark moth. © Ann Collier

Common wainscot moth (Mythimna pallens)

Common wainscot moth. © Ann Collier
Common wainscot moth. © Ann Collier

Scarlet tiger moth (Callimorpha dominula)

Scarlet tiger moth. © Bob Eade
Scarlet tiger moth. © Bob Eade

How to attract moths

Across the UK moth-traps and bedding plants will be deployed by thousands of people keen to see the amazing variety of moths that visit our shores or live year-round in our gardens and countryside.

Most moths have a well-known attraction to light so put out a moth trap, string up a white sheet, or simply leave an outside light on to attract them.

Some with more colourful tastes, can be lured in for a closer look with ropes soaked in alcohol, and the heady scent of the tobacco plant, Nicotiana.

How to submit your Moth Night sightings

Although there is a theme for Moth Night, all records of moths are welcome to be submitted for the event via the Moth Night website.

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“Moths are an integral part of ecosystems and are excellent indicators of biodiversity and quality of habitats,” says Dr David Roy of UKCEH. “By submitting more records, the public is improving scientists’ understanding of the impacts of environmental changes on moth populations and also British wildlife. This then provides the necessary evidence to inform conservation action to protect habitats, and the species they support.”