As the temperature drops at this time of year it can be quite hard to spot many insects however there are several species of moth which thrive during the winter months. Although moths are often thought of as just being slightly duller, nocturnal relatives of butterflies this really isn’t the case. There are only 59 butterfly species breeding in Britain as opposed to around 900 large (macro-) and 1550 or so species of micro-moths.
They are often brightly coloured, strikingly patterned and brilliantly named (although not always - some of the examples here are a bit obvious but there are, for example: Footmen, Quakers, Wainscots, Brindles, Lutestrings, Brocades, Pugs and Kittens as well as the Suspected, Uncertain and Confused).
The appropriately named Winter Moth is one of the species most active as an adult at this time of year - in common with many winter-flying moths they lay their eggs to overwinter in sheltered spots so that the caterpillars are able to emerge in the warmer days of spring. The flightless female attracts the male by crawling up tree trunks at dusk and emitting alluring pheromones. After mating the eggs are laid in cracks in the bark in readiness for spring. The caterpillars provide a food source for the young of both Great and Blue Tits who time their breeding to coincide with this abundance - a single brood of Blue Tits can eat up to 10,000 caterpillars!
The equally aptly named December Moth is also on the wing with its thickly furred body offering protection against the colder weather and you may also see Red-green Carpet Moths with attractive green, red-flecked wings, although they are more common in October.
Other moths that have their main or only flight period at this time of year include the beautifully coloured Black Rustic with velvet-black forewings contrasting with white hindwings and the reddish-brown Feathered Thorn, resembling an autumnal leaf.
You might also come across The Sprawler (looking like its wearing a shaggy fur coat), Mottled and Scarce Umbers, The Satellite, The Chestnut and perhaps catch an early sighting of the Spring Usher. It’s also worth checking in dark, dry spaces like sheds to see whether there are any hibernating moths as it’s always special to come across something as spectacular as a communal roost of The Herald, one of the first species to be seen flying in the New Year.
Moths are just one of many, many species being affected by climate change with some, like the Garden Tiger being in serious decline. Others are having their ranges altered, spreading north in search of cooler temperatures (although this is a problem for our more northerly moths). Changing climate also negatively affects the delicate balance of spring hatching, plant emergence, caterpillar abundance and birds breeding and fledging - if this balance is altered too much it could have disastrous consequences for a large number of our precious native species.