||In order to have populations of adult moths
there has to be sufficient food for the caterpillars to grow and complete their
development. Although a few moth species have caterpillars which feed on inconvenient
things such as clothes, the great majority feed on plants.
Some moth caterpillars have very particular requirements and will only feed on
one type of plant, while others are less restricted and will feed on a number of different
The adults of most species of moths feed on
nectar. However, there are exceptions. The adults of moths such as emperors and eggars, as
well as the winter-flying species, do not feed at all. One usually expects to find the
adult moths in the same general vicinity as the caterpillar food plants. While this is not
always true, it is often the case, either because the moths have recently emerged, or
because the females are egg-laying on the caterpillar food plants.
Many plant species will support moth caterpillars of one
type or another. Some, including oaks, may support a great variety of different moths,
while others such as the poisonous ragwort, may have only a few species associated with
them. In general, the more different plant species there are in an area, the greater the
number of moth species which are likely to be found. This is a result of the variety of
food plants available.
The Woodland Education Centre contains a great diversity of
habitats within a relatively small area. The resulting wide range of plant species
available gives rise to a diverse moth fauna. Thus, many species (178), characteristic of
a range of different habitat types, were trapped over the weekend of the Mothathon.
||Moths trapped which were linked to aquatic
habitats included the Bulrush Wainscot and the Brown China-mark moth. The food plant of
the Bulrush Wainscot is reedmace (left). The caterpillar lives inside the stems of the reedmace.
Brown China-mark moths are one of the few
moth species to have a caterpillar with an aquatic lifestyle. The caterpillars live
underwater, in carefully constructed envelopes made out of the leaves of plants such as
water lilies, which they also feed on.
The Centre has a great
variety of semi-aquatic habitats favouring trees such as willows and Alder. Willows
support a staggering number of invertebrate species (over 400). Many of these are moths
such as the Vapourer (caterpillar left).
which was the second most dominant species found during the Mothathon, has caterpillars
which will feed on willow. Other examples include Large Emerald and the Poplar Hawk-moth.
Alder also supports a variety of the moths which were trapped, including Bordered Beauty
and Scallop Shell.
The coniferous trees at the Centre provide food for the
caterpillars of Barred Red, Tawny-barred Angle and Black Arches. The Black Arches
caterpillars are not too fussy over their food plants and will also feed on deciduous
trees such as oaks. This obviously contributed to the predominance of this species in the
catch over the weekend.
||Broadleaf woodlands at the Centre include
areas of oak, beech and birch which provide food for many of the 'prominents' including
the Lesser Swallow, Pale and Coxcomb Prominent (left).
(The prominents are so named because of the 'bump' or 'prominence' which can be
seen in the middle of the folded wings.)
provides an unusual and interesting departure from the norm, in having caterpillars which
not only feed on oak and birch, but which are also predacious, attacking the caterpillars
of other species.
||Caterpillars of the Footman moths, which were
so common in the traps over the Mothathon weekend, feed on lichens on the trunks of the
trees, as do those of the Beautiful Hook-tip.
Rosy Footman (left)
The caterpillars of Small Fan-footed Wave,
another quite common species in the traps, make use of a slightly different resource,
feeding on fallen decaying leaves in the woodland, as well as on grasses and other low
Many types of woodland include a great variety of plants
other than trees. Clearings, paths, rides and the more open areas of woodland will all
have a range of low growing herbs and shrubs. These provide additional
food plants for a host of other species.
Raspberry support 'Peach Blossom' (left) and Buff Arches (page top).
Nettles provide food for the Snout, Mother
of Pearl and Yellow Shell. A variety of grasses are eaten by Straw Dot, Common Rustic and
The Clay, while Willowherbs provide food for the caterpillars of Small Phoenix and
Wainscot which was trapped was a slightly unusual record, in that this
species is normally associated with coastal habitats. However, there are a few records of
this species from inland areas and the Centre is only 5 miles from the coast. The
weather around this time was also very windy which would have favoured its dispersal
inland. This illustrates another point, which is that moths are not always found where
they have emerged and can travel long distances, both flying and blown on the wind.
Some species, such as Dark Sword-grass and Silver Y,