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Kent. UK.
Tel. 01227 730242

General Information about Butterflies and Moths


    Butterflies and moths go through four distinct stages in their life cycle - egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterly/moth. Most butterflies take a year to complete this life cycle whilst others may produce two or three generations between spring and autumn.

    Eggs are laid on or underneath the foodplants relevant to that particular species. When the caterpillar emerges it will then feast on its host plant. Caterpillars are tiny when they first emerge but grow rapidly and shed their skin several times before they pupate into a chrysalis. Some species of moth caterpillar will eat the flowers, fruits or roots of its food plant, as well as the leaves.

    The chrysalis is well camouflaged to protect them from predators, resembling leaves or bird droppings - except for those that are protected by ants in their nests. The caterpillar of some moth species can take years to develop but most only take a few weeks.

    Once the adult butterfly/moth emerges from the chrysalis it must warm up and inflate its wings, its body temperature must reach 32 degrees C. The male's main purpose in life is to mate with as many females as possible, and the female's is to mate soon after emerging from the chrysalis and then avoid males and find places to lay her eggs. Some male moths will mate before the female has even dried her wings, some will locate where the female cocoons are and simply wait for them to emerge. Female moths emit pheromones which male moths detect through their antennae. In some species, such as the Belted Beauty, the female moth has no wings at all and does not move far from her pupa case. Moths can live for a few days to a few weeks, unless they hibernate through winter. They feed on nectar, the same as butterflies, but some short-lived moths do not feed at all.

    The life-cycles of moths are carefully synchronised with those of their food-plants, so that the caterpillars hatch when food is in plentiful supply. Birds rely on caterpillars as food for their young, so time their breeding to coincide with the moths' life-cycles.


    Moths and butterflies are of the taxanomic order Lepidoptera. Around 2500 species of moth have been recorded in the British Isles. The main difference between the two is that british butterflies have clubbed antennae - moths have many varieties of antennae. None , except for burnet moths, have clubbed antennae (burnet moths can be distinguished from butterflies because they have slender wings which they hold close to their bodies, butterflies do not).


    Some species of butterfly and moth fly thousands of miles, eg Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Clouded Yellow butterflies and Hummingbird Hawk and Silver Y moths which appear every year in Britain from southern Europe and Africa.


    Hesperiidae : Skippers - Small and lively with broad hairy bodies and a large gap between the base of the two antennae.

    Papilionidae: Swallowtails - large with wing tails. Only one species in the UK.

    Pieridae: Whites and yellows

    Lycaenidae: Coppers, hairstreaks and blues - around a third of the world's butterfly species belong to this group. Small, flighty butterflies with a metallic sheen to their wings. Many are cared for by ants when they are caterpillars.

    Riodinidae: Metalmarks - only the Duke of Burgundy in this family resides in the UK.

    Nymphalidae: Brush- or four-footed - these butterflies walk on their back two pairs of legs only, the front pair being vestigial. Family included emperors, admirals, bvanessids, fritillaries, browns and the Monarch.


    These are more complex than the butterfly families. Briefly, they consist of the following:

    Hepialidae - Swift moths

    Zygaenidae - Forester and burnet moths



    Sesiida - Clearwings

    Lasiocampidae - Eggar moths

    Saturniidae - Emperor moths

    Drepanidae - Hook-tips

    Geometridae - Mochas, waves, carpets, pugs, thorns, beauties, umbers


    Sphingidae - Hawkmoths

    Notodontidae - Prominent and kitten moths

    Lymantriidae - Tussock moths

    Arctiidae - Footman, tigers, ermines

    Noctuidae - Darts, underwings and clays, brocades, quakers, leaf-eating wainscots, sharks, shoulder-knots, chestnuts, sallows, daggers, beauties, arches, brindles, minors, rustics, silver and gold Y's, brasses, Clifden nonpareil, snouts and fanfoots


    Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 5 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 deals with the protection of British butterflies and moths. It is illegal to catch, handle or harm the following species (eggs, caterpillar, chrysalis, adults). It is also illegal to net them even if you let them go unharmed. The only exception applies to individuals who have been granted a special licence to handle these species for conservation purposes. Trading in these species is also illegal, whether they are live creatures or dead specimen pinned for display. Unfortunately the law does not protect these butterflies if they are captive-bred.

    Butterflies :-
    Heath Fritillary (melitaea athalia)
    High Brown Fritillary (argynnis adippe)
    Large Blue (glaucopsyche arion)
    Large Copper (lycaena aurinia)
    Marsh Fritillary (euphydryas aurinia)
    Swallowtail (papilo machaon)

    Moths :-
    Barberry Carpet (pareulype berberata)
    Black-veined (siona lineata)
    Essex Emerald (thetidia smaragdaria)
    Fiery Clearwing (bembecia chrysidiformis)
    Fisher's Estuarine (gortyna borelii)
    New Forest Burnet (zygaena viciae)
    Reddish Buff (acosmetia caliginosa)
    Sussex Emerald (thalera fimbrialis)

    The following butterflies are prohibited from being sold in any form alive or dead, unless you are in possession of a special licence. Unfortunately, again, the law does not apply to those that are captive-bred.


    In response to the Convention on Biodiversity, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the UK was the first country to publish its Biodiversity Action Plan. The Plan details action to protect our most threatened species and habitats from further decline or extinction. The following butterflies and moths have been identified by UK BAP as in dire need of protection:

    Butterflies :-
    High Brown fritillary (argynnis adippe)
    Northern Brown Argus (aricia artaxerxes)
    Pearl-bordered Fritillary (oloria euphrosyne)
    Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (bboloria selene)
    Chequered Skipper (carterocephalus palaemon)
    Small Heath (coenympha pamphyllis)
    Large Heath (coenympha tullia)
    Small Blue (cupido minimus)
    Dingy Skipper (erynnis tages)
    Marsh Fritillary (eurodryas aurinia)
    Grayling (hipparcia semele)
    Wall (lasiommata megera)
    Wood White (leptidea sinapis)
    White Admiral (limentis Camilla)
    Heath Fritillary (mellicta athalia)
    Glanville Fritillary (melitaea cinxia)
    Silver-studded Blue (plebejus argus)
    Grizzled Skipper (pyrgus malvaea)
    White Letter hairstreak (stymonida w-album)
    Brown Hairstreak (thecla betulae)
    Lulworth Skipper (thymelicus action)

    Moths :-
    Argent and Sable (rheumaptera hastata )
    Ashworth's Rustic (xestia ashworthii)
    Barberry Carpet (pareulype berberata)
    Barred Tooth-striped (trichopteryx polycommata )
    Basil Thyme Case-bearer (coleophora tricolor)
    Beautiful Pearl (agrotera nemoralis)
    Belted Beauty (lycia zonaria)
    Betony Case-bearer (coleophora wockeella )
    Black-veined (siona lineata)
    Bordered Gothic (heliophobus reticulate)
    Bright Wave (idaea ochrata)
    Brighton Wainscot (oria musculosa)
    Chalk Carpet (scotopteryx bipunctaria)
    Chalk-hill Lance-wing (epermenia insecurella)
    Clay Fan-foot (paracolax tristalis)
    Common Fan-foot (pechipogo strigilata)
    Concolorous Chortodes extrema
    Cousin German (protolampra sobrina)
    Currant Shoot-borer (lampronia capitell)
    Dark Crimson Underwing (catocala sponsa)
    Dark Bordered Beauty (epione vespertaria)
    Dingy Mocha (cyclophora pendularia)
    Dorset Clothes (eudarcia richardsoni)
    Drab Looper (minoa murinata)
    False Mocha (cyclophora porata)
    Fenn's Wainscot (chortodes brevilinea)
    Fiery Clearwing (pyropteron chrysidiformis)
    Fisher's Estuarine (gortyna borelii spp lunata)
    Forester (adscita statices)
    Four-spotted (tyta luctuosa)
    Fuscous Flat-body (agonopterix capreolella)
    Goat (cossus cossus)
    Greenweed Flat-body (agonopterix atomella)
    Grey Carpet (lithostege griseata)
    Heart (dicycla oo)
    Horehound Long-horn (nemophora fasciella)
    Large Gold Case-bearer (coleophora vibicella)
    Least Owlet (scythris siccella)
    Light Crimson (underwing Catocala promissa)
    Liquorice Piercer (grapholita pallifrontana)
    Lunar Yellow (underwing noctua orbona)
    Marsh (athetis pallustris)
    Marsh Mallow (hydraecia osseola)
    Mistletoe Marble (celypha woodiana)
    Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk (hemaris tityus)
    Netted Carpet (eustroma reticulata
    Netted Mountain (macaria carbonaria)
    New Forest Burnet (zygaena viciae)
    Northern Dart (xestia alpicola)
    Olive Crescent (trisateles emortualis)
    Orange Upperwing (jodia croceago)
    Pale Shining Brown (polia bombycina)
    Pied Clothes (nemapogon picarella)
    Reddish Buff (acosmetia caliginosa)
    Rest Harrow (aplasta ononaria)
    Sandhill Pigmy (stigmella zelleriella)
    Sandhill Rustic (luperina nickerlii ssp leechi)
    Scarce Aspen Knot-horn (sciota hostilis )
    Scarce Aspen Midget (phyllonorycter sagitella)
    Scarce Brown Streak (aplota palpellus)
    Scarce Crimson and Gold (pyrausta sanguinalis)
    Scarce Long-horn (nematopogon magna)
    Scarce Pug (eupithecia extensaria spp occidua)
    Scarce Vapourer (orgyia recens)
    Shoulder-striped Clover (heliothis maritima ss warneckei )
    Silky Wave (idaea dilutaria)
    Slate Sober (syncopacma albipalpella)
    Slender Scotch Burnet (zygaena loti)
    Sloe Carpet (aleucis distinctata)
    Small Dark Yellow Underwing (anarta cordigera)
    Speckled Footman (coscinia cribraria)
    Straw Belle (aspitates gilvaria)
    Striped Lychnis (shargacucullia lychnitis)
    Surrey Midget (phyllonorycter scabiosella)
    Sussex Emerald (thalera fimbrialis)
    Sword-grass (xylena exsoleta)
    Water-dock Case-bearer (coleophora hydrolapathella)
    Western Sober (syncopacma suecicella)
    White-mantled Wainscot (archanara neurica)
    White Spot (hadena albimacula)
    White-spotted Pinion (cosmia diffinis)
    White-spotted Sable (anania funebris)


    The Moth Trap is set up towards dusk and is left in a sheltered part of the garden overnight. You will have packed a number of egg boxes into the bottom of the tub so that when moths drop into it, they have places to hide.

    In the morning, you go out armed with a camera and some small plastic containers to "catch" each moth in.

    Once the Moth Trap light has been switched off and removed, you will see many moths in, on and around the egg boxes in the tub. If it is a warm day, they may all want to fly out the moment you disturb the tub ..... so we cover the top of the tub with a large piece of cardboard the moment the light has been removed.

    When the card is lifted, one egg box is SLOWLY and CAREFULLY lifted out, and the carboard "lid" is quickly put back again. One person holds the egg box while the other attempts to ease each moth into one of the see-through plastic containers.

    Once all the moths from that egg box are "trapped" in the plastic containers, then each one is tipped out onto a surface, one at a time, and quickly photographed....then the moth is released, unhurt. Photographing them enables you to have a record of the moth so that it can be identified later, using a moth book. In this way, each moth is kept in captivity for as short a time as possible.

    Moth trap information and photo courtesy of Lorraine Harrison.

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The recent wet weather has had an impact on moth numbers, seeing a decline in species. Many creatures, eg, bats, birds, lizards and hedgehogs, eat moths or their caterpillars, so low numbers means less available food for a variety of wildlife. It could also affect wild plants and crops, as moths are important pollinators.

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