Living the Wild Life


Mild nights provide ideal conditions for seeing moths. A walk at dusk with a net or a search around a bright light or lit window, once the night's darkness has settled, should reveal several different species. If the beauty and variety of these wild creatures captivates you, you may be on your way to becoming a lepidopterist, a person who studies moths and butterflies. You may want to invest in a light-trap from which you can release the moths unharmed after viewing them.

There are more than 800 species of larger moths and many species of smaller moths known to reside in Ireland. You can expect to see several hundred species living within a few hundred metres of your home if you live in the country or at the edge of a town. Their diversity is dependent on the 'naturalness' of the vegetation around you. At the caterpillar stage of the moth's lifecycle, some are fussy eaters, nourished by only one plant species and others are gluttons, happy to feed on a wide variety of plants, we consider weeds or on tree leaves.

To encourage and conserve moths we must ensure that wild places, with wild plants and native trees are abundant and spread through the landscape. Wildlife patches on farms, in gardens, schools, parks and around factories and industrial estates can all support moths. In addition there are special habitats, woodlands, bogs, salt marshes, flower-rich grasslands and others, which sustain species that are not found elsewhere. Alarming findings in the UK show that two thirds of common species of moths have declined in the last forty years. It appears that insects are more vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation and climate change than birds and other animals. This is obviously bad news for the moths themselves but also for the creatures that depend on them. For example, the majority of birds hatch in the Spring, at the same time as there is a huge abundance of moth caterpillars, the perfect high protein food.

It is estimated that blue tits feed their young thousands of caterpillars. By studying moths we gain insight into how the moths themselves are faring and also into the general health and balance of our ecosystem. Identifying and recording moths is something that any nature enthusiast can get involved in and there is support available in Ireland. To help conserve moths, ensure that wild habitats are conserved and where possible establish wildlife patches, with native plants and trees, in your garden and local area.

Veronica Santorum


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