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Shrewsbury, Shropshire, United Kingdom
FSC Preston Montford has been an outdoor classroom since 1957 and is a Field Studies Council centre. We deliver curriculum related outdoor education by the experts; from pre-school to Masters level; for infants, school students, undergraduates and enquiring adults with an interest in the natural world. Courses for schools and individuals. A venue for others to use; with bed space for 130, catering facilities and 7 fully equipped teaching and meeting spaces.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Life is like a box of moths...

… You truly never know what you are going to get. Moths have not had the best publicity, often being seen as the duller version of their more recognized butterfly cousins. However moths have a brilliant diversity that often goes unnoticed, possibly because the large majority have nocturnal habits or because people perceive them as uninteresting. But this conception is very misconstrued; take my favourite moth for example, The Death’s Head Hawkmoth, it has a skull-shaped pattern on the top of its head which has inspired superstition and artwork the world over.
A Death's-head hawk moth

The Preston Montford skinner trap
At Preston Montford we have been using a Rothamsted light trap for many years, but this form of capture requires us to kill the moths and send the specimens to a local expert. This technique does not cause a decline in the moth species caught in any way, but as part of our status as an eco-centre we wanted a more ecological approach to capturing moths. Thus we decided to purchase a ‘Skinner moth trap’ which is positioned in an area of diverse habitat by the three ponds we have on site. The trap was filled with egg boxes so that any moths caught can hide in the small crevasses for shade. The large bulb acts as the bait, because many moth species find bright light mesmerizing.  It is believed moths use angles and the position of the moon as a form of celestial navigation, but when we mimic the light of the moon their sense of orientation becomes skewed and they end up orbiting the light. However, this is only a theory and is not the case for all moths.

Pale Brindled Beauty
Oak Beauty moth
Hebrew Character
In the first few days of putting the moth trap out we caught an Oak Beauty (Biston strataria), which has strong alternating white and brown stripes bordered with black lines. Within a week a whole host of different moths appeared including the Satellite moth (Eupsilia transversa), the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), a March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) and a Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica), which has bold kidney bean shapes on its wings which act as a strong indicator for this genus.Unlike other groups of insects, moths are more manageable to identify due to their distinctive shapes and patterns and little effort is required to trap them.

If you feel this blog has sparked your interest in moths why not try one of our courses on Butterflies and Moths which runs from the 5th to the 9th of August and looks at developing skills in identification and trapping. The Field Studies Council also produces a fold-out chart called ‘Day  Flying Moths to help in your identification when you are next on a walk in the outdoors.
Why not follow us on twitter @Prestonmontford for the latest updates at our centre .
Until next time!
(Ross Cornish)

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