Magical Moths!

Today dawned a little drizzly but the best thing about Saturday is that I can lie awake and listen to the birdsong and know I don’t have to rise for school! I was pretty excited today as we were going to The Marlbank Reserve at the Marble Arch Geopark to an event organised by National Insect Week! The event was organised by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and it was really well presented. We met Simon Gray who is the Geopark Ranger an expert on moths and orchids; it’s always really cool to be around others who love nature and wildlife. He had lots of moths in specimen jars for us to look at and then we embarked on a walk through some of the Marlbank Reserve. We as a family come here a lot for events and also just to walk and enjoy the magical forest air. The reserve has lots of native woodland trees including oak, ash, alder and birch and the limestone soil supports lots of beautiful orchids, wildflowers, grasses and herbs. I love the mossy, musty smell in woodlands and I could hear the meadow pipit, blackbird and blue tit song. It was hard to ‘get in the mood’ as the event had quite a few people and smaller kids but it was great to see lots of people there. It was quite a dull day, so I knew that we wouldn’t see any damselflies or other sunbathing invertebrates but actually the best thing was sharing stuff with the smaller kids, they were really enthusiastic and it was great to see. We found lots of scarabs, millipedes, pill bugs and woodlice together, it was lots of fun.

Back to the moths though, as that is what I really wanted to research for this blog today. Moths are related to butterflies and are in the order Lepidoptera, which, when translated means ‘scalywing’. The order is characterised by four large, flat membranous wings covered in small scales. There are said to be over 2,400 species of moth in the UK and many are nocturnal but some are daylight moths – we spotted this burnet (Zygaena Filipendulae) after our walk:


Moths are found in all landscapes from coast to mountain and thrive in a wide range of habitats. Moths evolved long before butterflies and some fossils found can be dated to 190 million years ago to coincide with the evolution of flowering plants – these are its favourite food. These seemingly celestial flutterers are attracted by light and Simon and friends used a light-filled moth trap the night before, so that we could look at lots of moths. My personal  favourites were the Alder Moth, Gold Swift and Beautiful Carpet.

The Alder moth (Acronicta alni) is apparently not very common and is attracted to mercury vapour light and seldom comes to the sugar or flowers, so before moth traps, it was seldom seen. It’s scaly wings are beautiful in black and white and its furry thorax is fluffy and beautifully fuzzy. It is named Alder beacuse the larvae like to feed on alder trees and also beech trees. It’s little wingspan is around 36mm and it looks so delicate and intricate.



The Gold Swift moth (Phymatopus hecta) is widespread and usually feeds on bracken, Marlbank is covered in the stuff, so I would guess that lots of goldies live there. The male and female moths differ slightly form each other, the female is larger and less striking (seems to be the rule in nature) with more muted markings and emits a scent similar to pineapple to attract males. When I was researching this moth, lots of information on their elaborate mating behaviour came up, but I won’t go into that now! The larva takes two years to reach full size.



The Beautiful Carpet Moth (Mesoleuca albicillata) has the most beautiful markings and it’s pretty common in all localities and the caterpillar feeds on bramble and wild strawberry. How gorgeous is this beauty!



My sister Bláthnaid was really attracted to the Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi), she is a little obsessed by moths and her favourite is the Elephant Hawkmoth. The poplar is certainly impressive with a wingspan of about 70mm. Its wings were beating so fast as it had been in the specimen jar for a while! Bee loved releasing it, but I think she wanted to take it home, too!



Moths to me, are absolutely beautiful the symetry of their wings and the intricate patterns are fascinating. When I think of moths, I think of tree bark, patterns on drift-wood and paint-splattered skies. I was actually going to ‘write’ a poem about moths but I’m not very good at that kind of writing, so I found one by Walter de la Mere instead:


It’s also worth remembering that moths love flowers just as much as butterflies and are also important pollinators, while you sleep, they are working hard. Night scented plants such Honeysuckle, Evening Primrose and Sweet Rocket are really great for moths. They are also lovely as their scent just appears as you might sit in the garden to relax in the evening. Buddleias and Sea Lavender are brilliant for day flying moths.

Oh, today we also spotted a really brilliant Bird’s nest orchid, a really strange one as it is leafless and without green chlorophyll! It looks a bit lifeless but it was an excellent find.


Thanks to Simon and Ben for a great day today and I hope you enjoyed reading a little bit more about moths. This is me here with Simon, he was alot of fun to talk to.







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153 Responses

  1. Dara you are an incredible writer. I feel I am there thanks to your vivid writing style. Don’t ever stop writing. You have a gift you need to share with the world!

  2. Hi Dara,
    Love how you write about the extraordinary in the (seemingly) ordinary flora and fauna. Had no idea there’s such a variety of moth species and they’re so beautiful too. Again a god read

  3. Fascinating Dara the pictures are great and make us (your groupies) feel like we were there. My favourite is the picture of the Bird’s nest orchid……great photo and great find! Gwen

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