Day and night
Flame shoulder, sallow kitten, powdered quaker… May’s moths write a special kind of poetry with their names. In looks, though, few can hold a candle to the emperor, Britain’s only representative of the silk moth family, Saturniidae, which in the tropics includes bird-sized giants.
The wings of this large, spring beauty sport two pairs of ‘eye spots’ reminiscent of the roundels on old RAF aircraft. Perhaps, like those of the peacock butterfly, they startle or intimidate predators. When a male moth opens its hind wings, there is also a startling flash of bright orange.
Emperor moths are widespread and not especially scarce but, to glimpse one, your best bet is to stroll across a heath, moor or another sandy, scrubby habitat in fine spring sunshine. Male emperors fly by day – and strongly, too – so, at first, you might think you’ve spotted a butterfly. By contrast, the ‘empresses’ emerge after dark. Neither sex has mouthparts, meaning their time in this world is limited – they meet, mate, then die.
Moths are fascinating and interest in them is growing. Later this year, Butterfly Conservation publishes the first atlas of moths in Britain and Ireland, based on over 25 million records submitted by enthusiasts.
FIND OUT MORE
Learn about moths at ukmoths.org.uk and butterfly-conservation.org/moths.