Day and night

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild May -

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.

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