Scientists ask for help as moths change and move

 Scientists are appealing for public help in their efforts to understand how human impact is affecting two important moths.

One of these is the beautiful day-flying Scarlet Tiger, which until recently was rarely found outside South West England and South Wales. Now it is increasingly seen further afield, almost certainly as a result of climate change.

Scientists want to know how far it has spread in order to assess the impact of climate change on our wildlife.

The other is the Peppered Moth, which evolved in areas of heavy industrial pollution from being white with small black speckles to being almost black.

The change made it less obvious to predators against backgrounds of grime and soot. It is regarded as a classic example of natural selection and consequently it is often referred to as “Darwin’s moth”. Now in post-industrial Britain, 200 years after Darwin’s birth the Peppered Moth appears to be reverting to its original appearance, but how far has this change gone?

Scientists are asking people to search their gardens and local parks for both the Scarlet Tiger and the two different types of Peppered Moth over the coming nine days (20-28 June) and to log their sightings as part of Garden Moths Count 2009.

Garden Moths Count is the annual event that raises interest in the moths found in UK gardens. It is part of the national Moths Count project, established after research indicated massive declines in moth numbers, especially in the southern half of Britain. Peppered Moth numbers are down by almost two thirds compared with 40 years ago.

Some people are put off moths by the myth that they all eat clothes. In reality only half a dozen of Britain’s 2,500 moth species do so – and they prefer dirty items that are hidden away in the dark in places where they are not disturbed. Meanwhile, moths are a vital part of nature’s food chain. Blue Tit chicks, for instance, each consume around 100 caterpillars a day.

Moths Count project manager Richard Fox said: “Moths are important indicators and observing them can tell us a lot. They are an essential food source for many birds and they are important pollinators in the garden. Some are very beautiful and, despite their recent decline, there are still very colourful moths to be seen in all of our gardens”.

Sightings of moths seen by day or at night can be logged at the Garden Moths Count website www.mothscount.orgThis also explains how to attract moths in simple fun ways, including using a torch or fizzy drink. Full details, including images of moths to look out for as well as details of when they are likely to be seen, can also be found on the website.