Finding moths

Many species of moth, like the Mother Shipton above, can be seen during the daytime particularly when it is sunny so watch out for them nectaring on flowers like butterflies. For nocturnal ones, mild, cloudy, still nights with no moon are best for finding moths. Steady drizzle can be good, but cold nights, heavy rain and strong winds are best avoided. Look for moths throughout the year as different species are on the wing at different times of year, although the greatest variety appear in the summer months. There are several methods that can be used to find moths, none of which kill or are harmful to moths.


Day flying moths

It is useful to know what species to look for based on the date of a sunny day. Here is a table of Scottish Day flying moths which will help. A few very common species that we will all bump into have been excluded. For each species the period when they are likely to be flying is shown in half-month periods. These will obviously vary from year to year depending on a number of factors. There is also some basic summary information about where geographically and habitat-wise they might be found.


Natural Attractants

Most nectar plants that attract butterflies will also attract moths both by night and day. Simply search suitable flowering plants particularly for an hour or two after dusk using a torch. Sallow blossom, ragwort, buddleia, night-scented stock, hemp agrimony, sweet william and over-ripe blackberries can be particularly attractive to moths.

Wine Ropes

All you need is a bottle of cheap red wine (definitely not for you!), 1 kg sugar and 1 metre lengths of untreated thick cord or light rope made from absorbent material.

Heat the wine and stir in and dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool and soak the lengths of rope in the sticky mixture. Drape these “wine ropes” over low branches, bushes or fences just before dusk and check for moths by torch-light for the first two hours of darkness.




Painting a syrupy mixture onto fence posts and tree trunks to attract moths is known as 'sugaring'. To make the mixture you will need:

  • 454g tin of black treacle.
  • 1kg brown sugar, (the darker the better).
  • 500ml brown ale (for the moths not you!).
  • Paint brush.

Slowly heat the ale in a large pan and simmer for five minutes. Stir in and dissolve the sugar, followed by the treacle and then simmer for two minutes. Allow to cool before decanting into a container. Fizzy drinks like Cola or Irn Bru may be used in place of the ale. A drop of rum stirred in just before use is recommended by some people, others mash in ripe bananas, but neither of these additions are essential. Paint the mixture at eye level onto 10-20 tree trunks or fence posts just before dusk and check for moths by torch-light for the first two hours of darkness. Sugaring is notoriously fickle, giving different results on apparently similar nights. However, it tends to work better when used at a site regularly, so persevering can pay off!

Light and moth traps

It is well known that many moths are attracted to lights at night, although the reasons for this are not fully understood.

Leaving outside lights on after dark and checking lit windows, walls and fences for moths during first two hours of darkness and again in the morning are simple ways to find moths that have been lured in by lights. Lit surfaces can be made more attractive by draping a white sheet over them. However, a far more effective method is to use a purpose-made moth trap. These use light bulbs which emit a high proportion of UV radiation to attract moths into a large box or bucket where they can rest safely until morning. 

Trap designs vary, both in the type of light used and the style of box used to contain the moths, but a trap run on a muggy night in July/August can catch several hundred moths comprising well over 50 different species! For more details of the traps designs available click on the box below.

See our Moth Traps page



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