Moth trapping for beginners

Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

You don't need a professional setup to discover which moths live in your garden. Complete beginners can delve into the wonderful world of moths too.

I love moths. I love their shapes, colours, elaborate names and amazing life-cycles, the minute yet completely beautiful details you notice when you take a closer look at them. Some are spotty, stripy, speckly; some shimmering copper and others bright canary-yellow.

The only thing with moths is that many species hide away during the day. However, there is a fascinating way to find out what kind of moths emerge in your garden when the sun goes down: make a moth trap.

What is moth trapping?

The word ‘trap’ might sound bad, but moth trapping isn’t deadly or cruel. It simply involves attracting moths to a light source or food source so you can take a closer look at them, or if you’re a serious moth-er, record the species. It’s a great activity for the whole family – I guarantee any young nature-lovers will be fascinated by the beautiful moths living right outside their house.

Common moths in Lancashire

The moths you see will vary across the North West according to where you live and the surrounding habitat. Emperor moths, for example, are an upland species and won’t be seen during an urban moth trapping session. However, certain moths are really common right across the region and may well visit your trap. Here are some of the most common moths in Lancashire.

Pictured: Large yellow underwing, elephant hawkmoth, poplar hawkmoth, lesser swallow prominent, canary-shouldered thorn, brimstone, silver Y, light emerald.

How to moth trap at home

Now for the fun part! There are a few different ways you can moth trap at home; some more expensive and labour intensive than others.

Buy or make a traditional moth trap

Moth traps are available to buy online but are very expensive. They’re a great option if you’re serious about getting into moth recording, but aren’t really for families who only want to watch moths every now and then.

A cheaper option is to make a moth trap. There are lots of DIY moth trap tutorials online, but if you’re after a quick and easy way to get closer to moths with your children this isn’t the best method. It can take a while to construct.

Create a light trap

A guide to how to watch moths using a light trap

To create a simple moth trap in a matter of minutes, all you need is a white sheet and a bright lamp or torch. Peg the sheet up onto your washing line, turn off nearby lights, switch on your torch and wait patiently.

Print the light trap tutorial

Use a wine rope

A guide to how to watch moths using a wine rope

Certain moths are more attracted to sugary treats than light, so why not try luring them in with a wine rope? Simply soak an old cloth in a mixture of cheap red wine and sugar, hang the strips over your washing line or some branches, and check them for visitors in a couple of hours.

Print the wine rope tutorial

Moth trap tips for beginners

  • Invest in an ID guide to help you identify the moths you attract. Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland is a great place to start, while Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland is chunkier.
  • Choose a warm night with little wind and preferably decent cloud cover.
  • If you’re using a traditional trap or making a trap, consider the type of light you use. Brighter lights attract more moths but might annoy your neighbours! I find actinic light best.
  • Don’t just rely on your trap – grab your family and head out with a torch at night to check your windows, walls and plants for moths.
  • Avoid touching moths' wings directly as you can easily damage them.
  • Attract moths to your garden by planting pollinator-friendly plants. Jasmine, honeysuckle, buddleia and fuchsia are all favourites and are also loved by other insects.
  • Avoid trapping every night, especially in small gardens, as it can stop moths from going about their normal behaviours like feeding and mating.

We hope this guide to moth trapping for beginners has helped. Why not share your finds with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Click the icons below to ‘Like’ or follow us.

Happy trapping!