Spot the moths at Brockholes

Andrew Carson

Brockholes is buzzing with life already this summer and it has been such a thrill to watch the reserve as it has transitioned beautifully from season to season.

Not only has the reserve been transforming, so has some of the wildlife that calls this place home. Nestled up snuggly and safe in their custom made cocoons, the larva of narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moths have been slowlychanging all winter, making that inconceivable transition from caterpillar to beautiful moth.

June is a brilliant time to see the moths as they are just emerging from their winter homes and really you need look no further than the grassy verges of the reserve car park. It’s essentially a case of spot the spots and they’re pretty difficult to miss; the adult narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moth has glossy black, narrow wings decorated with five crimson spots on each wing.

Due to their bright colourings and the fact that they fly during the day, burnet moths are often mistaken for butterflies and actually the distinction between moths and butterflies is quite blurred.

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth is to look at the antennae. A butterfly’s antennae are club-shaped with a long shaft and bulb at the end.

A moth’s antennae are feathery or saw-edged. There are other general rules of thumb that can be followed for telling butterflies and moths apart but there are also exceptions, and the five-spot burnet moth is definitely one of them.

The burnet moths of Brockholes are quite a sight to see at the moment as they are just beginning to emerge from their papery cocoons where they have been living as their larval forms since last summer. Now that they are in their adult form, the moths have two things on the brain; eating and mating - in that order.
This is why we are seeing them gathered together in such huge numbers; beautiful splashes of jet black and vibrant red across purple clusters of knapweed and thistle.

The adults feed on nectar using a curled-up proboscis or tongue which they use like drinking straws to obtain the sugary drink. As caterpillars, the moths feed on trefoil plants that contain small quantities of hydrogen cyanide which don’t harm the individual but do make the moths poisonous to any potential predators.

Brockholes is one of those reserves that never stops surprising you. Even the walk back to your car can be filled with spectacular wildlife to admire, just like these impressive cyanide moths.