Butterflies and moths
Butterflies are an exquisite group of flying insects and a perfect specimen seen on a woodland walk nectaring on bramble or thistle can give the ‘wow’ factor to a perfect day! The South East is a particularly good area to view many of our butterflies. Management of woodland is essential to a thriving butterfly heritage. Habitat is critical: clearing for sunlight penetration enables butterflies' food plants to thrive. Even one’s own garden can be very productive, such as planting butterfly-friendly plants or leaving wild areas for nettles and other wild flowers.
Weather conditions effect butterflies considerably. Species hibernate over winter in various forms, from egg, caterpillar, pupa through to the winged adult (called 'imago'). A wet spring can be disastrous, especially for pupa, which will not survive long periods of damp conditions. Good weather can prolong life and may even help with a 2nd or even 3rd generation in some species. On a fine day, early in the year, look out for winter hibernators, such as brimstone, small tortoiseshell, peacock or comma.
Moths are spectacular and incredibly varied in size, colour and shape. In many ways they are more impressive than butterflies! They are rarely seen by the casual observer and can be a great indicator of environmental changes. There are 2,400 species of moths on the British list, of which about 1,550 are classified as micro (small) moths and about 890 as macro (large) moths.
Gardens are exceptionally good habitats for a variety of moths. Approximately 300 species can be found in a typical garden annually. Building up to the height of the season in June/July, with others species appearing during the winter months. Weather conditions can affect numbers considerably. The majority fly at night, but a small percentage are day fliers.
Night-time light trapping is the preferred effective method for recording moth species, used for identification purposes and then releasing without harm the following day.
What's happening to butterflies and moths in Maidenhead?
There are 59 butterflies on the British list, of which more than half can be seen in the Royal Borough and many more within a short distance. Habitats locally are being improved greatly, thanks to the National Trust. There have been 25 species recorded in Maidenhead Thicket alone. Click here for an illustrated copy of the the 2016 list.
As for moths, in Berkshire, 641 species of macro moths and more than 800 micros have been recorded. Les Finch, a local expert who surveys our area for butterflies and moths, captures and records moths 340 times each year!
More migrants are also appearing from Europe and via introductions from food stuffs and plants from across the globe.
What can I do?
Butterfly Conservation says that gardens can act as important stepping stones between nature reserves and other natural habitat by offering abundant supplies of nectar for both butterflies and moths. Butterflies will visit any garden, however small, if they can feed from suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract up to 18 species of butterfly. If you manage your patch to create breeding habitat you may see even more. See butterfly-conservation.org/292/gardening.html for help and suggestions on planting.
Moths refuel with nectar to give them the energy they need for flying. Some flowers have more available nectar than others, so by choosing the best plants you can make your garden a better feeding station, say Butterfly Conservation. The same flowers will also attract more butterflies. See www.mothscount.org/text/64/nectar_plants.html for help and advice on nectar flowers for moths.
On your usual walk throughout the season make a note of different butterflies and moths and photograph for reference, as different species emerge. Observation is the key. Many excellent books are available for easy identification.
With thanks to Les Finch, Recorder, for assistance with this text.