Moth Trapping exercise


Species Lists2005 2006 Photos: click here Spread Sheets: 2005 2006 2012


Early in 2005, three members of East London Nature clubbed together to buy a "Heath" type moth trap.

East London Nature is dedicated to photographing and displaying on the web the incredible variety and number of wildlife that can be found in east London. Unfortunately, for the time being, the website is not available. As an addition to going out photographing the wildlife "in situ", we thought that catching some may provide us with knowledge of a few additional species, as well as some photographs.

The first opportunity to use the trap came on June 17th when the trap was set up overnight in the garden of a house adjacent to Wanstead Flats and Manor Park Cemetery in Capel Road, Forest Gate.

A few egg boxes were placed in the trap, as per instructions, and the trap was placed on a garden bench on the lawn about 5 metres from the back of the house. The 12v "Actinic" (fluorescent) light was powered by a somewhat small portable power supply, and switched on at dusk. By the morning - not too early - the light was out, batteries having run down. Nevertheless, a haul was made and the trap was carried indoors and upstairs to try to sort out.

To establish the species present (the trapper not being an expert on moths at least as much as he (I) was not an expert on much else) used the "Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland" by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend (British Wildlife Publishing, 2003). The illustrations - by Richard Lewington - had looked good on purchase, and together with the text proved an exceptionally good field guide. Fifteen species - not counting the micros - were identified and photographed.

This comprised taking the lid off the trap - where a few moths flew out. These were caught - if possible - one by one by means of a transparent plastic tube, closed at one end, being placed over them while a rule with a flexible cardboard "spatula" attached was slid over the open end - with the moth inside, of course. This was then placed on the kitchen table, the moth photographed through the plastic, then - once the animal was still - the spatula was removed and the moth photographed through the open end of the tube.

At this point the book was used to identify the creature. This involved at first a long trawl through every picture until a match appeared to be made, then a check with the written reference, then back to the pictures because that moth had only ever occurred once on Guernsey or hadn't been seen in Britain since the Coronation in 1953; then the right one was found and the mental questioning as to why it wasn't spotted immediately.

If the moth by then was willing to sit on the table, the tube was removed and another photograph taken, before being re-caught and allowed to fly off through the window. Passing birds were potentially on to a good thing at this point, but there is quite a lot of cover near to the window. Following ID and photo-records of the escapees, the egg boxes were removed gently one at a time, usually to find at least one moth asleep in one of the crevices. These were photographed before they woke up, as well as being identified using the same process.

As subsequent days catches were examined, some order became apparent in the moth scheme of things and some species became more readily identifiable. That first morning netted (well, not netted exactly) fifteen species.

Subsequently, the trap was moved to less than a metre away from the downstairs back window. This enabled a 12v mains-fed power supply to be used, and there was still a decent catch each morning. Something like four or five new species cropped up each night for a couple of weeks, so that by early July, 50 species had been found - not counting most of the macro moths (usually very small ones).

We hadn't known what to expect, but we felt that that was not a bad beginning. Our intention is to find a few different locations for our trap, for example in Wanstead Park, on Wanstead Flats, in the City of London Cemetery perhaps. We have to learn them on the way, and we are just starting, but just to think that by mid October - when the nights had begun to get cooler - 102 identified species of moth had been caught in the trap in my garden! East London Nature!

For photos of the species found - plus others from the area - click here

Paul Ferris