Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Book Review - Britain's Day-Flying Moths 'WILDGuides'

The final instalment of WildGuides book reviews for 2020 could be tailor made for me? My passion for birds has already taken second place during the summer months in recent years with Lepidoptera and Odonata occupying a lot of interest. Moths have gradually appeared on the radar over the years but I have resisted temptation to go down the moth trap route due to lack of time. My interest in them has been opportunistic, photographing the few Hawk-moth or day flying species which have come my way in recent years. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to ‘freeze’ a Hummingbird Hawk-moth image! Achieving this and photographing my first Emperor Moths were two of the highlights of 2019.

The 2nd edition of ‘Britain’s Day Flying Moths’, written by David Newland, Robert Still and Andy Swash was published by WILDGuides in 2019. This new edition brings in several new species, updates information / design and features positive changes as suggested by reviewers of the 1st edition. Of the 2,500 moth species recorded in Britain and Ireland, this book includes 158 species which routinely fly during the day plus 29 additional but relevant species. The tried and tested WILDGuides style is evident and makes for intuitive reading. The first issue the book attempts to resolve is a definition of the title, what is a day flying moth? Some moths (e.g Cinnabar, Burnet and Silver Y) are obvious day fliers whilst others are easily disturbed in their habitat and often seen in flight. 

The first 15 pages cover Moth biology, life cycle, naming, identification and then defines day flying moth groups based on their family noting their key distinguishing features. For example, how the moth holds its wings at rest or colouration helps with assigning to a particular group although some groups only contain a single species. There are 60 Geometrids and 23 Micro-moths, both sections which are likely to be amongst the most thumbed pages?

Examples of where to look for day flying moths are displayed in a photo gallery and eight habitat categories are defined. Over forty of the species included in the book can be seen in gardens or parkland and the ‘gardening for moths’ section details many of the key plants which will attract moths to your garden including larval foodplants.

A glossary heralds the start of the species accounts which cover 183 pages, accounting for the majority of the 232 pages. Species are covered in taxonomic order only deviating where similar species are quite sensibly presented on facing pages. Each species has a full page and English names take precedence and are referred to in the text, although scientific names are noted for each species header. A standardised box details the conservation status in Britain and Ireland, where found, when flying, size, larval foodplant and a reference to similar species.  The description details the key characteristics, behaviour and lifecycle, including usual or interesting details. For most species, information is given regarding the larva which can be quite varied in themselves! At least one superb photograph of the moth in its natural resting pose accompanies the text, (see examples below).

I didn’t realise there were seven Burnet species, only three of which are common but distinguishing them, especially the rarities can be difficult! The differences are all small and some are Scottish specialities which will be a challenge to find and identify.

For each moth group, a two-page general introduction is given which includes the key characteristics of the species it includes. The Hawk-moth section is one of the shorter ones, including Hummingbird Hawk-moth and two species of Bee Hawk-moth but also illustrates several more of our most impressive moths even though they aren’t generally seen as day fliers. They may be found resting in gardens where I have found two species myself, so their inclusion for me is justified and completes an overview of the group. 

23 species of micro-moths are covered, there are so many more but those included demonstrate the tremendous diversity amongst this group which numbers over 1,600! From the Plumes (Brown and White), Yellow Conch and Small Magpie there are plenty of appealing species to behold plus the less welcome Common Clothes Moth. I don’t think I ever saw one as a youngster but I well remember the smell of ‘moth balls’ and curious holes appearing in woollen garments, the unwanted legacy of their presence in the house!

The final group includes two recent introductions which are also pests: the Box Moth and Oak Processionary. These are expanding their range from the south east and could become a serious nationwide threat to their larval foodplants, which suffer rapid defoliation and damage.

To help ‘list-minded’ folk like myself, a summary list of day flying species (p 210-217) is included noting the likely habitat, flight season (whether found nationwide, north or south), main larval foodplant and conservation status. I have seen many more day flying moths than I already have images for and need to take a bit more notice of them whilst out recording Odonata, Lepidoptera and Orthoptera! Hmm, this list of insects is expanding somewhat but I am now motivated to find out more via the final pages of the book which adequately cover recording / monitoring, conservation and ‘further reading’ / useful websites.

I am sure this book will be invaluable to all those that wish to know more about these moths and as an introduction to moths generally comes highly recommended as a must have on the bookshelf or in a backpack! There is one caveat, do not expect every moth you flush in daylight to be included in the book, you may need to resort to a full ‘search’ elsewhere for a positive identification. Be assured, they will be in the minority and my one and only example of this during the past year was Dingy Footman…

PS Here's the Hummingbird Hawk-moth. I'll upload a Day-flying moth post soon...