6 Magical Moths

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  1. Due to a high risk of extinction, the Fisher’s Estuarine moth (Gortyna borelii lunata) is the subject of a captive breeding programme at Colchester Zoo. It is so rare, it can only be found in two areas: North-East Essex and North-East Kent. Its habitat is under threat from rising sea levels. This moth is one of 8 species legally protected in the UK, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Of the 2500 species in the UK, it is the only moth protected under the EU Habitats Directive. Making it illegal to catch, injure, or kill the Fisher’s Estuarine.

  2. Collecting moths was very popular in the Victorian era. Hobbyists desired the most rare and exotic species. The Clifden Nonpareil or Blue Underwing (Catocala fraxini) was incredibly popular for its blue colour which, although common in butterflies, is rarely seen in moths. Named after the place it was first spotted in Buckinghamshire, and Nonpareil meaning ‘without equal’, this moth was once resident in the British Isles but became rarer and rarer as our countryside changed over the 20th century.

  3. With its huge size, striking appearance and the image of a skull on its thorax, the Death’s Head Hawk-moth (Acherontia atropos) is often described in film, literature and art as a bad omen. It is in fact harmless and squeaks when threatened. They like nectar and sugar, especially honey. So much so that they have been nicknamed ‘Bee Robber’ because they mimic the smell of bees so they can invade hives unnoticed and help themselves to honey.  This moth is a rare migrant from Southern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Only a handful make it to Britain each Autumn so you’d be lucky to see this fascinating creature up close, although it may become more common with a warming climate.

  4. Many collectors used to breed their own moths to create beautiful and unusual patterns. Moths have been used in the same way but for scientific purpose. Scientists in the late 1800s used the Magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata) in breeding experiments where they studied the inheritance of colour through genetics. These experiments led to the discovery of sex linked chromosomes!

  5. Britain’s only member of the Saturniidae family, the Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia) is an example of sexual dimorphism; the two sexes of the same species look radically different. Males are small and agile, a striking orange colour, and fly during the day. Females are larger and pale grey, and are active at night, though don’t really fly around. They don’t need to because they emit powerful pheromones that males smell using their feathered antennae from up to 8km away. The only thing they do share in common are the four eyespots they display on their wings to startle predators.
  6. The Cinnabar Moth (Tyria Jacobaeae), named after the red mineral cinnabar, this day-flying beauty could easily be mistaken for a butterfly with its bright red colouring. It is actually displaying a common tactic in moths to avoid predators called aposematic colouration. Its red colour is used as a warning to predators that this moth is unpalatable and poisonous.
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