Midsummer Moths - Richard Fox from Butterfly Conservation talks about Wiltshre's moths.

PUBLISHED: 22:51 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

Humming Bird Hawk Moth (credit to David Green)

Humming Bird Hawk Moth (credit to David Green)

Richard Fox from the charity, Butterfly Conservation enthuses over the much maligned moth and you can take part in his enthusiasm by joining the annual moths count this June.

Richard Fox from the charity, Butterfly Conservation enthuses over the much maligned moth and you can take part in his enthusiasm by joining the annual moths count this June.

Moths suffer from a terrible public image. Many people regard them as boring, brown, jumper-munching pests. The truth is very different. Moths are marvellous and Garden Moths Count, launched three years ago by the charity Butterfly Conservation, aims to raise awareness of their beauty, variety and importance.

Without moths and other insects, gardens would be devoid of almost all of our familiar garden birds. Blue tit chicks alone eat some 35 billion moth caterpillars a year in Britain. As well as birds, small mammals, bats and many other insects rely on moths for food, and many plants are pollinated by moths visiting their flowers at night.

Moths represent a hidden wealth of wildlife on our doorstep. Over 2,500 different types are known in Britain and over 300 might easily be found in an average Wiltshire garden during a single year. Wiltshire is rich in moths, including many rare species. The Brighton Wainscot, for example, had its last stronghold on Salisbury Plain, although none has been seen there recently, and this moth may now be extinct in Britain. Other rarities include the Barberry Carpet, Pale Shining Brown and Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, an astonishing mimic of a bumblebee. Not only does it look like a bumblebee, with its furry, striped body but, unusually for a moth, it has clear wings to complete the disguise.

This year's Garden Moths Count (20-28 June) is asking the public, gardeners and their families to go out and discover the marvellous, midsummer moths in all our gardens, from city centre to the heart of the countryside. In particular, the search is on in Wiltshire for the beautiful Scarlet Tiger, and to tie in with the Charles Darwin's bicentenary, the amazing Peppered moth.

The Peppered moth is known to many as one of the world's best-known examples of evolution by natural selection, Darwin's great discovery. In heavily-polluted British cities, the normal pale-speckled forms of the Peppered moth were no longer camouflaged from predators on the soot-blackened trees. Black (called 'melanic') versions of the Peppered moth thrived in these situations and the normal form became quite rare. In recent decades, as pollution has been greatly reduced, the balance has swung back the other way, with black moths more obvious on the lichen-encrusted tree trucks. So, the speckled Peppered moths have again come to dominate populations.

But all is not well with Darwin's moth. Despite its amazing ability to survive the worst of the Industrial Revolution, numbers of Peppered moths in Britain have fallen by 61% since the late 1960s. It is not clear what is causing this decline but we need the public to become citizen scientists for a night or two to try to find out more. Does the Peppered moth still live in your garden? If so, are they speckled or black?

In contrast, the beautiful Scarlet Tiger moth, which flies in the daytime, seems to be doing well. Its traditional stronghold is in the Westcountry but it is spreading, perhaps in response to climate change. This moth is often seen in gardens because one of the plants that its caterpillars like to nibble is comfrey, commonly grown for use as a fertiliser. How far has the Scarlet Tiger spread in Wiltshire? If you are lucky enough to see this beautiful creature, please put your garden on the map by sending in your observations.

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