In the Garden: Do Moths Pollinate?

Tuesday, 17 September 2019 13:55:57 Europe/London

Did you know that moths can be just as important as bees and butterflies?

You might see day-flying ones fluttering about in your garden, and even confuse them for butterflies, or maybe notice them at night around your plants.

Sea Lavender.


Do Moths Pollinate?

In short, yes.

Moths are nocturnal pollinators, as observed through a joint study from the Universities of York, Newcastle, and Hull working with the Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Dr Callum Mcgregor, lead author of the study, stated that they detected plant species previously unknown to be visited by moths. And it was also interesting that 35% of captured moths they observed were found to carry pollen from many of the same species of plants that hoverflies, bees, and butterflies visit.

It seems that moths complement the work that bees do during the day, carrying pollen over longer distances. This gives the nocturnal ecosystems further importance.

Common British Moths in the Garden

There are hundreds of moth species in the UK, with several being avid garden visitors. You may recognise several straight away, such as the Flame Shoulder, Brimstone Moth, Ruby Tiger, and more.

Other stunning moths you may see are:


Hummingbird Hawk-Moth 

This day-flying moth has a wingspan of approximately 5cm (or two inches). It’s very easily confused for its namesake; as an expert hoverer and swift on the wing, its similarities with a hummingbird don’t stop here.

It has a long proboscis that gets uncoiled as it darts from flower to flower. They’re typically seen in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.


Elephant Hawk-Moth

Elephant hawk-moths are nocturnal and can be seen resting during the day amongst the plants they feed on. Honeysuckle (Lonicera) and other tubular flowers are preferred foodplants.

These moths have a wingspan of approximately 4.5-6cm (around 2 inches) and distinguishable pink colouration. They’re typically seen in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.


Latticed Heath

Known for its netted look, the Latticed Heath adult moths are day-flyers and nigh-flyers. They have a wingspan of 22-30mm (or 0.8-1.2 inches) and can typically be found in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

Cinnabar Moth

Commonly found across England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, the Cinnabar is easily disturbed during the day. It can fly both in the sunshine and after dark, and the caterpillars are often seen on Common Ragwort leaves and flowers as they eat.


Swallow-Tailed Moth

Although the adult moths can be disturbed during the day, the Swallow-tailed is strictly nocturnal. They’re typically seen in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, and are easily distinguishable due to their swallow-like wingtips. They have a wingspan between 44 and 60mm (or 1.7-2.4 inches).

Plants That Attract Moths

Night-flowering and nectar-rich plants are great for moths, as they tend to be nocturnal. There are several plants you can have in your garden to provide them with a welcoming habitat, such as leaving thistles, longer grasses, and knapweeds in the garden to provide moths with food plants.

You can also plant flowers such as:

- Common Jasmine (Jasminum officinale). With white blooms in autumn and summer, these flowers have a lovely, sweet fragrance.

- Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis). These fragrant plants can have clusters of purple or white flowers from late spring to early summer.

- Argentinian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis). With beautiful purple flowers in summer and autumn, these plants can reach 2m (or 6.5ft) high.

- Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum). Honeysuckle flowers are great additions to any garden, with red and yellow flowers in spring and summer and red fruits in autumn.

- Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis). Growing up to 1.5m (or 4.9ft), these flowers bloom yellow in summer and autumn.

- Sea Lavender (Limonium vulgare). Attracts day-flying moths like the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth and the Silver-Y Moth.

Silver-Y moth.


Moths in the Food Chain

As most adult moths tend to be active at night, they’re important food sources for nocturnal web-building spiders, bats, and a few other nocturnal predators. Common garden birds, small mammals, and owls also eat them.

Birds such as great tits, blue tits, and others need a steady supply of moth caterpillars and other insects to feed their young.

With a wide variety of species seen across the UK, discovering that moths often pollinate at night is encouraging. Keeping a garden with pollinator-friendly plants will help keep the ecosystem balanced and these amazing insects thriving.

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