Moth Trapping in Surrey

Aug 20, 2013

A week ago I ran a moth light trap whilst visiting family down in Surrey. I was keen to see which species were about as July and August are prime months for moth watching.

Moth Traps

Many species of moth are attracted to light as we all know from when they visit our windows at night. Moths are particularly attracted to bulbs that emit part of the UV spectrum, with a mercury vapour (MV) bulb being a common choice for moth trapping. I use a setup known as a Robinson trap. During the night moths are attracted into the trap where they settle and can be released unharmed the following morning.

Robinson Moth Trap

A Robinson moth light trap running a mercury vapour discharge bulb in a back garden. Egg boxes provide a safe place for moths to shelter.

For me nothing beats the excitement of opening a moth trap first thing in the morning, you never know what you are going to find. This is a small selection of the species I discovered. The moths were photographed individually and then composited together in Photoshop to produce this final image.

Moth Watch

A selection of moths attracted to a Robinson moth trap, using a mercury vapour bulb. Clockwise from top left: Tree-lichen Beauty {Cryphia algae}, Small Phoenix {Ecliptopera silaceata}, Copper Underwing {Amphipyra pyramidea}, Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana}, Lozotaeniodes formosanus, Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing {Noctua fimbriata}, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing {Noctua janthe}, Black Arches {Lymantria monacha}, Nut-tree Tussock {Colocasia coryli} and Jersey Tiger Moth {Euplagia quadripunctaria}. All species photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August. Digital composite.

Photography

On a good night a moth trap will gather hundreds of moths which can be an amazing, if not slightly overwhelming sight. I will usually photograph a selection of the more interesting species or those that fill gaps in my archive. This almost always involves photographing the moths individually on a white background. I do this outside, carefully transferring the moths onto a piece of very smooth white paper with a paintbrush. If you are careful and slow, it is possible to move the moths without damaging or disturbing them. Naturally some will fly away before you can photograph them, but that’s all part of the fun. Once in position on the paper, I light the moths with a pair of flash guns (Canon 580 EX II) either side of the moth to ensure even illumination. Critically, the flash guns are fitted with diffusers. The diffusers increase the surface area from which the light emitted, helping it to wrap round the subject and ensure hard-edged shadows are avoided. If you only have one flash gun and diffuser, a reflector can be substituted for the second flash with very similar results. See below:

Using a diffuser softens the  any shadow edges in your photograph. A reflector or a second flash will ensure the subject is lit evenly.

Using a flash diffuser softens any shadow edges in your photograph. A reflector or a second flash will also soften shadows and ensure the subject is evenly lit.

Below is a closer look at one of my favourite moths, the Black Arches. You will notice how softly lit the moth is, with the shadows under its legs barely visible.

Black Arches {Lymantria monacha}

Black Arches {Lymantria monacha} male photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August.

The male Black Arches, as shown here, has large feathery antennae that I have tried to emphasise in the shot below. The lighting setup is exactly the same as the shot above.

Male Black Arches {Lymantria monacha}

Black Arches {Lymantria monacha} male showing feathery antennae. Photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August.

Another species that caught my eye was a tiny moth, the Birch Marble, only about 1cm in length (see below). But why the interest in this rather bland little insect?

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana}

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana} photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August.

As you can see below, the Birch Marble is an excellent bird-dropping mimic, brilliantly camouflaged as it sits on a leaf (it’s the one on the right!). Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have always been fascinated by examples of camouflage in nature and photograph them whenever I can. You can see more animal camouflage images in my web gallery here >>CAMOUFLAGE.

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana}

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana} (right) next to a bird dropping. This moth is an excellent bird-dropping mimic, giving it protection from predators. Surrey, UK. August.

If only there was more time, there are so many great photos to be made, but it’s important to return the moths to the safety of the undergrowth as soon as possible. Moth trapping is an excellent way to demonstrate just how much beauty and diversity there is in the insect world and I would recommend it to anyone. Alternatively, if you don’t want to make or buy a dedicated moth trap, you can always enjoy looking at moths that come to your window light at night.

All images and text copyright Alex Hyde – www.alexhyde.co.uk

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