When many think of moths, their minds go regretfully to the holes in their favourite cashmere. However, a butterfly charity has urged Britain to rethink their perception of the bug and argued that it is unfairly maligned.
Their reputation comes despite the fact that only two of the more than 2,500 UK species of moth in the UK are known to feed on fabrics, Butterfly Conservation said.
A YouGov poll for the wildlife charity found 74 per cent of people linked moths to negative things, including 64pc who thought of them as eating clothes and a third who associated them with being pests.
Perhaps partly due to their reputation, two thirds of common moth species have declined in the last 40 years. Since 1914 there have been 56 moth extinctions, and just six of these have since recolonised or been re-found.
The abundance of the UK’s larger moths has also crashed during the past 40 years with three species becoming extinct since 2000.
This is a problem, as the creatures are important pollinators and a vital fixture of our gardens and parks.
The wildlife charity is therefore launching a new campaign, called Moths Matter, which will reveal how the insects are a key food source for many creatures, from bats to small mammals, and play an important role in pollinating wildflowers including orchids, and garden plants.
lready, research has indicated that a decrease in the abundance of bats over farmland is related to the decline in the moths that they depend on. Cuckoos may also have been affected.
Far from being the irritating creatures found in our wardrobes, many species of moth are so beautiful they could be mistaken for butterflies.
The campaign is highlighting some of the more unusual moths found in the UK, including the death’s-head hawk-moth which can squeak like a mouse, the Mother Shipton which has a witch’s face on its wings and the caterpillar of the puss moth, which can shoot acid out of its chest.
British people will be asked to look out for caterpillars and plant moth-friendly gardens with plants including lavender and honeysuckle.
Another way to protect moth species is to stop working so hard in the garden; moths and their caterpillars need fallen leaves, old stems and other plant debris to help them hide from predators.
Leading moth scientist Dr Phil Sterling said the experts were not surprised by the findings.
“People may think of a few times a large moth has startled them and then write them off as annoying or unnecessary; that is wholly unfair,” he said.
“Think of the humming-bird hawk-moth you might see hovering around lavender in summer. It is a thing of beauty and of wonder as it feeds so precisely in each flower.
“Each of the 2,500 species tells a different story about the natural world of moths around us.
“Most of them get on with their lives at night and we don’t see them, but they are important to us, they pollinate many plants and they tell us about how the world is changing around us.”