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Campaign aims to challenge negative reputation of moths

Two thirds of common and widespread moth species have declined in the last 40 years, experts say.

Mother Shipton moths have witches’ faces on their wings (Patrick Clement/Butterfly Conservation/PA)
Mother Shipton moths have witches’ faces on their wings (Patrick Clement/Butterfly Conservation/PA)

Almost three quarters of people have some negative views of moths, with many thinking of them merely as destroyers of clothes or pests, a survey suggests.

A poll for wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation found 74% of people linked moths to negative things, including 64% who thought of them as eating clothes and a third (33%) who associated them with being pests.

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.

And rather than being pests, most moths play an important role in the food chain and as pollinators, the charity said as it launched a new campaign to turn around the insects’ negative reputation.

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Death’s-head Hawk-moths are among 2,500 species in the UK (Ervin Szombathelyi/Butterfly Conservation/PA)

The survey by YouGov of 2,064 people also found 17% thought moths were ugly and 12% thought they were scary, but more than one in five (21%) believed they were important and almost a third (29%) think they are interesting.

The new campaign, Moths Matter, 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.

It is also 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.

It will focus on a different theme each month, from spotting springtime caterpillars to planting a garden to attract night-flying visitors and hunting for hawk-moths in hedgerows.

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The caterpillar of the puss moth can shoot acid out of its chest (John Bebbington/Butterfly Conservation/PA)

Butterfly Conservation also warns that the UK’s moths are in trouble, as two thirds of common and widespread species have declined in the last 40 years.

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.”

PA

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