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Moth Traps

Moths are everywhere…

…whether you live in the countryside or a city, even if you don’t have a garden you can still record moths! With over 2500 species in the UK, this makes them highly accessible, giving everyone a chance to see, record and appreciate them. In order to make it easier to see moths, there are a few ways of attracting them, in this blog we’re going to talk about moth traps and light.

When I was first introduced to the fascinating world of moths, I thought you needed an extremely bright, powerful light called a Mercury Vapor bulb. These things are akin to a lighthouse, drawing in moths from a large area, and therefore giving you better catches. The problem with them is that they are BRIGHT and if you live in an urban environment, your back garden can become Blackpool Illuminations, potentially keeping your neighbours up at night. If you’ve got a secluded spot, or you’re neighbours are on board, then this isn’t a problem.

So for a few years I attended public moth trapping sessions, with the Northumberland County Recorder, Tom Tams, and other organisations such as Butterfly Conservation, the Natural History Society of Northumbria, and the RSPB. These are great to attend, you get a chance to learn from the experts, experience different species, and have the chance to do some moth-ing without your own trap! We started leading our own Moths & Muffins Mini Expeds last year to provide these opportunities, but also to celebrate the intriguing world of moths.

Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor)

There’s nothing quite like having your own trap though, discovering the species that grace your garden, working overtime to pollinate your plants whilst you’re sleeping. Just like camera trapping, opening a moth trap up in the morning is like Christmas, you never know what is waiting for you in those egg cartons.

Where to begin then? There’s an absolute ton of different types of moth traps on the market, all for different situations, with the majority being quite expensive. They’re a specialist bit of wildlife surveying equipment, and as with anything, generally you pay for what you get, but if you’re just starting out, and don’t want to quite commit to the weird and wonderful life of a moth-er, this can be a daunting step.  As I’ve found out over the past couple of years, you don’t need to spend large amounts of money to begin recording the moths in your garden, there’s a few cheaper moth traps out there!

The first step is simply leaving a light on, during warm nights in June and July you might be able to attract moths to your window just by simply leaving an inside light on. Just remember to keep those windows closed, or you might be letting moths go for the rest of the night! A powerful torch shone on a white sheet can also work. Many of the older moth-ers started their journeys by visiting telephone boxes, street lights and public toilets blocks, where the overnight lights attracted the moths to the white rendered walls!

Peppered Moth (Biston betularia)

Both of these methods can attract moths, but will be highly dependent on time of year and temperature, the best way for (almost) guaranteed results is to purchase or build a moth trap. If you’re feeling handy, and have a few spare bits around, Butterfly Conservation has an excellent guide to make two different types of traps which you can find HERE. If you’re slightly less handy, I’d highly recommend Paul Batty’s LED Quick Kit Sets (roughly £30.00), these come with all the electrics you need fully assembled (bulb and connector, wiring and crocodiles clips), as well as the vanes needed to guide the moths into the trap. The only extra things that you will need are a bucket (with a lid) and a funnel. I use 20 litre buckets from eBay which you can pick up for a £5-£6, and a funnel from Wilkos for £1. You then simply cut a hole in the top of the bucket (to fit the funnel) as well as the bottom off the base of the funnel, to create a wider opening for the moths to fall into.

These LED traps don’t catch as much as those bright MV bulbs, but they can still catch a wider variety of moths, and on the right night can be full to the brim! The bulb glows purple, and distributes high levels of UV light, so I would recommend purchasing some UV specs too.

Paul Batty’s LED Quick Kit 3, with 20l eBay bucket, 12v 7ah Battery and Wilko £1 Funnel.

If you’re interested in splashing out a bit more, have a look through the rest of Paul’s range, or visit the other main suppliers:

Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies

Watkins & Doncaster


Once you’ve got your trap, the only additional things you will need are:

  • A 12v Battery to power your trap (if your trap isn’t powered by mains), you can pick these up for about £15.00 from ebay.
  • Egg cartons (to put in your trap for the moths to rest in).
  • Something to pot the moths up for identification.
  • An identification guide. In Northumberland we’re incredibly lucky to have a very comprehensive moth website, which has all the species recorded in Northumberland, accompanied by images and other information. You can also use recording apps such as iNaturalist, which use AI to ID the moths (fairly accurately) for you!

Once you’re all setup, you simply need to put your trap out at dusk, and either wait to see who comes in, or leave it until first thing the next morning. Have a peek in and see if Santa has come! Try to identify and record the moths you catch, and submit your records to Butterfly Conservation or your local County Moth Recorder.

Moth recording is AMAZING, not only can you discover the amazing species that fill the air at night, but you can also directly help their conservation by submitting your records.

We would love to see what you find, so email any encounters, questions or images to or share them with us on social media.

Happy Moth-ing!

– Cain

Unfortunately we’ve had to cancel our planned Moths & Muffins Mini Expeds this year, but we’re looking forward to next opportunity to host them!

Discover the Swallow
Moth Recording