Lepidoptera Facts Catching Moths By Day

The reason for choosing the sunny hours for butterfly collecting is obvious, all these lovers of brightness being then actively on the wing; and although many may be driven out of their hiding places by beating the herbage with the handle of your net, or even be searched out as they rest on stalks and leaves during dull days or at morning and evening twilight, yet such methods are comparatively tedious and unproductive.

Some moths also are lovers of sunshine, and while engaged in butterfly hunting you will often meet with a moth flying briskly from flower to flower and taking its fill of both sweetness and brightness. Again, as you wade among flowery herbs in quest of butterflies you will certainly disturb a number of moths, causing them to take a short flight in search of a safer spot. Thus you will almost invariably find a few moths among the contents of your collecting box even though you made no special effort to seek them out. But we shall now see how we may set to work to obtain a successful catch of moths at times when butterflies are not so much in demand, or during the less brilliant hours of the day, when butterflies are at rest.

The apparatus required for this work need not differ in any important respect from that recommended for butterflies. The same net is used, any reliable killing bottle will do, and the pins and collecting box used for butterflies are equally serviceable. But your mode of procedure is very different.

As you walk towards your proposed hunting ground you will do well to examine the trunks of trees, old walls, and wooden fences. In this way you will meet with moths fast asleep, which are consequently easily taken. All you have to do is to hold the open killing bottle obliquely just below the insect, and then push it gently downward with a small twig or stalk. As a rule the moth will drop direct into the bottle and make no attempt to fly away; but some are very light sleepers, ready to take flight at the slightest disturbance; and when dealing with these you must be careful to bring the mouth of the killing bottle so closely round them that there is no room for flight except into the bottle itself. It is well, however, not to take long at this kind of searching, but to reserve as much as possible of your time for what you consider to be a very favourable locality.

Speaking generally, a good locality for butterflies is a favourable one also for moths, and you will do well to give special attention to well-grown hedges, especially those that surround clover fields; also overgrown banks, the borders of woods, open spaces in woods, the trunks of isolated trees, gravel pits, and old chalk quarries.

Walk beside or among the undergrowth of woods, or among the tall herbage of waste places, tapping the branches and twigs with the handle of your net as you go. Then, if your locality is well selected, you will rouse moths to flight at almost every stroke. Some of these will shoot upward among the lofty branches and disappear quite beyond your reach; others will fly rather low and somewhat heavily, giving you favourable opportunities to try your skill with the net; others, again, will fly only a yard or so, and alight on a neighbouring leaf, often remaining so quiet that the killing bottle is easily made to inclose them.

There are moths that show a decided preference for large trees. These may be seen hovering about high branches during the evening twilight, and sometimes even in sunshine. In many such cases the chance of a capture seems hopeless, but occasionally one will descend so low that a watchful collector is able to secure it by a sweep of the net.

If at any time you are in a locality by day where you suspect the presence of certain species of moths at rest among the upper branches of trees, such branches should be beaten if possible to dislodge the insects they may shelter. A long stick will often serve this purpose well, and, failing this, a few stones thrown among the branches may prove effectual. In the case of small and rather slender trees, a kick against the trunk will set the whole in vibration sufficient to surprise all the lodgers; and the same effect may be produced with larger trees by giving each a good sound blow with a mallet or some other suitable implement.

This or any other plan of ‘beating’ for moths is much more conveniently worked by two collectors together than by one alone; for one engaged in beating the herbage cannot be at the same time fully on the alert with the net. If two persons are together, one may take the lead, armed with the beating stick only, while the other, only very slightly in the rear, is always ready to strike.

We have said that butterflies should always be killed in the field, but this plan is not so universally adopted with moths. Many collectors carry a large supply of pill boxes when going out for the latter and then take as many as they possibly can by boxing them direct in these. This method of ‘pill-boxing’ is very simple in the case of the lazy and soundly sleeping moths. It is only necessary to hold the open box below the insect, and then cause it to fall by pressing the lid down gently on it from above.

Many of the moths so caught will remain quiet in the boxes and can be taken home alive without much fear of damage. All may then be killed at the same time by packing all the pill boxes in some vessel of sufficient accommodation, and shutting them in with a little chloroform, ammonia, benzole, or other suitable poison. The vapour will soon find its way through the pores of the pill boxes, but, in order to make its action speedy, each one should have a few perforations in the lid.

Whatever advantages this method may give to the collector who works at night, when the process of pinning would be more or less tedious, there is no necessity for its adoption during the day. The large number of pill boxes required is certainly far more bulky than the single collecting box that would accommodate all the day’s captures; and although most of the insects boxed alive may be none the worse for the shaking they get, and may not damage themselves by fluttering in their small prisons, yet there is often a little loss on this score.

If you do adopt the pill-boxing method, be very careful that you do not mix the occupied boxes with the empties; and unless you fix on some definite plan for the prevention of such an occurrence, you will often find yourself releasing a prisoner from a box you have just opened to receive a new-comer.

Suppose that you start with all your empties in your right pocket. Then each one, as soon as it is tenanted, might be placed in the left, with the name of the insect, or any particular concerning it you would wish to note, pencilled on the lid.

When examining the trunks of trees you will be continually meeting with specimens of very small Moths-Pyralides, Crambi, Tortrices, and Tinea-and at first may find some difficulty in boxing or bottling such small and delicate creatures. A grass stalk will enable you to tip some of them into your killing bottle, but some are so snugly packed in crevices of the bark that it is almost impossible to get them out without damage, even with a thin and slender stalk. But a sudden puff of wind from your mouth will often be sufficient to dislodge them and blow them into your net, and from this they are easily transferred to a box or bottle.

These few hints will prove sufficient to start you on moth-hunting expeditions during the daytime, and will enable you to make good use of the dull days and cloudy hours when the butterflies are quiet; but we must now turn our attention to the night work of the entomologist, and see how we may attract and catch moths during their hours of work and play.