Winter moth on pine tree bark

12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Active Insects

It’s day three of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife and we are exploring insects that are active in the cold weather, and in particular, winter moths. These are amazing animals, but how do we study moths? Join moth expert Annette Shelford as she shows us why moths are important and how to monitor them with this film from our Zoology Live festival that took place in June:

Check out our moth-trapping post for instructions on building your own moth trap to study night-time insects in your green spaces.

Monitor moths throughout the year, and you will find different species coming to your traps. The moths in winter are quite different from the types of moths Annette was catching in the summer…

Winter Moths

Matt Hayes, Reseach Assistant at the Museum of Zoology, writes:

Winter moth resting
Winter moth (c) Ben Sale CC BY 2.0

Winter moths and December moths are two species of insect that can fly in temperatures close to freezing and can survive cold weather as an active adult. Most butterflies and moths overwinter as caterpillars or pupae and hunker down to avoid  the coldest part of the year. Even species that do overwinter as adults tend to hide away in sheltered outhouses and remain dormant, but as always in nature there are exceptions to the rules.

December moth (c) Ben Sale CC BY 2.0

Winter moths can shiver to release heat, which raises their body temperature, and they are well insulated to help retain the heat they produce. Other moths can also shiver, but the Winter and December Moths seem to use these adaptations to power their flight muscles when other species of insect can’t. As these moths are active over winter there is very little food available and the adult life stages don’t actually feed. Therefore, the best way to help these species is by planting foodplants for their caterpillars to eat during the rest of the year. Follow the links below for more information on these species and what their caterpillars feed on:

Butterfly Conservation: Winter Moth

Butterfly Conservation: December Moth

For species of moth that are active at other times of the year, planting fragrant, night-scented flowers can help provide them with a food source:

Butterfly Conservation: Gardening for moths

Wildlife Trusts: How to attract moths and bats to your garden

Winter Wildlife Crafts: Recycled Fabric Gift

Natasha Lavers, museum volunteer, talks us through how to make a winter-y moth from unwanted fabric.

You will need:

  • Recycled fabrics (I used an old pillowcase, but you could use any fabric (t-shirts, socks, tea towels) that you don’t use anymore).
  • Paper
  • Tracing paper or baking paper
  • Pencil/pen
  • Scissors
  • Sewing thread and needle
  1. Choose a moth that interests you! For some inspiration, check out the Butterfly (and moth) Conservation website. I picked the Black Arches moth (Lymantria monacha) for its beautiful markings (which my pillowcase match quite well!) and characteristic moth shape.
  1. Draw the outline of your moth onto your paper. You could trace an image of your moth if you want it to be exact, or just draw it by eye.
  2. To achieve the different wing layers for the moth, there are 3 different pieces to cut out: the main body, inner wings, and outer wings. Using your tracing paper, trace over your moth drawing to separate the three pieces.

  1. Cut out your 3 tracing paper pieces.
  1. Next, we want to cut out our 3 pieces from the fabric. At this stage, decide which fabric you want for each part of the moth. Place your tracing paper pieces onto the fabric and use your pen to draw round it. With the outline on the fabric, use your scissors to carefully cut out the pieces.
  1. The three fabric pieces lay over each other like so. The next step is to secure the layers by sewing around the head. This will ensure the layers stay together but will keep the wings free to move around. You can do this by hand using needle and thread, or with a sewing machine.

Don’t worry if the edges of the fabric fray, this gives the moth some furry texture!

  1. At this stage, you could also add some extra decoration to your moth to recreate its markings, like buttons on the wings to represent the fascinating markings of the Emperor moth.

  1. Finally, use your needle to pull some thread through the top of the head, tie a knot, and cut the thread at your chosen length to give the moth antennae.

There you have your lovely crafty moth!

You could attach a loop to your moth (using the same technique you used for the antennae) to make it a hanging decoration, or even attach a safety pin to the back to make it a beautiful brooch! Perfect for a winter wildlife decoration.

Share your Crafty Creature makes with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram by tagging us.

12 Days of Winter Wildlife Day 4: Life Underground

Snails (c) Sara Steele

Visit the blog again tomorrow and discover the amazing animals living in your compost heap. Join Dr Ed Turner as he explores his compost heap for minibeasts, and get some top tips on turning your food scraps into compost for the garden.

12 Days of Winter Wildlife catch up:

Robin on frosted willow branches
(c) John Howlett

Catch up on Day 1 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife. Watch the livestreamed launch, including a virtual tour of the wildlife in the Botanic Garden, a Q&A with Rob Jaques of the British Trust for Ornithology, and sing along with the premiere of the 12 Days of Critters song. Read the top winter wildlife tips from staff and students at the Museum of Zoology. Download our Winter Wildlife spotter sheet, and create your very own hedgehog in a leaf pile.

Robin perched in a yew tree
(c) John Howlett

Catch up on Day 2 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Garden Birds. Enjoy a wonderful film about attracting birds to your garden by Dr Andrew Bladon, listen to recordings of garden birds in winter by Dr Tony Fulford, and learn how to make seed cakes for birds with Lucy Williamson.

And remember to send your winter wildlife spots and creations to us by tagging us on social media or using #12DaysofWinterWildlife and you could feature in our online community gallery.

Winter moth Keith Simmons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

You can find out more about insects with these blog posts:

Beautiful insect photographs and facts from Prof Bill Amos with the ‘An Insect a Day’ series

Basking Beetles
Zoology Live: Minibeasts Part 1
Zoology Live: Minibeasts Part 2
Learn how to observe insects living in trees
Early Morning Bumblebees
World Bee Day

And the series of blog posts by Matt Hayes about butterflies: ‘aristocrat’ butterflies; whites and yellows; blues; browns; and coppers.

Find activities to explore the biology of insects with these nature classroom posts:
Busy Bee Communication

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