Getting Started

Some hints and tips by Graham Jones and Steve Palmer


The second edition of: Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend, and illustrated by Richard Lewington (British Wildlife Publishing) is now available. This book illustrates all the larger moths in their resting positions, quite a change from the traditional approach to illustrating moths in older British ID guides where set specimens are used. Beginners will therefore probably find the illustrations in the Waring book much easier to use. Price is around the £30.00 mark. A paperback version (ISBN 978 0 9531399 8 9) is also available from British Wildlife Publishing (price approx £26).

The identification guide to the larger British moths (Macrolepidoptera) most popular, prior to the arrival of Waring’s book, was "Moths of the British Isles" by Bernard Skinner. A Third Revised and Updated Edition by Apollo Books was published in 2009. It is a ‘must have’ for anyone with more than a passing interest in British moths.

In 2008 a photographic guide of "British Moths and Butterflies" was produced by Chris Manley and is recommended as an additional identification guide. It also includes some micro moths. (Published by A & C Black)

The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland is a landmark series that, when eventually published in full, will cover 11 volumes and will illustrate and detail the entire British Lepidoptera. Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 (i, ii), 7 (i, ii), 9, 10, have so far been published. A full paperback set of all the volumes currently available will set you back around £270.00, so you may not be in a huge rush to snap up a full set, but it is certainly worth having a good read of copies of the various volumes that may be available in public libraries. If your interest in the British moths continues to grow it will become impossible for you to ignore this series, it is simply that important.

I don’t wish to put anyone new to moths off by going into any great detail on the identification of the c.1,250 species of British Microlepidoptera (850 Macro’s is enough to learn at this stage), but as the Pyralid moths are deemed honorary macro’s (as many of them are as big if not bigger than some of the Macro’s and most are easyish to identify too) I will mention British Pyralid Moths (Harley Books) by Barry Goater. A wonderful little book (although perhaps a touch out of date with regards distribution and nomenclature), it is a snip at around the £20.00 mark.

Jim Porter’s Caterpillars of the British Isles (Viking), is the best affordable book currently in print on the (often ignored) identification of the larval stages of the British moths (it includes butterflies too). Cost around £40.00.

One book that anyone new to moths really must read is Roy Leverton’s Enjoying Moths (T & A.D. Poyser). This is a book on the subject of ‘mothing’, and the bulk of it provides wonderful advice on mothing techniques that no beginner can afford to be without, while the rest provides an overview on the identification, taxonomy, distribution and conservation of British moths. Cost around £30.00. My last recommendation would be The Natural History of Moths (T & A.D. Poyser) by Mark Young which provides a more detailed and scientific synopsis of the biology and ecology of moths than Roy’s book, but is nonetheless still a very easy read. Cost around £25.00.

If I had to recommend just two books to anyone starting out, they would be Bernard Skinner’s Moths of the British Isles and Roy Leverton’s Enjoying Moths. However, this has changed with the publication of Warings Field Guide to the moths of Britain and Ireland and I will now have to make it three!


Atropos is a readable journal that is published three times each year, and concentrates on the Butterflies, Moths and Dragonflies. Details from Mark Tunmore 36 Tinker Lane, Meltham, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, HD9 4EX (most of the books listed above can be purchased through Atropos books – details on their website)

The Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation has been in print since before the dawn of the dinosaurs, and is a favourite amongst lepidopterist’s that are a touch long in the tooth. Its primary focus is the Lepidoptera but other insect orders, in particular the Beetles, are often included. It is published bimonthly. Details from: Colin Plant, the editor (14 West Road, Bishops Stortford, Herts, CM23 3QP) or from the AES (PO Box 8774, London SW7 5ZG).

The Enomologist’s Gazette is another long running journal which has a smaller proportion of material on British Lepidoptera than the other two mentioned above. It does however contain regular and detailed articles on recently discovered life histories of British microlepidoptera submitted by Bob Heckford. It can be ordered from Pemberley Books (Publishing), P O Box 2081, Iver, Bucks, SL0 9YJ.


Most people who have an established interest in moths would probably breakdown at the thought of being separated from their light-trap during the spring and summer. It follows that you may develop a similar dependency if you too become hooked by moths. Light traps are by no means essential in enjoying moths but just as birdwatchers can’t really function without binoculars, few Mothy-types can function without a light-trap.

There are several different light-traps currently on the market ranging in price from £100.00 - £400.00. However it is possible to construct your own and simply purchase the electrics which would cost around £50.00. The Atropos website provides advice and plans on how to do this, and Anglian Lepidopterist supplies can provide the electrics

I am not going to go into great detail here on the pluses and minuses of each particular trap model. Instead access the website of Anglian Lepidopterist supplies Here you will find all the information you need on the choosing a suitable light-trap. As well as supplying light traps ALS provides a wide range of equipment for the Lepidopterist.

Apart from the acquisition of a light-trap the only other moth equipment that I would say was almost essential is a few pots to enable you take a closer look at your catch, a net (often called a butterfly net), a notebook and a torch. ALS supply nets and another supplier of entomological equipment that also sells light–traps and nets is Watkins and Doncaster, PO Box 5, Cranbrook, Kent, TN18 5EZ I have a personal affection for the cardboard collecting pots that only Watkins and Doncaster supply.

Local Moth Groups

To a beginner, becoming involved with the local moth group cannot be recommended enough. The more experienced are only too happy to help out with identification and learning the ropes, plus regular group light-trapping meetings throughout the spring and summer provide a chance to branch out from your own back garden and improve your ID skills. Recording is usually the main focus of each moth group and you will be able to contribute to the mapping of your county moth fauna.

Lancashire is fortunate in having a particularly active moth group. A newsletter is published twice a year along with an annual report. You can also join an e-mail group that will keep you up to date on trapping events and provide you with an opportunity to pitch your questions, reports and queries to the group. An annual moth social is also organised. There is no charge to join the group. A printed provisional checklist of the Lepidoptera of Lancashire is available on request although this is now somewhat out of date – a more accurate list is maintained on this website.


Mapmate is a recording software package that is popular amongst moth recorders. It is relatively simple to use and allows you not only to produce a database of your records but also to produce maps of those records. Furthermore users are able to share records amongst each other making submitting records to the county recorder easy. Cost is remarkably cheap for computer software at about £25.00 followed by an annual fee of £12 or so (cheaper group rates are available) for upgrades and rapid on-line assistance with any problems; further details can be obtained from

On-line Resources

A truly excellent online database of photographs of the British Lepidoptera (approaching 50%) can be seen at - it can be a wonderful aid in helping with those tricky identifications. CDs of the site are available from Ian Kimber and are thoroughly recommended.

UK moths and NW moths are two e-groups that can be found at yahoo groups - similar to the Lanc’s moths e-list, they provide an opportunity to discuss all things mothy on-line and can be of great value to the beginner.


Consider joining Butterfly Conservation. The society is very active in promoting moth conservation and is a leader in many of the Recording and Conservation programmes currently running in the UK to halt the decline in some of our rarest moth species. Moths need friends - give them your support.

Tips to assist with moth identification in Lancashire

This list is designed to help moth recorders avoid some of the pitfalls that have been experienced by others when identifying moths in Lancashire. Many species appear to be difficult to identify when you first start. But take things slowly and carefully. Don’t try to identify everything straight away – build up your experience bit by bit. Reference to our County Checklist (on the website) and various Moth Identification books will show which moths are particularly tricky to separate and whether they are likely to occur in our area. This list includes common moths present in the county that are prone to be misidentified as uncommon species. There will be many small (micro) moths that are not in the books you will use. Some of these micros can be quite large e.g Mother of Pearl and Small Magpie.

When identifying any moth it is important to check four things:

(1) - Is the time of year correct for the moth you suspect you have found?

(2) - Is the moth likely to occur in Lancashire according to the reference book/s you are using?

(3) - Is the habitat correct for your moth? (n.b. - migrant moths can turn up anywhere)

(4) - Is the moth on the County Checklist? If so, is there an asterisk against your species? * - requires verification by an experienced moth recorder.

Please be aware that species can and do occasionally appear earlier or later and in unusual places than are quoted in the books. If you suspect you have the identification correct, keep or photograph the moth and check with Richard Walker:

tel no here.........

Or email (with a picture if possible) rbkvwalker[at]

The moths below are the most likely species to be encountered. If you suspect the uncommon or rare option is the moth you have, please follow the recommendations above. They are listed in the order in which they appear in the reference books (except Light Emerald)