If you go down to the woods today - look out for the lobster moth

The lobster moth

The lobster moth

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Assistant News Editor

NATURE lovers are being urged to look out for lobsters in the woods - a bizarre request that will actually help conservationists monitor moth populations.

The lobster moth, whose caterpillar looks remarkably like the marine crustacean, is just one of hundreds of species of moths found in woodlands and forests.

Butterfly Conservation and Lepidoptera journal Atropos are asking the public to send in records of woodland moths during Moth Night 2014 to see how they are faring in wooded habitat.

Woodlands are vitally important for moths and other wildlife, but increasingly face a range of threats including development, tree diseases such as ash die-back, habitat loss and invasive species.

They provide the richest habitat for moths and are home to two-thirds of the UK's larger moths.

But the majority of UK moths have declined rapidly over the last 40 years, especially in the south, the conservationists said.

They hope better monitoring will help reveal the causes of the declines.

The public are being asked to look out for a number of other moths as well as the striking lobster moth, including the pine-hawk moth which was rare a century ago but has spread north with the increase in conifer plantations.

Species such as the orange moth and the red-necked footman, named because its folded wings resemble the long stiff coat worn by Victorian footmen, will also be on the wing during Moth Night.

Butterfly Conservation head of surveys Richard Fox said: "Woodlands are very important habitats and many have never been surveyed for moths.

"Around two-thirds of the UK's larger moths can be found in wooded areas and there are many woodland specialists.

"Some 37% of threatened UK moths are associated with woodland.

"We know that British moths are generally in decline, especially in the south, but the causes are unclear.

"Better monitoring of woodland would help clarify whether woodland moths are declining and what the causes might be."

A key draw of taking part in Moth Night is the potential to discover unexpected species in unexplored woodland, the conservationists added.

The event's founder and Atropos editor Mark Tunmore said: "The rediscovery of the birch woodland-inhabiting white prominent moth in Ireland in 2008 after a 75-year absence demonstrates the potential for important discoveries in woodland habitats of the British Isles.

"There are other 'lost' species associated with woodland and there is lots of potential for important local or even national discoveries to be made over Moth Night."

Moth Night 2014 runs from July 3 to 5, and will include day time searches and night time moth trapping events across the UK.

For information about the event, people can visit www.mothnight.info

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