Moth spotting on the Isle of Wight

A six spot burnet moth with its distinctive red spots resting on a pink flower

Perhaps surprisingly there are over 2500 species of moths in the UK and quite a few of these can be seen by day. With many species relying on a narrow range of plants for their survival, they are highly sensitive indicators of the health of the environment and are also an important part of the food chain. That’s why our work to look after the meadows and downlands of the Island is so important. But where are the best places to go, and what can you see there?

Newtown National Nature Reserve

The rich native plant mix in Newtown National Nature Reserve’s wildflower meadows make them especially attractive to all sorts of moth species, and you can spot quite a few of these during the day.  Like butterflies, many moths are restricted to just one larval food plant, but because Newtown’s meadows have escaped agricultural ‘improvement’ they are home to many plant rarities, many of which have just one specific moth species associated with them. The striking crimson and red six spot burnet feeds on the meadows’ brown knapweed; look out for its papery larval cases attached to grass stems. In the wetter meadow areas you might spot the yellow flowers of dyer’s greenweed which provides a food source for several rare micro-moths including the gold case bearer whose shiny black larval cases can be found actually in the plants, camouflaged to resemble seed pods.

Chalk Downs

Up on the downs, our work to improve the chalk grassland means that both butterflies and moths thrive here. On a walk across Mottistone, Compton, Bembridge and Tennyson Downs you might spot several species of moth during the summer months, despite the daylight hours.

Hummingbird Hawk-moths flit between plants and hover to feed from tubular flowers, just like the little birds they are named after. You might see them rapidly beating their orange wings as they sup from Viper’s bugloss. The Silver Y moth is also aptly named: you can identify it by the silvery y-shaped mark on its forewing.  They are migratory and you can often spot them feeding on flowers just before dusk. 

A Hummingbird Hawk moth
A Hummingbird Hawk moth hovering by a large pink centranthus flower
A Hummingbird Hawk moth

Earthy-coloured Oak Eggars have feathery antennae and a single white spot on their wings. They feed on brambles which is why it’s important that we leave small patches of scrub on the downs. And going up the food-chain, they in turn provide a snack for Hobbies as they hunt in the skies above. The colourful Tiger moth also lives on the chalky downs. Their black and white forewings and brightly coloured hindwings can be seen flitting from plant to plant on warm summer days.

A colourful 'garden tiger' moth recorded during our regular surveys
A garden tiger moth at Crom estate, Co. Fermanagh
A colourful 'garden tiger' moth recorded during our regular surveys

Our events

There are plenty of opportunities to get up close to these beautiful and endangered creatures this summer. On these special occasions, we’ll be setting up our moth trap the night before, so we can find out which creatures are flying in the night skies:

  • Minibeast Safari (Wed 4, Fri 6 & Wed 11 April, Newtown National Nature Reserve)
  • Mottistone Manor Open Days (Sun 27 & Mon 28 May, Mottistone Gardens)
  • Magnificent Meadows (Sat 7 July, Newtown National Nature Reserve, in support of National Meadows Day).
  • Things on the wing (Sat 28 & Sun 29 July, Newtown National Nature Reserve)

We also have a series of Butterfly Walks throughout the summer (1&17June, 30 July, 20 August, 2 September, Compton Downs).

Discover what's on

Make even more of your visit by joining in with one of our events