skip to main content

Butterflies and moths

If you can identify birds, you can identify the butterflies which are readily recognised by their colourful wing patterns. Moths are less known because they generally fly by night.  They are, however, also much more diverse and include some species that are even more striking than our butterflies.  There are about 34 species of butterfly seen regularly in Scotland but about 1,300 species of moth.

Some moths do fly by day - look out for the striking red and black burnet moths in grassland that still has a good range of flowers, especially by the sea. Their colour has a reason, it is to warn predators that they are poisonous, which is why they can fly by day. 

Technology can help to bring moths to your garden for you to look at and identify - moth traps do not harm the moths but lure them in with light.  If you try this, do send in your observations to Moths Count (see 'how you can help' below).

Threats to butterflies and moths

There have been large changes in the way we manage the countryside over the past 50 years and we know that butterflies and moths have suffered as a result.  Butterflies have been divided into generalists that are continuing to do well and specialists, such as the chequered skipper, the marsh fritillary and the pearl-bordered fritillary, that are becoming increasingly rare as their habitats are being reduced or altered. The indicator of trends in Scottish butterflies  PDF document suggests that about 48% of our specialist butterflies declined since 1967. 

Moths are also affected in the same way: the once familiar garden tiger moth, for instance, is believed to have declined by 90% in the UK since 1960.  The indicator of trends in Scottish moths  PDF document suggests that the proportion of species declining in Scotland is very similar to that in Britain as a whole (21%) but that we have a higher proportion of increasing species (45%).  

How you can help

Butterfly Conservation Scotland involve their members, and others, in the monitoring and management of threatened butterflies and moths.  Recent actions have taken place to protect the marsh fritillary butterfly, the slender scotch burnet moth and the dark bordered beauty moth.  In addition Butterfly Conservation run the important national monitoring schemes for butterflies and moths external site which depend on volunteers like you. 

Never underestimate the power of the volunteer.  One of Scotland's greatest conservation successes, the saving of the New Forest Burnet Moth (no longer known in the New Forest but still found on one site in Scotland) was lead by a committee of experts who voluntarily gave their time to work closely with Scottish Natural Heritage on this species.

Species Action Framework Information

For information on the three butterflies which were part of the Species Action Framework:

Marsh fritillary   PDF document

Pearl-bordered fritillary  PDF document

Slender Scotch burnet  PDF document

Last updated on Friday 27th November 2015 at 11:13 AM. Click here to comment on this page