AN INTRODUCTION TO MOTH MONTH

 
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Thursday 26th September marked the start of Moth Night - a three day celebration of moths from 26th - 28th September to share the fascination of moths through public events and encourage people to submit their records to aid with moth research.

However three nights just isn't long enough for me, especially as I am in Cumbria so it’s likely it will rain every night. So I have decided to do Moth Month - a month (and a bit) of sharing moth related artwork culminating in an installation of papercut moths at Ulverston's Candlelit Walk on Thursday 31st October.

Why do I want to spend a month making artwork about moths? In brief, because moths are fascinating, important and beautiful, but in general are quite negatively perceived.

A few years ago I picked up a copy of The Observer's Guide to Larger Moths in a second-hand bookshop out of curiosity. Opening it up I was surprised by the beauty and diversity of moths in the UK. I had never really realised before how many colours, patterns and body shapes these moths had, from the iridescent, black lines Box moth, to almost neon Elephant Hawk-moth. I was also amazed by the Hummingbird Hawk-moth which uncoils it's long proboscis to drink nectar. Even moths that looked a bit generally browny/ grey turned out to have intricate patterns on their wings and wonderful names to accompany them, such as 'Feathered Gothic', 'Alder Kitten' and 'Oak Processionary'.

Illustrations: 1 | Sphingidae - hawkmoths - Elephant Hawkmoth (no.3) 2 | Sphingidae - hawkmoths - Hummingbird Hawkmoth (no.2) 3 | Noctuidae - noctoids (owlet moths, millers) - Feathered Gothic (no.2) from ‘A Field Guide in Colour to Butterflies and Moths, 1980. By Ivo Novak. Illustrated by Frantisek Severa.

After this I began to pay more attention to moths, and actively started looking for them on walks and visits to the park, as well as identifying any I found on my windows or resting on the wall of my yard. Of course, once you begin to learn and identify moths, you also start to develop an interest in caterpillars and their food plants too. I began to understand that although some moth species lay their eggs on a variety of plants, many have specific larval food plants their caterpillars need to feed on such as the Cinnabar moth caterpillar which feeds on ragwort.

 
 
 
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Illustration: Callimorpha jacobaeae or Tyria jacobaeae (Cinnabar) plate 499 John Curtis's British Entomology Volume 5

I also learnt that moths are in decline like much of Britain's wildlife. The page Moths Count has a concise but sad summary of the situation.

'Studies have found the overall number of moths has decreased by 28% since 1968. The situation is particularly bad in southern Britain, where moth numbers are down by 40%. Many individual species have declined dramatically in recent decades and over 60 became extinct in the 20th century.'

To learn more about these intriguing creatures, and to bring attention to the conservation issues surrounding them, I have been looking towards a project about moths for the last 18 months. However, after putting in various unsuccessful funding bids, I was feeling a bit frustrated. Moths are a crucial part of the ecosystem. There are over 2,500 species in the UK (compared to around 69 species of butterfly), and they are food for a large number of animals including birds, bats and even hedgehogs, and are important pollinators. But try as I might, no-one seemed interested in supporting an artist led project about moths (there are lots of brilliant conservation projects about moths though, that I will list at the end of this post).

I spent the summer trying to see and identify butterflies and moths, and my interest in them just kept growing. So when I saw that Moth Night was coming up, and that it is the 20th anniversary of this event, I decided to just get on with it and make my own project happen. So I got in touch with Ulverston's Candlelit Walk and asked politely if I could please make an installation of papercut moths, including moths created by people in the community in workshops – a reincarnation of my many unsuccessful proposals of the last few months. They were so enthusiastic and helpful, offering to help with the cost of materials and to let me share the space they have hired to create a community shadow screen for the event. So I thought it made perfect sense to devote October to enthusing about moths, and to creating artwork inspired by them, concluding with this installation.

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So, my plans for Moth Month include…

  • Creating 20 pieces of moth inspired artwork as illustrations, prints, papercuts and paper sculptures to celebrate 20 years of Moth Night.

  • Sharing information and facts about moths from my own research and pages such as Butterfly Conservation.

  • Posting photographs of the moths I find during this period, and facts about these species.

  • Blogging about key species, moth conservation issues, and scientists and artists who have been inspired by moths.

  • Offering people the chance to create their own paper sculpture of a moth at the free Of Moths & Magic, Candlelit Walk workshop to be displayed at Ulverston's Candlelit Walk.


I will also be offering the artwork I make during this period for sale at very reasonable prices! I am hoping to put 30% of any sales made towards a project sharing the diversity of these beautiful creatures in creative workshops and an exhibition next year.

I hope some of you are as enthusiastic about moths as I am and this idea has you all aflutter too!

CONSERVATION PROJECTS:

Moths Count

Wildlife Trust

UK Moths

 
Eleanor Chaney