Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nettle-tap micro-moth

No Nettles Required: The Reassuring Truth about Wildlife Gardening, by Dr. Ken Thompson, is one of the best books about wildlife gardening that I have encountered, largely because it's based on his several years of research into wildlife in gardens in Sheffield. Many wildlife gardening books simply trot out the same old formulaic advice that's recycled from earlier books, or are based on wishful thinking rather than real experience. Thompson's book is full of sound advice about how to integrate elements of wildlife gardening into a plot that produces food and is aesthetically pleasing; it has probably converted a lot of people to a more wildlife-friendly form of gardening who might otherwise have been put off by the thought of accommodating nettles.

One of the points he makes in his book is that cultivating nettles in the hope that nettle-breeding butterflies like peacocks, small tortoiseshells and commas will colonise them isn't a core activity for the wildlife gardener - there's no shortage of nettles in the wider countryside and on waste ground everywhere and these butterflies most often choose large swathes of nettles to lay their eggs on, rather than small patches in corners of typical gardens. There are better ways to use gardens to encourage wildlife to take up residence - like making sure there's a pond, a log pile, some long grass and plenty of pollen- and nectar-producing flowers (which don't necessarily need to be natives).

Of course nettles have an extensive insect fauna (explored in B.N.K Davis's book Insects on Nettles), in addition to the butterflies mentioned above, but some of the common nettle specialists visit nettle-free gardens to feed even it there are no host plants to lay their eggs on. We've had large numbers of this day-flying micro-moth, the nettle-tap Anthophila fabriciana , in our garden this year even though it's a nettle-free zone. They come for the easily-accessible nectar in plants like this cow parsley - you can see the moth's proboscis sucking up nectar in the top picture.The moth's generic name - Anthophila - means 'flower lover'.


  1. Starting on micro-moths, Phil? You're a braver man than I!

  2. This is the only one I know Graeme - now I'll quit while I'm ahead....

  3. Thanks Phil. There's loads of these up the Bridlepath at Prestwick Carr and they were on my list for ID. Saved my life!

  4. Hi PCF, it's one of the few I can ID without a book and a lot of head-scratching! Plenty of them about on nettle patches in Weardale during the warm weather last week - they seem to fly just above the nettle leaves, swerving from side to side....