12 days a (wildlife) Christmas - Eight moths a-silking

Blue tit - Gillian Lloyd 

Christmas is in the air and here in Ipswich we’re starting to feel festive. Join our Wild Learning Officer in the run up to Christmas by celebrating some of the town’s wild spaces and species as we adapt the well-known words of 12 days of Christmas. Traditionally for the eighth day of Christmas we’d be receiving eight maids a-milking, instead we’ve swapped them for eight moth’s a-silking.

Very few species of moth are active in their adult stage over the winter and brave the cold conditions, but there is one moth that seems to be a little more daring than the rest. 

Although it has a rather unimaginative name, the winter moth is impressively able to cope with freezing conditions taking advantage of fewer predators over the winter months. Males and females are poles apart in this species with females having short stubby wings and are incapable of flying, relying on giving off strong pheromones to attract males to mate with, who fortunately can fly. The female lays her eggs in the bark of trees where they will spend the next few months until they hatch out in the spring.

They are a fantastic food source for both blue tits and great tits which are said to time their breeding season to coincide with when winter moth caterpillars are plentiful. A whooping 10,000 caterpillars can be fed to a single brood of hungry blue tit chicks.

 

If you have ever gone for a walk on Rushmere Heath in Ipswich in the spring, you will be more than familiar with the explosion of tiny green caterpillars that descend from trees, ballooning from one tree to another by the silk thread that they spin doing their best spider man impression. Hanging upside down on their silk thread, they wait for a gust of wind to blow them on their way to their next food supply where they will happily gorge themselves until they are ready to pupate in June. 

Winter moths fly from October to January and can often be seen resting on tree trunks. They are attracted to light and can often be seen in headlights when driving on a dark winter’s night. Winter moths live in both trees and hedgerows and you may just see the males flying across the road in search of a female.

They are joined by just a couple of other species of moths active in the winter such as herald, satellite and northern winter moths. Why not see if you can see any this winter?