Bid to record tiger moth numbers in our gardens
Nature lovers are being asked to look out for tigers in their gardens – but not because a big cat is on the loose.
They are being urged to report sightings of tiger moths – including one first recorded in Devon in the 1800s – among the most colourful of the UK's 2,500 moth species, to help gather vital information about how the insects are faring.
Some species of tiger moth have experienced "precipitous declines" in recent decades, while other members of the family appear to be doing extremely well, wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation said.
The garden tiger moth, known for its "woolly bear" caterpillar, used to be widely found in UK gardens but has seen its population crash by 92% in the last 40 years.
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Warmer, wetter winters brought on by climate change are thought to have reduced the survival of the garden tiger's caterpillars, possibly by increasing the rate of diseases that would not be present in cooler, drier conditions.
But a warming climate appears to have benefited other species, with the Jersey tiger experiencing dramatic increases in the last two decades.
The species was first recorded as an immigrant in Devon in 1880 and remained confined to an isolated pocket of the county, but in the last 20 years has spread across southern England and has been recorded as far north as Hertfordshire.
The day-flying moth has become common in London and is even spotted in gardens in the centre of the city.
The ruby tiger moth has also seen numbers increase, by 296% over the past 40 years, Butterfly Conservation said.
Moth Night, which takes place from August 8 to 10, is organised by Butterfly Conservation and journal Atropos, and will include a series of daytime searches and night-time moth recording across the UK. The public is also being asked to send in records of their tiger sightings.
Butterfly Conservation head of surveys Richard Fox said: "Moths are a greatly under-appreciated part of UK wildlife, but these tiger moths rival any butterfly for beauty and some even fly in the day.
"But climate change and other factors are creating great upheavals among our moths and other wildlife. The garden tiger is in precipitous decline, especially in the south, while populations appear to be holding up further north.
"Other species such as the Jersey tiger are expanding their distributions, colonising new areas of Britain.
"Up-to-date information is essential to understand these changes better so we need the public's help to track down these tigers for Moth Night 2013."
Atropos editor Mark Tunmore said: "Moth Night comes at a particularly exciting time this year following a long period of warm weather in July.
"After a very slow start to the year the numbers of moths flying has soared and we are receiving lots of reports of unusual resident species and migrants from overseas.
"If the weather helps us out over the Moth Night period then participants can look forward to some bumper catches and hopefully a few surprises."