Curator’s Choice – Magnificent Moths

Posted: 14th April 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Magnificent Moths

I picked these because I really like the moths in the collection, they’re a very interesting collection of objects, I suppose. We don’t get to put out them on display very often because they’re quite fragile, so I wanted to show you some of what we’re got tucked away in the store.

They’ve got a bit of an unfair reputation as being small brown, boring creatures that only come out at night so Id like to show you some of the more spectacular species we’ve got in the collection.

I’m going to start with a group called the Tiger Moths, as you can see, they’re some of the more colourful and exotic looking species that you’re likely to see in this country.

Next, we have the Emperor Moth, this is one of the UK’s largest moth species and it’s also our only member of the Silk Moth family and the caterpillars actually spend the winter in silk cocoons. It’s got these very distinctive spots on the wings which resemble eyes and these are used for defence so if they get attacked, they’ll spread their wings and the predator will see these spots and think they’re a much larger and fiercer creature than they are and will back off. Which hopefully gives them a chance to get away. It’s also though that these will fool the predator into attacking the edges of the wings, rather than the moth’s head which will hopefully give it a chance to escape.

Next, we have the Lunar Hornet Moth which closely resembles a hornet, hence the name. This is a brilliant example of what is known as a mimic. A harmless species imitates one that has some form of natural defence. In this case hornets have a painful sting so predators will have learnt to recognise them and avoid them, and the moth hopes that by assuming the same colours the predator will avoid them as well.

Finally, we have the Deaths-head Hawk Moth, this is the UKs largest moth species. They’re a fairly rare site in this country because they only migrate here during the summer, it’s too cold for them in the winter. They’re named for the white spot on the back of their head, which strongly resembles a human skull. Because they look quite sinister, they’ve got a reputation in folklore as creatures of ill omen but they are actually completely harmless. The adults have got a couple of interesting habits. One is that if they’re disturbed they make a loud squeaking noise, a bit like a mouse and the other is that they’ve got quite a taste for honey and they’ll actually raid beehives in order to get it. It’s not known exactly how they do this without been attacked by bees but it’s thought they give out some sort of chemical signature which fools the hive into thinking they’re friendly.