Wonderful creatures of the night you'll see all over Norfolk

An eyed hawkmoth

An eyed hawkmoth - Credit: Bruce Carman

Being out in a wood or on a heath – even at the bottom of the garden – the dead of night draws within us a primeval sense of unease.

Although probably, like me, it also rouses a little thrill of intrigue and stirs a dark curiosity. What lurks in the moon cast shadows? What rustles the undergrowth or makes that odd eerie noise?

The strange yelping bark of a fox, the Tawny owl’s ‘twit’ and its partner’s returning ‘twoo’, the snorting hedgehog rooting out and crunching snails.

The sudden silhouette of a bat somersaulting against the silvery gloom.

A common toad sitting on a garden wall in Thurgarton

A common toad sitting on a garden wall in Thurgarton - Credit: David North

The truth is that most of the creatures we associate with being nocturnal actually prefer a ‘crepuscular’ lifestyle, being most active in the twilight of dusk and early dawn.

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The deep dark night is the domicile of some very strange creatures, and a torchlight search of your garden can uncover animals you didn’t even know were there.

Emerging from beneath the shed late into the night is the devil’s coach horse, a fearsome beetle that can clear the vegetable patch of pests.

A devil's coach horse

A devil's coach horse - Credit: Nick Goodrum

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You may find a big fat warty toad staring back at you in its familiar grumpy manner, but none-the-less happy keeping the dew damp lawn free of slugs.

My favourite creatures of the dark are moths.

These beautiful, surprisingly interesting insects, are often overlooked and misunderstand. Enquire among the uninitiated and you’re likely to receive the response “they eat your clothes” or viewed as an annoying large brown blur fluttering round the kitchen light.

A hummingbird hawkmoth

A hummingbird hawkmoth - Credit: Ron Scott

Moths greatly outnumber butterflies, with at least 900 large moth species and another 1,500 micro-species. They come in all sizes: some of the hawkmoths are the size of small birds; most have strikingly distinctive wing patterns and many are as colourful as any butterfly.

The common names of moths can be fascinating, ranging from exacting descriptions, unintentionally comic or bizarrely unfathomable: Cousin German, crimson speckled footman, setaceous Hebrew character, merveille du jour and old lady being a few examples.

Moths are an important part of the ecosystem and incredibly good indicators of the health of the environment.

At Norfolk Wildlife Trust we carry out regular surveys of moths to help inform us of our reserves’ management requirements, and it also reminds us to ensure we maintain a mosaic of suitable habitats for them.

Although you can purchase purpose-built boxes fitted with a special lamp to harmlessly trap moths for survey work, finding moths for yourself can be easy and inexpensive, even a small urban garden will produce 50 or more species.

You can watch moths by using a garden sheet

You can watch moths by using a garden sheet - Credit: Ross Hoddinott

Why not search for moths at night amongst nectar rich flowers, or perhaps lay a white sheet on the ground with a bright lamp, you could even soak a piece of rope in a red wine and sugar solution, then hang it in a bush; the more discerning moths love it.

Carrying out your own survey can be enjoyable, and help increase our knowledge of distribution and population. You hopefully will be surprised at the variety and beauty of the moths that live hidden lives in your night-time garden.

Take Action

You can take action for moths and other night-time nectar feeding insects by providing scented flowers in the borders of your garden. It will also provide you with a pleasant aroma, which is often more powerful during the still of night.

Lavender is easy to grow and its distinctive scent is attractive to moths, as well as attracting bees and butterflies during the day.

A buddleia at night - a magnet for nature in the evening

A buddleia at night - a magnet for nature in the evening - Credit: Jack Perks

You can try the highly scented viburnum, clematis or the eye-catching wisteria. Native flowers are often best and contain more nectar. Try honeysuckle and for the autumn, witch-hazel.

Buddleia, known as the butterfly-bush, is also great for moths, its aromatic quality is irresistible to them, and of course the sensory delight of the aptly named night scented stock is a must.

For more information see www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk

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