If you haven't been along to a moth night before and intend doing so then it may be useful to know what to expect. People run moth nights differently and what follows applies mainly to moth nights that the Suffolk Moth Group (SMG) or myself run although most of it will probably apply to any moth night event.
It is usually a good idea to let the organiser of the moth night know if you are going to be turning up. Sometimes the moth lights are set up away from the meeting place so if you're late and you are not expected you may have problems finding the meeting. In addition at some meetings site owners will have placed restrictions on the numbers of people allowed to attend so it's best to check that you can attend to avoid disappointment. Events may be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances or bad weather.
The SMG advertises meeting times which allow the group time to have a quick look around the site to decide where we want to place our moth traps and to set them up before it's dark. This will usually mean that if you are not operating a moth trap you will have to wait a while before we are ready. Helping hands are always welcome if you are up to it.
Moths will not really start turning up at the lights until it starts to get dark. Different species of moth tend to fly at different times of the night; there are some species well known for flying at dusk, some come out as soon as it is dark and some will not arrive before midnight. This means that to see the most species you really need to stay for a reasonable time, although there is usually no problem with people leaving whenever they want to. In the height of summer it does not get dark until around 10.00pm so plan for a late night, although in the autumn and spring starting times can be much earlier.
Moth recording usually takes place in the countryside so its best to wear appropriate clothing - sturdy footwear and some warm clothes, although it can be quite warm on some nights.
It will be dark so bring a torch (check it works beforehand).
Other useful things to bring along include something to sit on (you won't be rushing about), a notebook, a drink or other refreshments. Some people recommend wearing sunglasses/plastic spectacles or a wide-brimmed hat to protect your eyes from the glare of the lamps used to attract the moths.
Mosquito/midge repelllant can be particularly useful at some of the sites.
Listen to what the moth night organiser has to say at the start of the meeting as part of this will cover health and safety guidelines to be observed during the event.
Once it is dark and the lights are on it is simply a matter of waiting for the moths to arrive. The numbers of moths to be seen depends on the time of year, the surrounding habitats and the weather on the day. The summer months are usually the best for large numbers of moths (often over a hundred species) and in addition the weather is usually at its best.
A certain amount of etiquette around the sheet and traps is best observed. It is not a good idea to run over the sheet, under the moth light or to open moth traps unless explicitly invited to do so. It is best to leave the catching of moths to the more experienced people as they know how to capture the moths while causing the least harm to them.
The Suffolk Moth Group tends to operate a sheet light and additional traps scattered around the site being surveyed. Most of the time is spent around the sheet (which is larger) as this makes it easier for more people to see the moths. Trap rounds are carried out usually 2-3 times during the evening to see what has been attracted to the other lights, although it is not as easy for many people to get around a trap and see what has been caught.
When you decide to leave let the organiser know that you are going.
I carry a first aid kit in my car at all moth night events in case of emergencies.
Don't be worried that you may not know anything about moths. A moth night will provide a good opportunity to learn. Members of the group are keen to stimulate interest in moths and will try to answer most questions.
Above all enjoy the evening and find out how interesting moths can be.