Much Ado About Mothing by James Lowen

4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Compared to the dazzling colours of butterflies, I have always thought of moths as drab, slightly uninteresting insects that you only came across around the bathroom light just as I was getting ready for bed. I had been fortunate to see the odd hawk moth too. One was resting high on a wall at the shops near me a couple of years ago and I was amazed by how big it was. Apart from that, I knew next to nothing about moths.

James Lowen was the same until a particular date, 7th July 2012. He describes it as the day that changed his life forever. Until then he had considered moths as small brown and dull, uninteresting and even slightly eerie. Occasionally he even hated them. But what he had just seen had thrown him completely, it was a Poplar Hawk-moth, and she was utterly beautiful, he had been hit by what they call in Sicily, the thunderbolt. He was now smitten.

This interest grew and grew until he reached a point where he wanted to undertake some sort of a quest over the course of a year. Similar to those that have been all around the country looking for butterflies, orchids and dragonflies. Whilst those can be a challenge, there are relatively few species of those, whereas with moths there are around 2500 different species, and from what he could see from the guide books a sizable proportion of them looked remarkably similar. Especially the micro-moths! Instead, he decided that he would try and find the scarce and rare moths from various places around the country and tell their stories.

Searching for these moths would involve many very late nights, these are night insects after all, and he would drive around 14,000 miles in total travelling from the wilds of northern Scotland to the balmy Iles of Scilly and lots of places in between. Some of the moths he is hoping to find have been seen by almost nobody and a number of them are really local, moving no more than a handful of meters from where they hatched. He will find them in Second World War bunkers, near Neolithic mines, on heathlands and in the middle of forests.

Some of the names of these moths are fantastic. For example the Hummingbird hawk moth or the Bedstraw Hawk-moth but there are the Silver Barred, the Marsh Carpet, Rosy Footman, Jersey Tiger and the Pearly Underwing. Not all of them have these fantastic names though a number of them just have their Latin names and you need to be an expert to determine which is which.

I thought that this was a really enjoyable read. I like his writing style too, he includes enough detail in the prose to demonstrate that he knows what he is talking about, but doesn’t make it so complicated that it reads like a series of academic papers. He knows that the reader may know almost nothing about the subject so he writes with gleeful enthusiasm and a passion bordering on obsession about his mothy subjects. He says that he isn’t obsessed with these amazing insects, but I think he is besotted. I really enjoyed reading it and it makes me want to go out and get a moth trap now.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    This does sound excellent and I think one my husband would enjoy, too, as he likes a moth and was considering a moth trap.

    • Paul

      I really enjoyed it. Haven’t done much googling yet, but it is on the list of things to look for

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