Sussex Wildlife Trust: June - Ghost Moth

June 1st, 2022
The male Ghost Moths know that to stand out on a crowded dance floor you need a flashy white suit.
A few years ago, as the sun set over the South Downs, I was wandering through a wood on a twilight hike. Through the trees I noticed about a dozen figures decked out in brilliant white gathering in a small clearing.

I hit the floor and, buried amongst the bracken, watched as other white figures joined them. Each individual slowly started swaying, swinging hypnotically like a pendulum suspended on an invisible wire.

The whole silent scene felt eerie, otherworldly, ancient. I was spellbound and barely breathing, scared I would be discovered and this mesmerising performance would end.

As some of the figures swung fixed to their stations, others oscillated wildly, whirling and crashing into each other. The light was fading fast and as my surroundings dissolved into shadow the swaying white figures seemed luminous against the gloom. Then, as the full moon rose and illuminated the glade, the action slowed, the figures retreated and I was left alone in the gloaming.

The ritual I had witnessed was the dance of the Ghost Moths: elaborate courtship behaviour performed by the males on warm summer evenings across Sussex. That moonlit glade had been temporarily transformed into a miniature moth disco where these incredible insects pirouetted, pranced, swaggered and strutted in an attempt to attract a female. More  ‘Saturday Night Fever’ than ‘The Wicker Man’.

And, like tiny Travoltas, the male Ghost Moths know that to stand out on a crowded dance floor you need a flashy white suit. Their wings are whiter than white and look as though they have been hand-painted with Tipp-Ex.

The female Ghost Moth has a more subdued wardrobe and wears pale yellow wings with elegant orange swirls. Males also have another trick up their sleeve (or in this case their trouser legs). Their hind legs contain furry scent-brushes, which release pheromones into the air like an overpowering aphrodisiac.

Once the ladies are lured, it’s the individual moth’s dancing which seals the deal. It can be murder on the dancefloor and scuffles start as the males try to assert their positions. It’s a behaviour known as lekking and the dominant dancers will lead a lucky lady of the lek into the surrounding shadows.

In days gone by the moth’s mysterious, ethereal waltz was interpreted as something supernatural and it has been suggested that the dance of the Ghost Moth gave rise to local legends of fairies and Will-O’The-Wisps. If anything, the reality is just as magical and spellbinding to watch.

By Michael Blencowe: Learning & Engagement Officer, Sussex Wildlife Trust
Sussex Wildlife Trust is an independent registered charity caring for wildlife and habitats throughout Sussex. Join Michael Blencowe on our regular wildlife walks and also enjoy free events, discounts on wildlife courses, Wildlife magazine and our guide book: Discovering Wildlife in Sussex.

It’s easy to join online at: or T: 01273 497532

Raven S B Lee Sussex Wildlife Trust / Raven Peter Brooks Sussex Wildlife Trust

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