Sunday, 18 October 2015

'Sugaring' for Autumn Species

Now that many species of flowering plants are dying off for the year, a rich source of nectar for our butterflies and moths is disappearing and when this happens, this of course means that butterflies in particular and to some degree the moths will disappear – this got me thinking about trying some ‘sugaring’ to extend the period where we can enjoy these beautiful insects.
First off all I had to knock up a delicious sugary substance to attract the insects. There are many different potions and recipes available and some which use secret ingredients, but I stuck with a basic, sweet smelling concoction which certainly works for me. For any of you who wish to have a go, this is what you need to do.

Spraying the diluted sugar onto the dead flower heads
The ingredients
I bottle of stout (or any other beer you’ve got handy)
1lb of soft brown sugar
1lb tin of black treacle

Brick, Yellow-line Quaker and Angle Shades feeding
Put all the above ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring at all times to make sure the sugar has dissolved. Then turn off the heat but continue to stir as the sugar will crystallise on the surface if you don’t. Allow the mixture to cool and then pour into a container (a plastic paint kettle for example is perfect) – your attractant is now ready to use.

The conventional way to use this, is to paint it onto fence posts tree trunks and other appropriate surfaces to attract moths, but please be aware not to apply it to anything that you might touch or handle, otherwise you could get covered in this gloop (not very pleasant!). Check the treated areas after dark for feeding moths and other creatures; it seems that just about everything is drawn to it (as you will find out for yourselves if you have a go). It is also a good idea to apply the sugar to the same areas nightly, so that you build up the potency. So far, after doing this for the last
Yellow-line Quaker, Red-line Quaker and Brindled Green
week or so I have recorded; Red-line Quaker, Yellow-line Quaker, Chestnut, Brick, Green-brindled Crescent, Common Marbled Carpet, Brindled Green, Satellite, Red-green Carpet and Angle Shades.  

Red Admiral and Comma feeding on the sugar
However, I had an idea that when the sun was shining that this might attract the late flying butterflies too. I put some of the sugar into a small hand spray, then diluted it down (by about 40 parts water to 1 part of the sugar mixture), gave it a good shake to mix everything up then applied it to the dead heads of several flowering plants, where the butterflies had been coming to the flowers a few days earlier. Almost immediately this worked and a Red Admiral came to feed on a ‘dead flower head’! Since then I have also recorded Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Silver Y moths.

I wonder how long this is all going to work for, especially the butterflies. I shall continue the experiment for the foreseeable future. One interesting thing I have noticed is that on those cold nights (and we’ve had a few recently) when not too much is attracted to the moth trap, there still seems to be a good number of moths coming to the sugar. One species in particular which I seldom record in my trap is the Brick, but I’m now finding this species in much larger numbers every night, I wonder if this will be phenomenon repeated with any other species? The whole sugaring process is giving me much better moth counts every nights and of course there’s always the hope that the sugar will attract an unusual or new garden species for me, so fingers crossed on that one too!



  1. What a good idea Peter - I'll give it a go if I can persuade Steve to part with some of his beer!

    1. Shouldn't be a problem, just tell him it's for a higher cause!

      Anyway, good luck, if you have a go at it.


  2. 2nd of November and I'm still attracting Red Admiral to the sugar.