chris1948's picture

Moth and butterfly identification

Hope you can help. The only way I know to try to identify a moth is to thumb through books until I find a page of things that are roughly similar (or ask on here, of course). Can anyone suggest a book that has an id key, similar to those in books on fungi or wild flowers? Or a book that is arranged according to habitat and food plant? Thanks in advance, Chris



DavidHowdon's picture


Moths guides are generally unusual in that they do not have keys (except in some of the specialist works on particular groups).

The Sterling, Parsons and Lewington Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland has some keys to familar level near the start.

JonathanWallace's picture

Heath and Emmet's multi

Heath and Emmet's multi volume Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland (ofter referred to as 'MBGBI') has keys for different moth groups but represents a substantial investment and lugging 8 or so large volumes with you hardly qualifies as a 'field guide'. Some of the keys refer to characters that are not easily examined in the field (and of course some moths can only reliably be identified by dissection of the genitalia).
For butterflies Tristan Lafranchis' "Butterflies of Europe', published by Diatheo, uses a binomial key method for identification. For UK species of which, there are only 60 odd, this is hardly necessary but it comes into its own if you want to venture across to mainland Europe in your butterfly hunting where there are rather more species than here and where some groups (e.g. Pyrgus skippers) include lots of superficially similar species.

Jonathan Wallace

Roger Gilbert's picture

There are some search facilities on ....

this really good Moth website

Howardian Local Nature Reserve

chris1948's picture

Thanks, both. I'll check out

Thanks, both. I'll check out the sites you mention- but when you're in a field, a field guide is really what you need! A gap in the market? And while most books have info on food plants etc for caterpillars, I've not yet found one that is indexed on food plant. If I find a caterpillar chomping a plant, it would be really nice to be able to look up what likes to chomp that plant. Perhaps I've found a project for the long winter evenings.


RHoman's picture

There are a few caterpillar

There are a few caterpillar food plant related guides -

HOSTS - a Database of the World's Lepidopteran Hostplants, which is at

Foodplant List for the Caterpillars of Britain's Butterflies and Larger Moths - see

You might be able to get hold of a copy of "The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland: Lasiocampidae to Thyatiridae Vol. 7 Pt 2", Expensive, but comprehensive.

Robert Homan

ophrys's picture


I have a copy of Collins Field Guide to Caterpillars of Butterflies and Moths in Britain and Europe by D J Carter and B. Hargreaves Collins 1986. Not brilliant, but it has plates arranged by food plant, with pictures of what you might find on the plant. If I look at the plate for Dandelion, there are 10 caterpillars shown on it, for example. Sounds the sort of thing you are talking about, and it does fit in a bag. Pictures are not great compared to these days of Lewington guides, but it would give you a starter. You ought to be able to pick one up somewhere.


My Flickr photos...

debbieC's picture

Try British Moths &

Try British Moths & Butterflies by Chris Manley, it is a photographic guide and has the caterpillars, also a good list of food plants & what larva live on them.