The Hummingbird Hawk Moth…Have you seen any?
Butterfly Conservation has been conducting a Moth Count this year which has shown that Hummingbird Hawk Moths have had an excellent summer so far with sightings occurring up and down the whole of the UK.
— Paul Bowyer (@pabs2) June 9, 2014
Hummingbird Hawk Moths are a migratory moth species. They can be found from Portugal all the way to Russia depending on the season. The moths that are sighted in the UK are mostly moths from areas such as Morocco, which travel through Spain and France and finally across the English Channel.
At rest the Hummingbird Hawk Moth appears almost drab with its brown-grey colours. In flight however they actually have orange hind wings which can be seen when they are hovering next to flowers drinking nectar. Along the side of their bodies they can be seen to have a black and white striped pattern and an almost tuft like tail. Fully grown they can range from 4-5cm in length. Hummingbird Hawk Moths have long proboscis much like butterflies, which allow them to ingest nectar from flowers such as Honeysuckle. The colouration of the larvae however is quite colourful in comparison to their adult form; the larvae are green or reddish-brown with bright yellow and pale stripes down either side with a blue and yellow tipped horn.
As for the Hummingbird Hawk Moth life-cycle, it is still relatively unknown. It’s known that they can have up to two broods a year where females can lay over 200 eggs. They lay them on plant species such as Bedstraw (Galium). The larvae are said to hatch 6-8 days after. The larvae begin to pupate in leaf litter or low vegetation then emerge in late August.
The Hawk Moth diet also varies depending on availability; adults are particularly fond of nectar rich flowers such as Vipers Bugloss, Red Valerian, Jasmine, Petunia and Buddleia.
In recent years there have been a more prevalent number of sightings during the summer months past September when they are usually migrating back to Southern Europe/ Africa. Some people believe this is down to climate change. The moths now have an increasing capability to survive our warming winters.
Interestingly a newly published paper by Comparative Physiology has shown that Hummingbird Hawk Moths have an elevated visual/spectral sensitivity to blue light. This could suggest why they have their innate preference to blue pigmented flowers.
If you are wondering about the best times and places to see Hummingbird Hawk Moths they are diurnal meaning they come out during the day, so luckily you don’t have to wait till night to see them, and they can usually be seen in most outdoor places, gardens, farmland, grassland and even woodland. And they are usually around during the summer till mid/ late September. Some people have noted that some Hummingbird Hawk Moths are also known to ‘Trap-line’ meaning they return to the same flowerbed at the same time each day so you may be able to catch more than one glimpse!
Be sure to keep your eyes out for the Hummingbird Hawk Moth alongside the Painted Lady Butterfly as Butterfly conservation are currently asking for participation in their Moth Count survey this summer. It will allow us to further understand more about their arrival, spread and possible departure during 2014. You can also see last years survey results.
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