This year’s Moth Night, the UK’s annual celebration of moths and moth recording, stars some of the largest, fastest and most colourful insects, the hawk-moths.
Hawk-moths have the wow-factor. Flying at high speed and with great precision, these incredible insects are surprisingly common visitors to our night-time gardens. At this time of year, Lime, Poplar, Eyed, Elephant and Privet Hawk-moths are all frequently attracted to garden moth-traps, while, if you are lucky, you might spot a Humming-bird Hawk-moth doing the rounds of your garden flowers on a sunny day. Out in the countryside, more stunning hawk-moths are on the wing. The bumblebee mimics, Narrow-bordered and Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moths fly by day on damp meadows/chalk downs and woodland/heathland, respectively. Vibrant Small Elephant Hawk-moths zoom from flower to flower and there’s always the chance of a stunning immigrant Striped Hawk-moth dropping in from southern Europe.
No species demonstrates the amazing aeronautical ability of hawk-moths better than the Humming-bird Hawk-moth. Beating its wings 80 times every second enables the moth to perform incredible aerial manoeuvres, as well as producing the audible hum referred to in its name. It’s a spell-binding experience to stand in the sunshine and watch this moth working its way from flower to flower, alternating precision hovering flight while probing for nectar with rapid, darting flights, to the next bloom. What’s more, it’s not just flawless flying at close quarters in which the Humming-bird Hawk-moth excels. It is also a long-distance migrant, flying in across the sea from warmer parts of Europe every year.
The gentle giant
With a wingspan of 10-12cm the Privet Hawk-moth looks like a bat in flight and is the largest resident moth in the UK. Our biggest butterflies, by comparison, such as the Swallowtail and Purple Emperor have wingspans of up to about 9cm. The Privet Hawk-moth is widespread across southern England and south-west Wales, near wild or garden Privet, its main caterpillar foodplant. Incredibly agile on the wing at night, visiting flowers to drink nectar through a long proboscis, Privet Hawk-moths are drowsy by day and are perfect for close encounters with budding moth fans.
The poster boy
The flamboyantly coloured Elephant Hawk-moth, with its bright pink and olive green livery, is a true beauty. One encounter with this common, garden moth, is enough to dispel any thoughts of moths as boring, brown creatures. While other hawk-moths utilise subtle blends of greens and greys and exotic wing shapes to camouflage themselves from would-be predators, Elephant Hawk-moths look like they’ve flown straight out of a Vivienne Westwood fashion collection. Nevertheless, for all their pink, punk, visual shock, Elephant Hawk-moths blend in perfectly on the pink-flowered Willowherb and Fuchsia plants on which their caterpillars feed.
Got the hots for hawk-moths? Moth Night is the perfect opportunity to get to meet them face to face. For three days and nights on 9 – 11 June, Moth Night events across the UK provide a great chance to go out with moth experts to see these incredible insects. Or have a go at some spotting of your own. The Moth Night website www.mothnight.info has details of public events and advice on how you can take part.
Head Of Recording
Follow me on Twitter: @RichardFoxBC