August 2017 - Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Photo with thanks to Kevin Symonds

Our garden is a wildlife haven, and this year we were rewarded with the sight of a hummingbird hawk moth, hovering around the buddleia, dipping its delicate long tongue (proboscis) into the flowers for the nectar which is to be found there. (Unfortunately, I wasn't close enough to hear the humming sound, reportedly produced by its wings as the moth hovers). Because of their very long tongues these insects are able to obtain nectar from deep flowers, such as honey suckle and jasmine, which other nectar drinking insects, such as bees and some flies, with shorter tongues, may find impossible. The humming bird hawk moth, therefore, does not compete for nectar source. It is reported that these insects visit the same flowers at about the same time every day, so I am now ready, waiting with my camera, for it to reappear. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it again yet.

Interestingly, Norfolk is seeing more of these fascinating insects. The ones seen here, have migrated northwards from southern Europe, where they are resident all year round. Some are blown across the English Channel to arrive in Britain. Most of the sightings are, therefore, along the south and south west of England, but they are now seen regularly in Norfolk. They fly here from early June to early August with most being seen in July. Unlike most moths, which fly at night, the hummingbird hawk moth flies during the day, which makes it easier to spot. They prefer sunny days but will also fly on overcast or even rainy days. The moths may hibernate over the winter period in sheds, cracks in walls and other sheltered places. 

It is not known whether they successfully breed here. Caterpillars, which largely feed on lady's bedstraw or hedge bedstraw, are green or brown with a broad, dark band along each side and a blue yellow-tipped horn. They have been recorded here from June to October, but are seen mainly in July and August. They pupate in loose silken cocoons in leaf litter or plant debris under the host plant.

There is some doubt as to whether these insects are able to survive the colder winters here. As temperatures rise due to global warming, possibilities of them surviving will increase and the hummingbird hawk moth may become resident.

Sightings of these moths are considered a lucky omen. Apparently on D-day, the day of the Normandy landings of the Second World War, large numbers were seen flying over the English channel.

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