Have you spotted a hummingbird in your garden?

hawkmothIf you grow Valerian or Buddleia you will almost certainly have had the pleasure of seeing a beautiful little moth in your garden, which, with its long proboscis, its hovering behaviour and its audible humming noise you could be forgiven for thinking was a hummingbird.

This little imposter is a hummingbird hawkmoth, Macroglossum stellatarum.

hummingbird hawkmothUnlike many moths, the hummingbird hawkmoth flies during the day and so is easy to spot in your garden. It has a brown abdomen with white-spots, brown forewings, orange hindwings and a wingspan of about two inches (50-58mm). 

The hummingbird hawkmoth is strongly attracted to flowers that provide a plentiful supply of nectar, such as red valerian, honeysuckle, jasmine, Buddleia, lilac, and petunia. 

It is very swift in flight and the wings beat so rapidly that they produce the audible hum. It is an expert hoverer, darting from one flower to the next with the long proboscis uncoiled which completes the illusion of a hummingbird. It hovers in front of a flower, probes it repeatedly with its proboscis for nectar and then darts to the next flower. 

It has an incredibly good memory and so individual moths will return to the same flowerbeds every day at about the same time.

This hawkmoth is abundant and resident all around Mediterranean area and many thousands regularly migrate northward across Europe in the spring. The numbers which reach the UK can vary greatly from year to year, but he main season for them in the UK runs from June to September. Many of those seen in late summer are largely the result of emergence of locally raised moths. Even though the moths successfully breed in the UK, they are not able to survive the cold winters.

Moths aren’t simply dull, clothes-eating nocturnal cousins of the butterfly. They are a fascinating and varied group which is vital for polination and as food for other wildlife.