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Hummingbird hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum

This past week, the hummer hawkmoth has been visiting our garden. I caught one with my first try.

Physical Description The moth is named because it looks like hummingbird, with its rapid hovering motion as it feeds on the nectar of tubular flowers.

The larvae/caterpillars grow to about 60mm in length. They are very colourful with a green or reddish-brown body with white dots and dark, white and yellow stripes, black spiracles and a blue, yellow-tipped horn. The sexes are similar in appearance. The moth itself is often mistaken for a hummingbird as it hovers above the flowers. The moths have a brown, white-spotted abdomen, brown forewings and orange hindwings. They have a wingspan of 40-50 mm. The wings beat so fast that they produce an audible hum.

Behaviour: Hummingbird hawk-moths can be spotted every year in the summer in Mediterranean countries, Central Asia and Japan. Hummingbird hawk-moths are day fliers, preferring bright sunlight, but may also be seen at dawn and dusk and rarely at night. They are strongly attracted to flowers with a plentiful supply of nectar such as petunias, honeysuckle and buddleia. Studies have noted that have a remarkable memory, and return to the same flowerbeds at the same time everyday. They cannot survive the winter months and so migrate to southern parts of Europe.

Habitat: They inhabit a wide variety of habitats: lowland areas, woodlands, coastal areas and gardens.

Diet: The larvae feed on bedstraw (Galium). The adult moths are day-flyers and feed on the nectar of flowers such as orchids, honeysuckle, Buddleia and petunias. They feed by hovering in front of a flower, probing it repeatedly using the proboscis. Caterpillars eat bedstraws.

Reproduction: They breed regularly. Moths locate their mates by scent, with sight playing a small part. Hummingbird hawk-moths have been seen to demonstrate aerial courtship chases, with the male and female engaging in rapid pursuits low over the ground, or spiral upwards together.

How to rear hummingbird moth caterpillars:

The female will deposit eggs on the appropriate leaves to feed the larval stage caterpillar. It is possible to collect these eggs, rear the caterpillars, protect the pupa and watch new hummingbird moths emerge. All this usually takes only a few weeks. Collect some of the caterpillars. Place them in an appropriate container where you can selectively supply them with leaves from their favorite plant. Purchase a few of the exact same plant to feed the caterpillars (so that you save your garden. Don’t keep them in a cold room or too cool a house – use the porch * you will need to feed them from whatever larval plant you find them on * any container will do but I like a transparent container * you probably don’t need a screen or ventilated lid until they pupate and you only need a lid if you want a chance to see the emerging moths before they fly away * add leaves from larval plant daily for the caterpillars * remove spent leaves or withered ones and keep fresh ones available * damp paper towels will provide moisture – keep them moist – remove them when they become soiled * clean away waste daily – these caterpillars produce a lot of waste (called frass) * once they are maturing, add several inches of dirt to container * these caterpillars pupate underground obviously, stop adding leaves once they dig in * check the box daily but don’t expect moths for two weeks or so * After releasing them, the moths usually don’t fly away until their wings have dried completely so you take a few photographs and then let the moths crawl out of the container.

Sources: Good photos and info on how to rear the hawkmoths here.

Mothcount article

Photos of different moths in the hawk moth family


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