Posted by: lensweb | October 22, 2019

Popular Hawk-moths

The first hawk-moth I ever encountered was a very large, perfectly pink, caterpillar with a bright blue tail. It was a lime hawk-moth caterpillar wandering on the pavement beneath the lime trees by the Erewash Canal at Long Eaton, looking for somewhere to bury itself to pupate and over-winter.

Looking through the Observers book of Larger British Moths helped to identify it as a hawk-moth of some sort, but these days ID is a lot easier as we have Ian Kimber’s UK Moths website. Ian has listed the most popular ID requests in order of frequency and hawk-moths take 6 out of the top 10 places. Hawk-moths are large and so spectacular that many people think they come from exotic climes, but they are quite likely to appear in your own back garden.

Next, I came across a poplar hawk-moth, at Seller’s Wood, the Notts Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve at Bulwell. According to Ian, this should be called the “Popular Hawk-moth’ and it is Number 1 on his list. ‘Large, peculiarly shaped and not easily disturbed.’ It does seem strangely reluctant to fly.

The first humming bird hawk-moth I saw was hovering over some red valerian flowers on a hot summer day, 8th August 2006, but I was on holiday in Hereford so this didn’t count. Then one Christmas eve I went to the Long Eaton ASDA and there was a humming-bird hawk-moth flitting about the boxes of cereal, poor thing! After many false alarms of silver-Y moths on the buddlia, at last this year, a humming bird hawk-moth visited one of my hanging baskets, utter satisfaction.

One day I received a phone call from my father, a red-letter day, I don’t recall any others, anyway, he said you must come round! So I went to the house at Tamworth Road, and, bending the stalks of evening primrose, were three leathery brown caterpillars with very large ‘eyes’, these were my first elephant hawk-moths, the date, 30th August 2007. They did not want to be photographed, and reared up in a threat posture.

On 6th August 2009 I spied an eyed hawk-moth caterpillar clinging to a willow branch at the South end of Toton Sidings, this was quite difficult to identify, as it looks so similar to the lime and the poplar hawk-moth caterpillar. I took it home to keep it through to the moth stage. It fed voraciously on willow leaves at first but then it stopped eating and I thought it was going to pupate. It remained motionless on the branch for a few days and then suddenly, several chrysalis’ erupted. It had been parasitised by a wasp!

On 4th September 2013 a neighbour brought me a strange creature they had found when digging in the garden, this was a pupating privet hawk-moth caterpillar, possibly the first to be recorded in Derbyshire, the northward march of the insects is inexorable! I re-buried it after taking a photograph, but the year after, I disturbed what I thought was a bat from my herb garden and it was an adult privet hawk-moth, they are huge! This year a friend rescued an extremely large privet hawk-moth caterpillar from the pavement by the side of College Street in Long Eaton, which immediately burrowed down into the offered soil and pupated (after posing for photographs).

Pine hawk-moths are attracted to light and I have seen many of them, but this year, for the first time on 20th September, I was fortunate to come across a pine hawk-moth caterpillar racing around under a small stand of pine trees in Long Eaton’s wonderful West Park. It seems this is the only hawk-moth caterpillar which is more eye-catching than the adult moth.

In 2017 it was reported that convolvulus hawk-moth larvae had been found in my local area but I have not seen these so I  look forward to seeing, not only these, but also the death’s head hawk-moth.  I  run a moth trap weekly in the summer months and I quite frequently see different hawk-moths attracted to the light, in fact, no moth session is complete until we have trapped one of these flying mega-lepidopterans, but the only small elephant hawk-moths I have ever seen are when I’ve been out moth-trapping with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Entomological Society!

Marion Bryce 21 October 2019


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