Hummingbird Hawk Moth - Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Hummingbird Hawk Moth - Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

A fuzz-buzz patron

of the flower-baskets

where you hang out

mid-air tonguing trumpets.

Bob Ward

In 2000 Britain became awash with

hummingbird sightings. Throughout

gardens and parks in Britain hundreds of

tiny hummingbirds, or so people thought,

were seen feeding on flowers. However,

this was no bird but a dainty moth called

a hummingbird hawkmoth. This beautiful

day-flying moth is reputed to be a

messenger of good tidings. A small

swarm of hummingbird hawkmoths was

reported flying over the English Channel

heading to England from France – the

day they were seen was D-day, 1944!

Fact File : Insects

Macroglossum stellatarum

Protecting Norfolk’s Wildlife for the Future

How to recognise hummingbird hawkmoths

There are nine species of hawkmoth resident in Britain and eight more which are

migrants. Hawkmoths are an amazing group of moths, so named because of their

manoeuvrability and speed in flight.

The hovering flight of the hummingbird hawkmoth as it feeds on nectar from flowers

resembles a hummingbird. This species is distinctive: with wings a blur as it hovers, the

buzzing noise from the speed of each wing-beat, and its darting flight as it travels from

one plant to another. In flight the white-tipped black sides to the abdomen and the

orange-brown colouring of the wings are apparent, along with a long proboscis which it

uses to feed on nectar.

The caterpillar, which feeds on lady’s bedstraw or hedge bedstraw, is green or brown

with a broad, dark band along the back, a pale line along each side and a blue yellowtipped


Where to see hummingbird hawkmoths

The hummingbird hawkmoth occurs throughout the year in

southern Europe where it is resident, but each year, in varying

numbers, it migrates northwards with some being blown

across the English Channel and arriving in Britain. It is most

commonly seen along the south and south-west coast.

Hummingbird hawkmoths feed on tubular flowers such as

red valerian, lavender, jasmine, buddleia

and viper’s bugloss and can be found

in gardens, parks and other

habitats where these flowers

grow. This day-flying moth is

most active on sunny days but it

also flies on overcast and even

rainy days. It may also be seen

at dusk and at night.

Distribution map provided by Norfolk Biological Records Centre (March 2005)

Fact File : Insects

The hummingbird hawkmoth’s year

January – March

● Hibernating hummingbird

hawkmoths may wake on

warm days and be seen flying

– it is thought that at present

in Britain they only hibernate

in the south-west.

July – September

● In Norfolk hummingbird

hawkmoths are mainly seen of the

wing from June to early August,

with peak numbers in July.

● Caterpillars may be seen feeding

on bedstraw from June to

October, but are mainly recorded

in July and August.

● The caterpillar pupates in a flimsy

cocoon close to the ground,

among the foliage of bedstraw or

in leaf litter.

April – June

● From April through to December

migrant hummingbird hawkmoths

arrive from southern Europe.

October – December

● Most hummingbird hawkmoths

die during the cold British

winters but a few will hibernate

successfully in outbuildings,

garages and crevices, mostly in

south-west Britain.

Protecting Norfolk’s Wildlife for the Future

What’s happening to hummingbird hawkmoths?

‘The State of Britain’s Larger Moths’, a report brought out by the Butterfly Conservation

Society in 2006, claims that moth populations in Britain are in serious decline. In the

twentieth century 62 moth species were believed to have become extinct in Britain.

Such declines could have detrimental affects on other animals which eat moths, such

as some species of bats, birds and small mammals.

Hummingbird hawkmoths are regular visitors to Britain but in some years there are

huge influxes of migrants. For the last 30 years a small number of these migrant moths,

which would usually die in the cold British winter, have successfully hibernated in the

south-west of England. As spring arrives these hibernating moths wake in the warmer

weather and can be seen flying before the migrants from southern Europe arrive.

At one of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s coastal reserves the hummingbird hawkmoth is a

regular visitor, appearing in early June. Caterpillars of this species have been seen, so

we know they breed in Norfolk, but the question is are they able to hibernate and

survive the cold Norfolk winter? If the predicted warmer winters due to global warming

occur, it could mean that the hummingbird hawkmoth will become resident.

How to help hummingbird hawkmoths

● Plant nectar-rich plants in your garden, such as lavender, jasmine and buddleia.

● Don’t forget food for the caterpillars. Grow lady’s bedstraw, hedge bedstraw and

wild madder in your garden.

● Send details of your hummingbird hawkmoth sightings to Norfolk Wildlife Trust

make your sightings count!

Finding out more

If you would like to discover more about the hummingbird hawkmoth and other moths

then follow these links:

or read

Waring, P & Townsend, M (2003) Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and

Ireland British Wildlife Publishing ISBN 0953139913

Eastbrook, M (1985) Hawkmoths of the British Isles Shire Natural History

ISBN 0852637438

Butterfly Conservation (2006) The State of Britain’s Larger Moths

or contact

Buglife-The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, 170A Park Road, Peterborough,

CAMBS, PE1 2UF Tel: 01733 201 210

Protecting Norfolk’s Wildlife for the Future

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