Tag Archives: “Hummingbird Hawkmoth”

Autumn Surprises

At the end of every summer I usually have a few regrets, mostly places I didn’t go, creatures I didn’t see, and photos I just missed. One of my regrets this year was I didn’t see so much as a single Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) all spring and summer. And then it happened – the Autumn Equinox was gone and it was getting cooler, and one bright sunny morning (late morning) a Hummingbird Hawkmoth flew past me and landed on a Butterfly Bush to bask in the weakening sunlight, allowing me to sneak up and get a macro of what looks, to the casual observer, like a large and very unspectacular moth. Of course, we all know differently:

   But that wasn’t all – this spring and summer, for reasons which never revealed themselves, I didn’t see one Beaked Hoverfly (Rhyngia species). And then one appeared as if by magic only moments after the Hummingbird Hawkmoth had flown away, feeding on a cultivated convolvulus flower:

This year there are plenty of hoverflies to be seen, even now. There has been a mass blooming of dandelions this autumn, currently underway, and many handsome species can be seen feeding on them. And their favourites, the convolvulus flowers, are still blooming in many places. Here is the very common hoverfly species Syrphus ribesi feeding on Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium). However, it seems some of the predators which stalk these flowers are still about – I didn’t notice it when I took this photo, but look at the white object beneath the flower. Do you know what that is?

This bright white beast, which looks like a fallen petal, is a female Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and the hoverfly is very lucky it had left the flower as it almost certainly would not have seen the spider until after it had been caught by it. Autumn, more than any other time of year, is dominated by spiders. Flies beware!

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

I’ve been seeing and photographing so much wildlife lately I actually thought I might run out of creatures to blog about this week – but it looks like I was wrong. Today I could hear what sounded like a lawnmower in the polytunnel in my garden, and when I went to investigate I found this awesome little creature blundering into the walls and roof, its wings a blur:

Looks like a rather plain moth on the smaller side of the large moth spectrum, but look more closely.
Looks like a rather plain moth on the smaller side of the large moth spectrum, but look more closely.
Very strong wings with quite handsome stripes on them, but look at rear-end, it has what looks like a short feathery tail... like a bird. And that's the giveaway.
Very strong wings with quite handsome stripes on them, but look at rear-end, it has what looks like a short feathery tail… like a bird. And that’s the giveaway.

This powerful moth is the famous Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Macroglossum stellatarum. Hawkmoths are so-called because they’re powerful fliers, and the Hummingbird Hawkmoth is powerful even by hawkmoth standards. Many people believe they are seeing actual hummingbirds in Wicklow, but what they are actually seeing are these moths, which fly about feeding on flowers by hovering in front of them without landing. They can do this for hours. The long tongue (the ‘macro glossum’) looks like a long thin black beak, and they eyes of the moth are even bird-like, as you can see in this close-up:

Look at that eye - it's hard to believe this is an insect.
Look at that eye – it’s hard to believe this is an insect.

After releasing the moth I soon found it again feeding on the many flowers of the garden, paricularly those of the Escalonia hedge and the Beauty Bush, and I did just about manage to get one decent shot which shows just how like a hummingbird this magnificent moth really is:

When is a hummingbird not a hummingbird? Here you can see when. The moth's antennae are clearly visible in this shot, but not so easy to see with the naked eyes as it hovers along the flowers feeding on the nectar.
When is a hummingbird not a hummingbird? Here you can see when. The moth’s antennae are clearly visible in this shot, but not so easy to see with the naked eye as it hovers along the flowers feeding on the nectar.

Summer of the Hummingbird Moth

This year there is a superabundance of migratory Hummingbird Hawkmoths (Macroglossum stellatarum) in Wicklow. Usually they migrate from southern Europe, but some come all the way from Africa. These beautiful moths seem to fill an identical niche in the European ecosystem to that occupied by hummingbirds in the Americas, although related species of moths that behave similarly are also found over there. Instead of a beak the moth has a macroglossum, or “giant tongue”, which looks and works just like a hummingbird’s beak. And, amazingly, the moth also has tufts that act like, and very closely resemble tail feathers! Look for them on buddleia bushes, honeysuckle, red valerian and along coasts on trefoils. An exotic and magnificent little creature not to be missed.

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeding on buddleia blossoms.