Tag Archives: Poplar Hawkmoth

National Biodiversity Week

Usually National Biodiversity Week in Ireland begins on a Saturday and ends the following weekend. However, this year it is a two-week event which began the week before last and will be ending next Monday, June 1, the June Bank Holiday. However, it was only late last week that the cold Arctic winds abated and a tropical current took over, and what a weekend we had. The birds are nesting now and are interesting to watch – such as these Jackdaws nesting in one of our chimneys:

Jackdaws at their chimney nest - it's almost impossible to differentiate the male from the female but she is usually slightly smaller, making her the one with the bread in its beak.
Jackdaws at their chimney nest – it’s almost impossible to differentiate the male from the female but she is usually slightly smaller, making her the one with the bread in its beak.They take turns at nesting duty.

Also, the insects are now making their presence felt – keep an eye out for this creature:

This is a male Poplar Hawkmoth, which is the largest moth most people see in Wicklow, and not all that often either. But they are always around.
This is a male Poplar Hawkmoth, which is the largest moth most people see in Wicklow, and not all that often either. But they are always around. They have a funny way of holding their wings when at rest, but this makes them look very like dried leaves.

This is the largest moth species most people encounter in Wicklow and is far bigger than people expect Irish moths to be –

In daylight hours this moth can be handled easily and is not usually stressed in the least bit.
In daylight hours this moth can be handled easily and is not usually stressed in the least bit.

However, although it’s large there are several much larger species found in Ireland, and the largest that does visit Ireland, albeit only occasionally, the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, is about twice the size of this species and far more robust.

Moths are not the only large insects flying about our short late May nights – you can still find Maybugs, aka Cockchafer beetles blundering about and crashing clumsily into windows, cars and the occasional forehead. They are not our biggest beetle species, but they are probably our most common big beetle species, but they fly for only a short time in late spring and early summer, spending most of their lives as white grubs feeding on the roots of plantains and dandelions.

Many people find the large Cockchafer quite frightening, but it is completely harmless and spends its relatively short adult life searching for a mate.
Many people find the large Cockchafer quite frightening, but it is completely harmless and spends its relatively short adult life searching for a mate.However, it does have hooks on its feet which means it can cling onto clothing and even skin and be a little difficult to remove.

Moth Weather

Before continuing on the subject of moths I would just like to wish all students starting their Leaving Cert and Junior Certs tomorrow the very best of luck. Having done my fair share of exams I can tell you that the best thing you can do is close the books well before midnight, relax and then get to bed and get a good sleep. It’s better than any amount of last minute studying. And if you can’t sleep, don’t try. Just let it happen.

Now, back to the moths: we have some very heavy and moist weather at the moment and whereas we find it annoying the moths love it. You will probably see most of them near your windows at night, or the following morning, having been attracted by the light. One of the most common is this little beauty, the Garden Carpet – Xanthorhoe fluctuata:

A Garden Carpet resting the morning after the night before.
A Garden Carpet resting the morning after the night before.

There are also some bigger moths around, and they don’t all fly at night. A few days ago this handsome butterfly-sized Scalloped Hazel – Odontopera bidentata – flew in the door and landed on the inner side of the frame. This is perfectly natural behaviour, except the moth will usually land on a tree trunk and rely on its camouflage to keep it hidden from birds.

A Scalloped Hazel at rest on a door frame.
A Scalloped Hazel at rest on a door frame.

The largest moths found in Wicklow are the various species of hawkmoth, known to those in America as sphinx moths. It is no exaggeration to say that some of them are the size of small birds, and can be mistaken as such. The most common species that turns up in Wicklow gardens is not quite that large, but is bigger than most butterflies, the Poplar Hawkmoth – Laothoe populi – and will be about the largest moth most people will see in their lives outside of the tropics. It has a peculiar habit of resting with its hind-wings positioned level with its head, sticking out from under the forewings, as you can see in this photo I took a few days ago:

A very handsome specimen of Poplar Hawkmoth. This one is a male, as you can tell from the comb-like antennae. Females have straight wire-like ones.
A very handsome specimen of Poplar Hawkmoth. This one is a male, as you can tell from the comb-like antennae. Females have straight wire-like ones.