|The Hawk-moths (Sphingidae)
represent our some of our largest moths. By day, several
species rest on tree trunks, fences and walls, where they
are conspicuous because of their size and are often
people's first introduction to moths.
They are all extremely well-marked moths and in terms of colouration, the Elephant Hawk-moth is possibly the most striking of all our Hawk-moths and is certainly a big favourite at public moth trapping events.Their larvae are probably encountered more than the moths themselves, often found wandering along pavements in search of an underground pupation site.
Over-wintering by all UK Hawk-moths is in the pupal stage. The adults generally emerge from April to June, with only the Poplar Hawk-moth having a regular second brood later in the Summer.
Several Hawk-moths are migrants to the UK and occasionally filter well inland. Hummingbird, Convolvulus and Bedstraw Hawk-moths reach the UK most years and are the three species most regularly reported in Nottinghamshire.
The Hummingbird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum is by far the commonest of the three and can occur in good numbers during favourable years. The last big influx was as recent as 2011, when they were recorded county-wide nectaring on garden flowers such as Valerian. We recorded over 30 Hummingbird Hawk-moths at Valerian in our own terraced garden at Market Warsop in 2011 and had six different moths on 24/09/11 alone.
|The Convolvulus Hawk-moth
Agrius convolvuli (not illustrated) is an
extremely large migrant Hawk-moth and rare in
Nottinghamshire. It is certainly not annual and the last
records we are aware of, were at South Leverton,
Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Kimberley, Flintham and Edwinstowe in
2003, Newark in 2004, East Leake in 2005, Edingley and
Stanton-on-the-Wolds in 2006 and Radcliffe-on-Trent in
2008 (per Sheila
The Bedstraw Hawk-moth Hyles gallii is actually rarer than the large Convolvulus Hawk-moth, but we have been fortunate to record this moth on two occasions in Nottinghamshire.
record was of a full grown larva found on Rosebay
Willowherb (Epilobium sp) at Clipstone Old
Quarter on 08/08/04, which pupated the next day and
eventually emerged on 13/05/05. In 2006, a year which
proved exceptional for a number of migrant moths, an
adult was netted at dusk whilst nectaring on Valerian at
Eakring on 09/09/06.
The last few Nottinghamshire records of Bedstraw Hawk-moth include single adults at Collingham in 2003, Rainworth in 2006 and 2007, Keyworth in 2008 and a larva at Clipstone Forest in 2009 (per Sheila Wright).
The current county status of Nottinghamshire's resident Hawk-moths
Of our eight resident Hawk-moths, two particular species have done extremely well in recent decades and have gradually increased their county range from the south-east. The Privet Hawk-moth is Nottinghamshire's largest species and after a period of scarcity several decades ago, is now quite common as far west as Ollerton and West Bridgford and still increasing. Privet growing in roadside hedgerows is certainly worth checking for the conspicuous larva in August and September and we have records of larvae from Eakring Flash and two sites at Caunton.
The Pine Hawk-moth has probably spread at a greater rate than the larger Privet Hawk-moth, but is still a large moth itself. It is now widespread and well established in forested areas, after first appearing in Nottinghamshire back in the 1980's. We trap it regularly in and around the Sherwood Forest area and it has benefitted enormously from the availability of commercial forestry plantations, but with the gradual reduction in forestry, this moth may begin to show a decline over the next decade.
|Lime Hawk-moth Mimas tiliae (Linnaeus, 1758)||Poplar Hawk-moth Laothoe populi (Linnaeus, 1758)|
|Eyed Hawk-moth Smerinthus ocellata (Linnaeus, 1758)||Privet Hawk-moth Sphinx ligustri (Linnaeus, 1758)|
|Pine Hawk-moth Hyloicus pinastri (Linnaeus, 1758)||Elephant Hawk-moth Deilephila elpenor (Linnaeus, 1758)|
|Small Elephant Hawk-moth Deilephila porcellus (Linnaeus, 1758)|
|While both the Privet and
Pine Hawk-moth are currently doing well, the
Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis)
remains extremely rare in the county and seems to
have become totally restricted to Clumber Park. There are
suitable localities for this moth and it would certainly
not surprise us to find it elsewhere, but all our
searches to date have proved negative.
Common throughout Nottinghamshire, the attractively coloured Lime Hawk-moth can be found in urban areas wherever there are Lime trees. Adults can be found freshly emerged on the trunks of street trees in the Spring. The larvae will eat the leaves of other trees including Cherry and Elm, but we have found a a freshly emerged moth deep within Sherwood Forest CP (with no known foodplant nearby) and a pupa underneath the loose bark of a fallen Sweet Chestnut branch.
The Poplar Hawk-moth is equally as common and should be expected wherever Poplars or Sallows grow. The larvae are common on most of the former pit tops we visit and a second generation is produced most years.
Hawk-moth is another widespread Hawk-moth and seems to be
encountered less often at light, than the previous two
species. In fact, we have yet to attract an Eyed
Hawk-moth to MV light, but we have found the larvae on
Sallow at Warsop Main Pit Top, Warsop Wood, Wellow Park,
Vexation Lane near Edwinstowe and have records of larvae
from Budby South Forest and on Apple at Sherwood Heath
SSSI in the early 1990's.
Both of our Elephant Hawk-moths are strikingly coloured moths, yet their ranges are very dfferent. Found all over Nottinghamshire, the Elephant Hawk-moth can be expected wherever Rosebay Willowherb grows, so is often found on brownfield sites within urban areas. In gardens, the larvae will eat Fuschia. The Small Elephant Hawk-moth is restricted to areas of heathland and golf courses where Bedstraw grows and even where this moth does occur, it does not seem to be at all common. We have trapped this moth on a handful of occasions at heathland sites in Sherwood Forest and we do have a surprising record for Eakring Flash.
Hawk-moth larvae are very large when full grown and like the adult moths themselves, are frequently found by members of the public. Pre-pupating larvae of the Lime Hawk-moth and Elephant Hawk-moth, are probably the most likely to be encountered accidentally, but their habit of stripping all the leaves of single stems of their foodplant, makes most Hawk-moth larvae easy targets to search for.
|Pine Hawk-moth (green form)||Pine Hawk-moth (brown form)||Privet Hawk-moth||Eyed Hawk-moth|
|Lime Hawk-moth||...||Elephant Hawk-moth||...||Bedstraw Hawk-moth||...||.....|
|All have a
horn at the rear end (which is not poisonous), although
the horn is severely reduced in larvae of the Elephant
Hawk-moth and the Small Elephant Hawk-moth. The Elephant
Hawk-moth and Pine Hawk-moth both have larvae with green
and brown colour forms, though full grown green Elephant
Hawk-moth larvae are uncommon, even when numbers are
reared in captivity.
When disturbed, most Hawk-moth larvae will adopt a Sphinx-like posture, by rearing up at the front. It is through this defensive posture that Hawk-moths derive their American common name of Sphinx moths, but the family name of Sphingidae is also derived from the name Sphinx.
Hawk-moth identification and quick ID guide
None of our eight resident Hawk-moths should provide any identification difficulties, even for the newcomer to moths and moth trapping. The only possible confusion pairings are a) Privet Hawk-moth/Pine Hawk-moth, b) Poplar Hawk-moth/Eyed Hawk-moth and c) Elephant Hawk-moth/Small Elephant Hawk-moth. Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth is not illustrated, but could possibly be mistaken for the migrant Hummingbird Hawk-moth.
|1. Privet Hawk-moth Sphinx ligustri ..... 2. Hummingbird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum ..... 3. Pine Hawk-moth Hyloicus pinastri|
|4. Poplar Hawk-moth Laothoe populi ..... 5. Bedstraw Hawk-moth Hyles gallii ..... 6. Small Elephant Hawk-moth Deilephila porcellus|
|7. Elephant Hawk-moth Deilephila elpenor ..... 8. Lime Hawk-moth Mimas tiliae ..... 9. Eyed Hawk-moth Smerinthus ocellata|