I adore butterflies but have to admit that I’m not quite so keen on moths. The way they rush in through an open bedroom window in mid-summer and bat against a lampshade is all a bit scary when you’re trying to get to sleep. But there is one particular moth that I love as much as any butterfly – it’s the hummingbird hawk-moth.
I first saw one of these about 10 years ago, whilst visiting the garden at a country house near the south coast of England, and I was absolutely convinced that it was a hummingbird. The creature seemingly sat motionless a few centimetres in front of a flower. When I moved a little closer I could see that it was far from motionless because its wings were beating that fast it was difficult to decide whether they were there or not. When I moved closer still I could just detect its huge tongue (technically called a proboscis) that was as long as the moth itself. Then, in a flash, it was gone.
That’s the thing about these moths, you see their bodies hovering perfectly still in front of a flower but when they decide to move on they do it so quickly it is difficult for the human eye to keep track of them. Often they will reappear a few feet away hovering in front of another flower as if by magic.
Most of the hummingbird hawk-moths seen in the UK are migrants from our continental neighbours and they simply fly across the Channel in warm summer periods. But there is evidence to suggest that a few are now managing to overwinter with us. Maybe global warming will enable even more to stay with us so that we develop our own resident population.
I read that this particular moth enjoys nothing more than the nectar from lavenders and verbena so we planted a whole load in our garden. Lo and behold, we are now lucky enough to see the moths every summer within a few feet of our front door. My recommendation is that however small your garden (even if it is only a window-box or patio tub) then plant some lavender so that you too can enjoy this sensational little creature.
You can learn more about the hummingbird hawk-moth on the Butterfly Conservation website and you can try to identify ten other beautiful moths on our nature quiz devoted to them.