Wildlife lovers are being asked to check their gardens for ‘hummingbirds’ in a bid to find out if one of the world’s most striking moths is attempting to colonise the UK. The unmistakeable Hummingbird Hawkmoth, which is found on the Continent, beats its wings 80 times per second, which allows it to hover with hummingbird-like precision over flower heads. Typically only a summer visitor to the UK, in recent years the warming climate has seen the day-flying moth successfully overwinter in greenhouses and sheltered locations in southwest England.
There have been large influxes of the moth in 2000, 2006 and 2011 and hopes are high that 2016 could witness another ‘hummer summer’ as the long-distance migrant attempts to gain a foothold in the UK.
Spotting a Hummingbird Hawkmoth has long been considered a good omen – a small swarm of the orange-and-brown moths was famously seen flying over the Channel on D-Day in 1944.
As part of this year’s Moth Night celebrations, organisers Butterfly Conservation and Atropos, are asking the public to look out for the Humming-bird Hawk-moth in order to build a clearer picture of its UK distribution. Other hawkmoths to look out for include the spectacular Elephant Hawkmoth, a salmon-pink and olive-green beauty common in gardens across the UK. The Pine Hawk-moth is another species that has thrived and spread northward in recent years as it has benefited from the increase in conifer plantations.
Some hawkmoths are skillful mimics. Both the Broad-bordered and Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoths resemble bumblebees but can be told apart by their longer antennae, greater agility and quieter hum.
All of these species of hawkmoth – along with all the other British moth species you may encounter – can be found in the Field Guide to the Moths of Britain & Ireland app.
Butterfly Conservation Head of Recording, Richard Fox said, “This year, Moth Night is focussing on Hawkmoths, some of the largest, fastest and most glamorous moths found in the UK. From the bat-like Privet Hawkmoth with its 12cm wingspan to the spell-binding aerobatics of the Hummingbird Hawkmoth and the punk-pink of the Small Elephant Hawkmoth, these moths have the wow factor. Attend a Moth Night public event to meet these amazing insects or see if you can track them down on your own patch.”
In the last couple of weeks the UK has also seen an unprecedented influx of millions of Diamond-back Moths from the Continent. Mark Tunmore, editor of Atropos, said, “June is a particularly colourful time of year for moths with some of our most colourful and spectacular species on the wing and high levels of diversity. It’s a great time to get out into the garden and see what is flying at night or by day. In recent weeks there has been a huge influx of the tiny but distinctive Diamond-back Moth into the British Isles, which has flown in from the Continent and is being seen as far as the Northern Isles. This moth can be disturbed easily by day from long grass or attracted to light and could be seen anywhere over the Moth Night period.”
Moth Night 2016 runs from 9 to 11 June and will include moth trapping events across the UK.
Field Guide to the Moths of Britain & Ireland is available to download from the App Store.