Monday, 8 August 2011

Hawk-moths of the Mersey Valley

An encounter with these spectacular insects is always memorable. With wingspans of up to 10cm, and brightly coloured markings, they are far from the image of the typical moth as a small, dowdy, brown insect. There are four common resident species here in Manchester, plus one uncommon resident, and a number of migrant species of varying rarity.

Elephant Hawk-moth
Of the four common resident species, this is arguably the most spectacular with its stunning pink and green colouration. Up to a 6cm wingspan and found from May to July, the caterpillars feed on Rose-bay Willow-herb in late summer. There is a smaller close relative, the Small Elephant Hawk-moth, which has a a wingspan of about 4cm, and is far less common.

Poplar Hawk-moth
Probably the commonest of the hawk-moths, and one of the largest with up to a 9cm wingspan, this moth adopts a unique posture with its hingwings held higher than the forewings. This covers a reddish patch on the hindwings which can then be quickly revealed to deter predators. The moth can be seen in June and July.

Eyed Hawk-moth
Another spectacular species with huge blue “eyes” on pink hindwings, which are revealed if the moth is disturbed. Up to 8cm long and flying from May to July, the caterpillars feed on apple and sallow, as well as some other trees.

Lime Hawk-moth
A pink and green tinged moth, more subtle than the colouration of the Elephant Hawk-moth, and with distinctive scallop edged forewings, this moth has a wingspan of up to 7cm. This species flies in May and June. The caterpillars feed on lime, elm, alder, cherry or birch.

All the above are night-fliers but may occasionally be encountered in the day resting on fences, tree trunks etc. They are strongly attracted to light and hopefully some of them will be attending the moth night at Sale Water Park on 30th July!

Hummingbird Hawk-moth
This is a day-flying hawk-moth which may, if you are lucky, be seen hovering and probing its proboscis deep within flowers such as honeysuckle. It is a migratory species which sometimes arrives here in quite good numbers.

More photos of the above species, and of the rare migrant Hawk-moths, can be seen on the UKMoths website at: http://ukmoths.org.uk/index.php

Ben Smart, 2011