You’ll need lots of ingredients, but it lasts quite long for a moth. You can also pretend there are hummingbirds in Europe!

(Hey, you’re about to read a made up insect recipe. Don’t sniff at other people’s sense of fun.)

For the caterpillar

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Preparation time: 14 days (from egg to larva)

Ingredients: For the fuel, lady’s or hedge bedstraw plants, or wild madder and red valerian.

For the caterpillar, plenty of green and yellow stripes, white and black spots, and the all-important blue and yellow tail-horn!

Method: This is my kind of “cooking” – just sit and wait for the eggs to hatch over 14 days or so, and watch the bright, ripply critters munch their way to obesity. Just make sure there’s enough leaf litter on the ground for them to spin their cosy cocoons.

For the moth

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Preparation time: 3 weeks (from pupa to adult)

Ingredients: For the adult fuel, honeysuckle, more red valerian, and any other nectar-rich flowers. As for the moth itself? You’ll need elements from different creatures for this one. Such as:

The flight of a hummingbird

This gives it its characteristic “hum”, and makes it loop its wings in a figure-8, creating low pressure underneath and high pressure above to keep it airborne. The bright orange hind wings also give it a cheery glow when hovering!

The tongue of an anteater

We’re talking magic and metaphor here, so I’m not suggesting you go and yank one from the mammal’s mouth. Simply that the hummingbird hawk-moth has a long and almost body-length curled proboscis for sipping nectar.

The eyes of a hawk

Surprisingly, they’re not for its wings. Instead, the hummingbird hawk-moth has actual angry-looking hawk eyes, because it relies almost entirely on vision to find the juiciest flowers. Its sight and memory are also good enough to be trained. Seriously!

In Kelber and Pfaff’s 1996 study, it went for flowers with radial patterns or a central spot as these tended to have the most nectar. When associating colour with a sugar-water reward, it seemed baffled by paper colours, but found sweet success 90% of the time with the spectral versions. This makes sense when you consider the final ingredient.

Bright sunlight

Bucking the trend for many a moth, the hummingbird hawk-moth loves flying in bright sunlight, so much so that it doesn’t often survive a British winter, migrating back to southern Europe or north Africa. This might be changing, however, as temperatures are bumping up and up, so if you’re in the UK you might find one or two snoozing in crevices or outbuildings over winter.

Method: With all the ingredients in hand, just sit and wait for the moth to emerge from its ground-cocoon.

So apart from tricking the less nature-knowledgeable and getting a heads up on climate change, why make this moth?

Well, it’s considered a good omen in Italy and Malta, and if you like your coincidences, a swarm was apparently seen flying over the English Channel towards Britain on the day of the D-Day landings. So a little bit of hope, history, and a warning for the future.

 

TLDR

Latin: Macroglossum stellatarum

What? Hefty moth that hums while hovering.

Where? UK, southern Europe and north Africa depending on season, but in the UK, usually from April to December.

How big? Wingspan of 5-5.8 cm / 1-2 inches.

Endangered? It’s not been assessed by the IUCN, but its population is thought to be stable. It’s also a common sight in southern England.

Probable motto: If you only had 3 weeks to grow up, you wouldn’t know what you wanted to be either.

They look…interesting. Do they need my help at all?

Not per se, as they’re fairly common and their population seems stable. However, if you’re based in the UK, you can help the Butterfly Conservation society tot up their numbers by recording any sightings here.

Just to prove I’m not fibbing:

Hummingbirds and hawkmoths“. No date. RSPB.

Humming-bird hawk-moth“. 2008. BBC Radio 4.

Humming-bird hawk-moth“. No date. Butterfly Conservation.

Hummingbird hawk moth“. No date. RSPB.

Humming-bird hawk-moth“. No date. The Wildlife Trusts.

Hummingbird hawk-moth and caterpillar“. No date. Wildlife Insight.

Kelber, Almut, and Pfaff, Michael. 1996. “Spontaneous and learned preferences for visual flower features in a diurnal hawkmoth“. Israel Journal of Plant Sciences 45(2-3):232-245.

Olson, Eric R. 2015. “Featured creature: Hummingbird hawk-moth“. Nature Now/PBS.

Featured image credit: OmaUte