Humming Bird Hawk Moth-Macroglossum stellaratum

The old name given to the large hawk moths was Sphinx moths which derived from a fanciful resemblance of some of the larvae to the famous Sphinx of Egypt.  The name hawk moth alludes to the hawk -like swiftness of their flight. They belong to the Order Lepidoptera and the placed in the family Sphingidae.

The perfect insect have very thick bodies, generally tapering towards the tail. Their wings are rather narrow in proportion to the length, but they are exceedingly good fliers and with one or two exceptions the flight is rapid. Species in the UK are noted for their large size and conspicuous for their beautiful colourings. The larvae {caterpillars} of many species are also brightly coloured, many apple green with various coloured lines and dots.The species in the UK include the Elephant hawk moth, Privet hawk moth and the Death cap hawk moth.  Here in this article we review the charming Humming Bird Moth.

The Elephant hawk moth is another common member of the Sphingidae

Photograph courtesy of Ste Bond. Copyright Ste Bond

Humming Bird Hawk Moth-Macroglossum stelleratum

Unusually for this group of insects the Humming bid moth readily flies in daylight {diurnal} and may often be seen feeding in squally wind and rain. However, this charming little creature will fly on summer evenings about sundown, but he is not a sun worshipper and on really hot days it tends to become less active during those hours on intense heat. 

The moth zig zags from flower to flower in a similar manner to that of the hummingbird from which it takes its common name. I have observed this moth being tossed away from a bloom by the wind, however, it soon regains its poise and replaces itself close enough to plunge towards another bloom.  Often whilst procuring nectar from the blossoms the moth is hung in the air, touching nothing with its legs which are held close to the body. Even when resting in the air it keeps its wings whirring giving the impression it is hanging there without support.

Hummingbird hawk moth at rest

Photograph courtesy of Tony Pittaway

Description of the humming bird hawk moth.

The wingspan is between 5 to 5.8cm while the body is 6.5cm long. The forewings brownish, the hindwings are orange. The abdomen is black with whitish marks. There are dark waxy marks or bands on upper wing. They are not prone to colour variations however, sometimes very pale, specimens occur, as do individuals with blackish-brown abdomens and hind wings.


The larvae.

The larvae are large and smooth and have a projecting "horn" on the top of the last segment but one They undergo their metamorphoses on the ground among the foliage of low growing plants.Newly hatched larvae are about 2-3mm long,cylindrical and clear yellow.

Larvae--Hummingbird moth

courtesy of Tony Pittaway

By the second instar the caterpillars take on their green colouration. The caterpillar has two stripes one a yellowish grey colour the lower one paler that run along the length of the body and the horn near the end of the body is typical of hawks moths in general. The horn is purplish red changing to blue with an orange tip during the last instar before pupation they feed fully exposed at the top of the plants and rest lower down in the tangle of vegetation. when full grown and there is ample food this stage only lasts about 20 days. The host plant tends to be Galium species, cleavers, bedtraws etc.


Just before pupation  the green body colour is entirely replaced by a reddish brown colour.

The pupa is 30-35 mm long, and of a pale translucent brownish cream colour, splashed with darker brown. Enclosed in a silken cocoon sun low down among the host plant or among debris on the ground. It does not over winter.


Courtesy of Tony Pittaway

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