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Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Tuesday, 18 May 2010 14:35 UK
Sightings show Hummingbird Hawk-moth numbers on rise
By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

Hummingbird Hawk Moth
The spectacular Hummingbird Hawk-moth in mid flight resembles a bird

The Hummingbird Hawk-moth, which looks uncannily like a tiny nectar feeding bird, hence its name, is becoming more common across the South of England.

As the climate warms, gardens across Surrey are more likely to see this unusual visitor from Africa.

Now a butterfly conservation charity is aiming to map all the sightings of the Hummingbird Hawk-moth.

They hope to find out how many moths are arriving here and are asking you to add your sightings to an online map.

The first time I ever saw one of these bizarre but beautiful creatures, I was sitting in a pub garden in Farnham with a friend, enjoying a glass of wine.

We were mid-chat when this loud and rather large 'thing' buzzed between us, heading straight for the flowers in a neighbouring window box.

Leaping to my feet in surprise, while spilling a generous amount of Sauvignon Blanc down my front, I squealed "what the heck is it....?"

Equally surprised but drier and considerably braver than me, my pal got up to take a closer look. "I think it's a tiny bird" she whispered in disbelief.

And she was right, well almost, for it really did look exactly like a miniature hummingbird.

But being sensible, sober grown-ups, and not having finished the bottle yet, we knew it really couldn't be.

However, as it danced between the blooms, poking what looked like a tiny beak into the flowers, it was amazingly similar to the nectar swilling avian species.

Macroglossum stellatarum

Now, being older and wiser thanks to the powers of Google, I know it was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth or 'Macroglossum stellatarum' to use its Latin name.

So when weeks later, on a trip to the coast, one buzzed past my husband's ear making him scream and jump three feet in the air, I could explain with a nonchalant shrug, that it was 'just a moth'.

Favourite food buddleia attracts the Hummingbird Hawk-moth

But an extraordinary one, it has to be said. And one we can expect to see more of in the future.

The warmer climate in the South is attracting larger numbers of the moths, which migrate from North Africa and southern Europe in May and June.

The climate change also means that they are now able to survive our winters, and breed here in the South, all year round.

The adult moths hibernate in cracks in walls, holes in trees and in garden out-buildings.

They feed on the nectar of plants such as jasmine, honeysuckle and buddleia, using their long proboscis to probe deep into the flower head.

Their wings beat at an incredible 70 - 80 beats per second, which allows them to 'hover' in the same way real hummingbirds do.

This wing beating also produces a loud humming sound, which unfortunately can make those of us with a nervous disposition spill our wine, if caught unawares.

Although the French word for moth is the beautifully descriptive 'papillon de nuit' or 'butterfly of the night', the Hummingbird Hawk-moth is unusual in that it flies at all times of the day and night.

It will even fly in the rain.

It also possesses an ability to remember its favourite flower, and will return to the same one, at the same time each day.

So if you do spot one in your garden or window box, the chances are that you will see it again.

Moth spotting

The Butterfly Conservation charity was formed by a group of naturalists in 1968 with the aim of halting the decline in butterfly species.

With your help, their annual Hummingbird Hawk-moth survey will map all the moth sightings reported to them, this year.

And with the numbers steadily on the increase, more Surrey residents will get the chance to enjoy the sight of these amazing insects over the summer months.

So be careful with that Pinot Grigio!

To find out how you can take part in the survey and to report your Hummingbird Hawk-moth sightings, see www.butterfly-conservation.org



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