UK gardens could soon be invaded by an influx of moths that look remarkably like hummingbirds, due to warmer autumns and winters.
The striking hummingbird hawk-moth is a native of North Africa and uses a long feeding tube for sucking nectar out of the flowers.
They also have a wingspan of around two inches, with wings beating so fast an audible hum can clearly be heard.
Butterfly Conservation, which conducts official counts of the UK moth population, says sightings of the species have increased by more than 230 per cent to almost 1,200 so far this year. Last year fewer than 500 were spotted.
The brown, orange and black moth is regularly mistaken for its namesake bird because of its size and the way it hovers with wings flapping as it explores flowers for food. The moths are particularly fond of buddleia, lavender and honeysuckle, and can live for up to eight months. Real hummingbirds are slightly larger.
The Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) is a species of Sphingidae. Its long proboscis and its hovering behavior, accompanied by an audible humming noise, make it look remarkably like a hummingbird while feeding on flowers. It is theorised that this resemblance is a result of convergent evolution.
It flies during the day, especially in bright sunshine, but also at dusk, dawn, and even in the rain, which is unusual for even diurnal hawkmoths. Its visual abilities have been much studied, and it has been shown to have a relatively good ability to learn colours.
The Hummingbird Hawk-moth is distributed throughout the northern Old World from Portugal to Japan, but is resident only in warmer climates (southern Europe, North Africa, and points east). It is strongly migratory and can be found virtually anywhere in the hemisphere in the summer. However it rarely survives the winter in northern latitudes (e.g. north of the Alps in Europe, north of the Caucasus in Russia).
Moths in the Hemaris genus of the family Sphingidae are known as “hummingbird moths” in the US, and “bee moths” in Europe, which sometimes causes confusion between this species and the North American genus.