Saturday, July 13, 2013

Privet Hawkmoth

If you suffer from Moth-o-phobia, or mottephobia to be precise, then you wouldn't be wanting one of these to fly through your bedroom window when you're just about to enter the land of nod!

It's a Privet Hawmoth, and it's the biggest moth that you're going to come across this side of the English Channel! Here it is alongside a 'normal' Buff Ermine moth:

That's one seriously large critter! They are not uncommon, and this one turned up in the moth trap this morning....I always get a frisson of excitement when I turn an egg box over to reveal one of these beauties! Admittedly, they can look a bit sinister and not to be messed with.

Whilst not having the skull of the aptly-named Death's Head Hawkmoth leering from the top of the thorax, the Privet Hawkmoth does have a 'head' that has an uncanny resemblance to the evil Green Goblin from Spiderman!

Thankfully, it's pretty harmless in reality. Although it 'eats for England' as a caterpillar, munching through the leaves of our Privet hedges and wild Privet bushes, it cannot feed, let alone bite, as an adult, and spends several weeks looking for a mate to make sure it passes its genes onto the next generation of Green Goblins Privet Hawkmoths!

It does have a few nifty tricks up its wings, though. When threatened by a predator, it will suddenly flick its wings wide open, just like the wings of the Buzz Lightyear's toy in the loft:
To us those colours might resemble 'a black, grey and pink evening dress of satin' as one person puts it, but any inquisitive birds are going to get a bit of a shock and head for the hills! It does have another impressive defence mechanism, too, which I witnessed a few days ago: a male like this can make a surprising hissing noise, the result of rubbing together some scales at the tip of the abdomen.

To a Bat, a Privet Hawkmoth must be the equivalent of a 20oz Steak and, let's be honest, their sonar can't fail to hit on one of these. But I reckon that Bats probably don't get it all their own way. Elsewhere on the planet it's been discovered that some Hawkmoths blast approaching bats with their own version of ultrasound, produced by rubbing those scales together with some spines!

What's more, the males of another Privet Hawkmoth species have been found to go ultrasound crazy in the presence of it looks like it's as much to attract mates as to repel Bats!

It's all pretty amazing stuff, and I'm sure that researchers nearer to home will discover some pretty cool things about our own Privet Hawkmoths in time!

After taking a few photos, this Hawkmoth decided that it was time to move on. Here's a bit of video of him warming up his wing muscles before taking a short flight across the garden to hole up in the shade for the day:


  1. Very interesting write-up Steve.Always have been a fan of the Green Goblin so this is the moth for me.

  2. No idea about the Green Goblin but I am a moth fan. That is a superb specimen; I went to check my privet shrub immediately but was disappointed.

    Are you coping with the heat? I am not.