At this time of year, there seem SO many stories to tell about our wonderful garden wildlife, I'm spoilt for choice.
This week, for example, do I talk about the many birds including Siskins, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits migrating over many of our gardens right now? Or the Common Darter dragonflies flying about, males and females joined together in daisy-chain formation, even as they dip down to lay eggs at the surface of ponds? Or maybe I should cover the swansong of butterflies that try to convince us that summer isn't quite done.
But no, I can't resist letting you look deep into the eyes of this marvel:
It's a moth, one of our largest, with a wingspan of up to 12cm. It's the Convolvulus Hawkmoth.
Now the photograph above is indeed in my garden this week, but was actually found inside a friend's shoe on the sand of the beach volleyball court at Brighton where we were playing (I'm not saying we were playing well, but we were certainly playing).
And this location within a pebble's throw of the sea gives a good indication of where it had come from - Europe. This is one of those magnificent insects which migrates vast distances. In fact, come early spring, the place where you will find Convolvulus Hawkmoths is in Africa.
They breed, their offspring move north into Mediterrnanean Europe, this next generation themselves then breed, and it is their offspring that are thought to then head north again. It arrives in small numbers in gardens across the UK, usually between September and December.
They are pretty unmistakable - the size and sturdiness of them, with those fighter-plane wings, marks them out immediately as a type of hawkmoth. And the only other to have a pink and black striped body is the commoner Privet Hawkmoth which has rather two-tone wings without the intricate tracery of what I call the 'Convo' and has a jet black back of the head. In fact I caught one in my garden in July, so let me fish that out to show you for comparison - here goes:
Isn't it amazing that creatures like this visit our gardens? They are brilliant flyers, and what is extra special about the Convolvulus Hawkmoth is that it has a HUGE proboscis. It is about 10cm long, allowing it to reach deep into trumpet-shaped flowers to reach the nectar. At rest, the proboscis is coiled neatly into a groove between its eyes.
Over in Africa, it is thought to be the only pollinator of Gardenia flowers, but here in the UK there is a special trick to attract the Convo - grow Nicotiana sylvestris, the Tobacco Plant. It is easy to grow from seed (although I find rather prone to slug and snail damage), shooting up in one season up to about 1m (3ft) tall with lax heads of pure white flowers, each with a crazily long nectar tube
You also have to be wowed by the Convo's amazing eyes:
Each is said to contain 27,000 facets, allowing it to hover with precision in front of its chosen flower in the moonlight.
Roy Leverton in his excellent book called Enjoying Moths says of the Convo, "Attracting this moth is pure self-indulgence. There is no conservation value since it hardly ever breeds here, but only a puritan would cavil at such harmless pleasure."
However, I would counter that on two counts. Firstly, it is only in recent years that we've learnt that Painted Lady butterflies, another African species that migrates here but can't survive our winters, actually migrates back south in autumn, often at altitude. Maybe the Convo Hawk does the same.
And secondly, our climate is changing so much that maybe the day will come - and not too distantly - when the UK will need to support breeding Convolvulus Hawks because their breeding range will have had to shift northwards.
If so, my garden (and maybe yours, too) should be perfect for this moth, for its caterpillars feed on the plants it is named after - convolvulus. Which you might know by another name - yes, this is a moth whose caterpillars will munch at that most beautiful if challenging group of garden weeds, the bindweeds. Now who could complain about that?!
Happier growing Great Hairy Willowherb for the Elephant Hawkmoth.
Lol. I pull the flowers off of the smaller field bindweed and pull-up the hedge variety immediately as it runs rampant, binding up everything in its path. Not sure if I'd sleep at night leaving them to spread untamed. Awesome article as always thank you.
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