Dear Reader, I give you the most amazing insect you are likely to see in your garden.
It's a bit like that moment on Britain's Got Talent where an act walks onto stage and you so hope they are going to be good but you're prepared for it to flop badly.
So come on, little moth - what trick do you have for us?
Wait for it, wait for it...
Yes, this is the moth that can hang motionless in flight, its wings a-blur, as if sips nectar from flowers, shifting its position in mid-air with precision from bloom to bloom, before zooming off like Buzz Lightyear.
It is, of course, the Hummingbird Hawkmoth, and I photographed the individual above last week at Wakehurst Place gardens in Sussex, and the one in the top photo in my garden 10 days ago. It seems like it has been quite a good year for them, and if there are a few sunny, calm days ahead, there is still chance to catch sight of one before the season is over.
When resting, the sombre colours are perfect camouflage against the bark of a log, or on dusty ground or rocks. I find you have to approach a stationary Hummer very slowly and quietly for they are clearly alert and ready to dart off at the slightest disturbance.
And what a transformation when it takes to the air. The name is perfect, don't you think? It is so hummingbird-like, with fur that almost looks like feathers, what looks like a little tail, a flash of orange from the hindwings, and a giant proboscis that when fully unfurled looks like a curved beak. I took this photo just as the tongue was unwinding.
Like the Painted Lady butterfly, it is primarily a summer visitor from the Continent, so individuals can migrate hundreds of miles, but a few are thought to overwinter here successfully in our mildest areas.
It is possible to encourage them to breed in gardens. The following photo was from my garden a few years ago of its caterpillar, which feed in beds of bedstraws, especially Lady's Bedstraw, which is easy to grow in areas of lawn you turn into meadow.
The adults are rather picky about which flowers they visit - try Red Valerian, Verbena (rigida or bonariensis), Viper's Bugloss, Lavender, Phlox and Buddleja (although beware the invasive tendencies of most Buddlejas). Once an adult has found a mass of the right flower, stuffed with nectar and in a sheltered, sunny position, it is likely to return at intervals, day after day, setting up a feeding circuit so reliable that you can almost set your watch by them.
And there is one more reason to fall in love with this moth, for it is said that in parts of the Mediterranean they are seen as bringers of good luck. There is even a story that a number were seen flying across the English Channel towards England on D-Day. Now I've been able to find out that in Malta the moth is known as Habbara, meaning The Messenger, but if anyone can find me more reliable sources to back up these stories and confirm that they are not just modern myth, I'd be delighted to hear, for this is surely, in terms of Britain's Got Talent, one that deserves the Golden Buzzer.
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