Poplar Hawk Moth: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

The Poplar Hawk Moth is a fascinating and unique creature that has captured the attention of many nature enthusiasts. Belonging to the Sphingidae family, these moths are known for their striking appearance and impressive flying abilities, typically active during nighttime hours.

Feeding on nectar from various flowers, Poplar Hawk Moths are important pollinators, with some species being active during the day as well. Their larvae are known to feed on specific plant species, such as honeysuckle and certain members of the rose family, like hawthorns and cherries source. This article provides valuable information on these enthralling creatures, exploring their characteristics, life cycle, and role in the ecosystem.

Poplar Hawk Moth Overview

Scientific Classification

The Poplar Hawk Moth, scientifically known as Laothoe populi, is a member of the Sphingidae family and belongs to the Laothoe genus. This large and distinctive moth can be commonly found across the Palearctic region.

Physical Characteristics

  • Appearance: Poplar Hawk Moths have mottled gray and brown wings, which resemble tree bark when at rest.
  • Size: These moths have a wingspan of approximately 3.5 inches (9 cm).
  • Proboscis: Like other sphinx moths, they have a long proboscis for feeding on nectar.

Comparison with Other Sphinx Moths

Feature Poplar Hawk Moth (Laothoe populi) Big Poplar Sphinx (Pachysphinx occidentalis)
Size (wingspan) 3.5 inches (9 cm) Up to 6 inches (15 cm)
Habitat Palearctic region California, USA
Appearance Mottled gray and brown wings Gray or greenish-gray wings with white markings

In summary, the Poplar Hawk Moth is an interesting member of the sphinx moth family, known for its large size and distinctive wing pattern which aids in camouflage. It shares several traits with other sphinx moths, such as the long proboscis for nectar feeding.

Life Cycle and Habitats

Breeding and Development

The Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) belongs to the Sphingidae family of Lepidoptera. The life cycle of this moth consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The female moth lays her eggs on the leaves of host plants such as poplars and sallows. These eggs then hatch into larvae, or caterpillars1.

During the larval stage, the caterpillars feed on the leaves of their host plants, growing and shedding their skin several times before reaching full size. After this stage, they enter the pupal phase and form a cocoon, usually on the ground. Inside the cocoon, the larvae transform into an adult moth. In most cases, the Poplar Hawk-moth overwinters in the pupal stage before emerging as an adult in late spring2.

Lifecycle Stages:

  • Egg
  • Larva (caterpillar)
  • Pupa (cocoon)
  • Adult (moth)

Typical Habitats

Poplar Hawk-moths are widespread across Britain and Europe, and can be found in a variety of habitats such as woodland, heathland, fens, and parks3. These moths are particularly attracted to areas with an abundance of their host plants, where they lay their eggs and where their larvae feed. Some common host plants include:

  • Poplars (Populus spp.)
  • Sallows (Salix spp.)

Due to their diverse habitat preferences, the Poplar Hawk-moth can adapt well to different environments and can often be found in both urban and rural settings.

Distribution and Predators

Geographical Range

The Poplar Hawk Moth is found across the UK, including England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is also prevalent in the Palearctic ecozone, covering a wide range from the Ural Mountains in Europe to Asia.

  • UK range: Widespread throughout the region
  • Habitats: Gardens, yards, and wooded areas, particularly where poplar trees are present

Common Predators

As a nocturnal species, the Poplar Hawk Moth faces a variety of predators that are active during the night. Some common predators include:

  • Bats: These flying mammals often hunt for insects, including moths, during the night hours.
  • Birds: Some nocturnal birds, such as owls, prey on moths like the Poplar Hawk Moth.
  • Spiders: Various species of spiders build their webs and trap moths during nighttime.
Creature Hunting time Prey capture method
Bats Night Aerial pursuit
Nocturnal Birds Night Stealth and swooping
Spiders Night Webs

Despite having predators, the Poplar Hawk Moth has developed some defense mechanisms. For instance, its cryptic appearance resemblance to an Eye Hawk Moth can deter predators such as birds.

Adaptations and Survival

Camouflage and Defense Mechanisms

The Poplar Hawk Moth utilizes its unique colour and patterns for effective camouflage. Its forewings and hindwings exhibit shades of green, yellow, and grey, allowing it to blend with foliage and avoid predation by birds and bats. The moth also adopts a peculiar resting position, with its hindwings pulled forward, creating a leaf-like appearance.

Example:

  • Native to the UK, the Poplar Hawk Moth (Laothoe populi) showcases effective camouflage in its natural habitat.

Some defense mechanisms include:

  • Camouflage with leaf-like patterns
  • Resting positions that mimic leaves or twigs

Diet and Feeding Habits

Adapted to a diet of nectar, the Poplar Hawk Moth features a long proboscis for efficient feeding. The moth primarily feeds on popular, aspen, and willow tree flowers, hovering above them to access the nectar. This enables them to maintain their energy and mobility while avoiding predators.

Example:

  • Nectar from flowers provides the necessary nutrients for the Poplar Hawk Moth’s survival in the wild.

Comparison table:

Feature Poplar Hawk Moth Other Moth Species
Wingspan Average: 70-95mm Varies
Camouflage Excellent Varies
Feeding method Hovering Varies
Typical habitat Deciduous trees Varies

In summary, the Poplar Hawk Moth displays impressive adaptations and survival capabilities through its camouflage, defense mechanisms, as well as diet and feeding habits. These traits make this moth species well-suited to thrive in various habitats within its native range.

Footnotes

  1. Sphinx Moths (Hawk Moths)

  2. Hummingbird Moth

  3. PNW Moths | FAQs – Western Washington University

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Poplar Hawk-Moth from England

 

Hi Bugman, could you please help identify this moth we have taken a picture of ?
Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 6:22 AM
We live in the North East of England and we found this guy clinging to the outer wall of my Dad’s house near the porch, he has been sitting there for a few days. We have been able to have a good look at him. He looks about 3 inches wide with a body length of 1.5 inches, with brown body colours rather like a tree, with a fine black outline. His wings have a crinkled appearance also, they don’t appear straight and his body is quite thick in appearance which narrows down and turns up at the end. He has identical white markings on his wings like small half moon shapes. He could be quite common I don’t know but we thought he looked kinda special and would appreciate your help to find out what species he is. Sorry if I am calling our moth a he as I don’t have any knowledge of bugs he could well be a she! Thank you for your site, my family and I have been looking at the range of different bug’s most of which we hav’nt ever come across before and they are a delight!
Jo North East England
Sunderland North East England

Poplar Hawk-Moth
Poplar Hawk-Moth

Hi Jo,
This is a Poplar Hawk-Moth, Laothoe populi.  According to the UK Moths website, it is:  ”
Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear.  If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden. Distributed commonly throughout most of Britain, the adults are on the wing from May to July, when it is a frequent visitor to light. The larvae feed on poplar ( Poplar ), aspen ( P. tremula ) and sallow ( Salix ). “

Letter 2 – British Poplar Hawkmoths Mating

 

Mating Moths
Hi
I took this picture one evening this summer. Could be a good one for the ‘love among the bugs’ page… Are these more ‘modest sphinxes’?
Paul Beadle
Devon, UK

Hi Paul,
Your Sphinxes are definitely immodest, and they are not Modest Sphinxes either. These are Poplar Hawkmoths, Laothoe populi. As might be expected, the larvae feed on poplar trees. When alarmed the moths reveal a red patch on the lower wings to frighten predators, as depicted in this image we located online.

Letter 3 – British Poplar Hawk Moth

 

HUGE BEAST!
Hi there,
We found this beastie clinging to our wine bottles one morning, any chance you could clarify its species? We guessed at a Modest Sphinx. Do you think it is unusual for this to be found in the UK? I see from your site that it is really only native to US and Canada. I look forward to your response.
Many thanks,
Natasha Ewers.

Hi Natasha,
This looks very similar to the U.S. Modest Sphinx, but I have located a site dedicated to British Hawkmoths that lists it as a Poplar Sphinx. So, they have the same food plant. They seem to be closely related despite having different genus names. Perhaps some taxonomy needs to be done here. Here is what the site reports: “Poplar Hawk-Moth (Laothoe populi ) The most frequently seen of all the reserve’s hawk-moths and may be on the wing from late May until early August. The peak period though is July, when moth-trapping sessions can produce 5-10 on a single night. The larvae are probably dependant on either white poplar or sallow as a foodplant. “

Letter 4 – Poplar Hawk Moth

 

Mothra.
Hey. Well first I’d like to explain the story behind this one,My friends and myself were sitting in my room talking about "how too many bugs come indoors in the summer"..The windows are all open and the lights are all on..And suddenly something flies through my widnow about the size of a small bat or bird. It took us about half an horu to get the courage to capture it and I took photos out of fascination at it’s size. I’ve seen thousands of moths but this is the single biggest I have ever seen in my life [I blame global warming] I didn’t think we got insects this big in England. The second thing I want to ask about is this stange beetle creature that entered my room via the window a couple of nights prior to the moth. It is also huge by English standards and was covered in little brownish insects crawling allover it [I assumed they were it’s offspring]. [Pictures also attacted] I’d appreciate it if you could tell me what they both were and tell me a little about whether or not they should be in England that size. Both insects were captured in standard english pint glasses [the moth could hardly get in] with openings of 3.5 inches in diameter. Thankyou in advance.
Joe.

Hi Joe,
The Poplar Hawk Moth, Laothoe populi (Linnaeus, 1758) was described by Linnaeus in 1758 and is a resident of England. The beetle photo did not arrive but it sounds like a Burying Beetle with hitchhiking mites attached.

Letter 5 – Poplar Hawk Moth from Ireland

 

catarpilar
Hello Daniel,
Thanks for your answer, i found another one in the garden its the same as the first one but different collour, is it the same?? and the moth on the wall is that one of the catarpilar’s it was 5 cm Kind regards
Jeannette

Hi Again Jeannette,
Your moth is unrelated to your caterpillar. This is a Poplar Hawk Moth, Laothoe populi, and you can read about it on the UK Moth site. In the future, please limit your identification requests to one species per email as it makes our archiving and posting process difficult if multiple species are included together.

Letter 6 – Poplar Hawkmoth from UK

 

What is this moth?
July 5, 2010
Hi. Could you please help me identify this moth. It fell out of a hedge when I was cutting it. We got a picture and put it back. It has fortunately survived. I initially thought it was a moth when I saw it. It was very docile when we pictured it. It measured approx 3 inches long by four inches wide. It has been pictured on my Grandmas hands. Thanks for your help
Jon
Thornton near Blackpool. Lancashire

Poplar Hawkmoth

Hi Jon,
According to the UK Moths website, the Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, is:  “Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.  Distributed commonly throughout most of Britain, the adults are on the wing from May to July, when it is a frequent visitor to light.  The larvae feed on poplar (Poplar), aspen (P. tremula) and sallow (Salix).

Letter 7 – Poplar Hawkmoth from England

 

Mysterious Moth
Location:  Poulton-Le-Fylde, Lancashire
August 9, 2010 5:54 pm
This Moth was on our kitchen window on the outside and it was massive compared with moths I have seen it is even bigger than the tiger moth. Its body is what got me interested as it is very wide compared to other moths I have seen and its wing span must have been at least 5 inches.
Laura

Poplar Hawkmoth

Hi Laura,
According to the UK Moths Website, the Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, is:  “Probably the commonest of our [UK] hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.  Distributed commonly throughout most of Britain, the adults are on the wing from May to July, when it is a frequent visitor to light.  The larvae feed on poplar (Poplar), aspen (P. tremula) and sallow (Salix).”  The resting attitude that is describes is well illustrated in your photograph.

Thank you for taking the time to get back to me. I probably seem thick to you lol but me and my husband had never seen that moth before even though it is quite common.
Regards
Laura

Not at all Laura,
Often common species are absent from certain locations, perhaps because the food plant is absent.  Insects are often overlooked.

We try and grow certain plants to keep different types of birds and bugs coming to our garden. We have just put some nettles in to attract the red admiral as we haven’t seen many this year so thought if we can start growing some nettles it might attract them for next year. We have a pond for the frogs to come 3 different cherry trees for the birds etc. We are trying to do our bit for them.

Letter 8 – Poplar Hawkmoth

 

What is this bug !!!!!
Location: Staffordshire, UK
July 4, 2011 7:03 am
I found this on my shed soaking up the sunshine, its about 2+ inches long and quite ugly !!!!
Signature: Lindsey ! Staffordshire

Poplar Hawkmoth

Hi Lindsey,
This Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, is the first possibility on the Beginner’s Top Twenty of the UK Moths website.

Letter 9 – Poplar Hawkmoth from the UK

 

Subject: Is it a moth?
Location: Manchester UK
June 27, 2014 3:22 am
Hello bugman,
My friend had this little fellow on her leg and when it flew to a post she realised it looked a little strange to be around Manchester!
Signature: Paul Goddard

Poplar Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth

Dear Paul,
According to UK Moths, the Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, is:  “Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, [and] it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.”

Letter 10 – Poplar Hawkmoth from the UK

 

Subject: moth
Location: suffolk u.k
April 29, 2015 11:19 am
Hi there
last summer i noticed on the fly screen of the door the biggest mother of a moth i had ever seen. i quickly got my camera and took some photo’s of it. it was really quite beautiful but i have no clue what sort of moth it is. in live in suffolk in the U.K
any feedback gratefully received
Signature: juliet x

Poplar Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth

Dear Juliet,
This wondrous creature is a Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, and according to UK Moths, it is:  “Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.”

Poplar Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth

Thanks so much for that information. very much appreciated.
it was so lovely.
regards
juliet bumstead

Letter 11 – Poplar Hawkmoth in England

 

Subject: Black mystery moth
Location: London, England
May 19, 2017 3:26 am
Seen in central London. At a distance first thought was a common black peppered moth, but up close it appeared just a bit too consistently glossy-black and its legs aren’t quite what I’d expect? Though granted my knowledge is minimal!
Signature: SJM

Poplar Hawkmoth

Dear SJM,
This impressive moth is a Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, and according to UK Moths:  “Wingspan 65-90 mm.  Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.  Distributed commonly throughout most of Britain, the adults are on the wing from May to July, when it is a frequent visitor to light.  The larvae feed on poplar (Populus), aspen (P. tremula) and sallow (Salix).”

Letter 12 – Poplar Hawkmoth from the UK

 

Subject:  Large moth/insect sighted
Geographic location of the bug:  United Kingdom, England, Birmingham
Date: 07/16/2018
Time: 07:34 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi there, I spotted this insect in a block of flats on the wall. I have searched allover the Internet and i can not identify this type of moth/butterfly/insect species.
Flabbergasted.
How you want your letter signed:  S. JARVIS

Poplar Hawkmoth

Dear S. JARVIS,
This is a Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, and according to UK Moths:  “Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.  Distributed commonly throughout most of Britain, the adults are on the wing from May to July, when it is a frequent visitor to light.”

Letter 13 – Poplar Hawkmoth from Scotland

 

Subject:  Giant type chunky moth thing
Geographic location of the bug:  Scotland
Date: 06/03/2020
Time: 04:39 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  On my dairy staircase this morning I woke up to find a giant moth type thing. It’s is huge computed to a moth and much chunkier. About half the size of my hand. Some
Googling shows maybe a hawk moth but I’m in Scotland not the tropics. I’m central Scotland near Glasgow.
How you want your letter signed:  Nicola Smith

Poplar Hawkmoth

Dear Nicola,
This impressive moth is a Poplar Hawkmoth.  According to Butterfly Conservation:  “Female comes to light before midnight, the male after midnight, in greater numbers. Rests with abdomen curved up and hindwings further forward than the forewings.”

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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