Two Hawkmoths from the UK

Subject: Unidentified Moths
Location: South Wales, UK
July 6, 2014 1:39 pm
Hi, I have found these two moths on the wall of my house in the last 3 days, and have never seen anything like them before. Can you help me identify them as I cant find them on the internet or in a book on British wildlife I have?
Thank you
Signature: Nick Jones

Poplar Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth

Hi Nick,
Both of your moths are Sphinx Moths or Hawkmoths in the family Sphingidae, but they represent different species.  Sphinx Moths is the more frequently used common name in North America while in the UK, Hawkmoth is the preferred name.  Moths in the family Sphingidae are characterized by their long, narrow forwings and by powerful flight.  The lighter of the two moths is the Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, and you can find more information on the UK Moths site where it states:  “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.”  The other individual is an Eyed Hawkmoth, Smerinthus ocellata, and it is also represented on the UK Moths site where it states:  “Fairly well distributed throughout England and Wales, this species has a sombre, camouflaged appearance at rest, but if provoked, flashes the hindwings, which are decorated with intense blue and black ‘eyes’ on a pinkish background.”  Though we have numerous examples of the Poplar Hawkmoth on our site, your Eyed Hawkmoth represents a new species for our archives.  There are many species of moths that have more brightly colored underwings which are used to startle or otherwise fool predators through some combination of camouflage and mimicry.

Eyed Hawkmoth
Eyed Hawkmoth

Thanks for the prompt reply Daniel – this is really interesting.
Although I’ve seen plenty of other moth species over the years (I’m 52 years old) I’ve never seen these types – even stranger that I spotted them on 2 different days. Is this because at this time of year they hatch?
Many Thanks

Hello Nick,
Hawkmoths are relatively long lived in the moth world, and adults feed from nectar producing flowers, hence Hawkmoths are present when blooms are present, and in the UK, that tends to be spring and summer, which coincides with your sightings.

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