A hummer in the summer


IN the summer I was looking at the flowering plants I have in pots along the south-facing front of the house when I saw a hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum).

I had never seen one before but I knew at once what it was because it looked exactly like a tiny hummingbird, about 2ins across, wings fluttering so quickly that they were a blur. (Eighty-five beats per second, while a hummingbird manages only 50.) It even makes a humming sound similar to the bird, and has large eyes which add to the illusion. I could see its proboscis (more of a drinking straw than a tongue) probing into the florets on a dwarf buddleia bush to find the nectar.

Since these day-flying moths migrate from southern Europe in the summer, it was surprising to see one as far north as Lancashire, but according to this BBC film they are becoming more common in this country.

A YouTube commenter saw one in Birkenhead, not all that far away, around the same time.

I watched out for it for the rest of the summer but that was my one glimpse. Unless it returned to Europe it has probably died by now as they don’t survive our cold winters in Lancashire, but they can hibernate in the south of England.

PS: The internet is a wonderful resource. Those who have grown up with it would scarcely be able to imagine that to write the piece above I would have had to go to the public library reference section, find one or more appropriate books, probably with the help of the librarian, and make handwritten notes to type up at home. (The man who devised cut, copy and paste, Larry Tesler, has just died at the age of 74. Thank you, sir, for the hours and hours of my life you have saved me.) However there is no quality control on the internet, and any halfwit can post stuff. One of the irritating results is that ‘facts’ are repeated on hundreds if not thousands of sites without any way to check their provenance. While looking up the hummingbird hawk-moth for this piece I found many word-for-word repetitions of a report that a small swarm of them was observed flying from France to England by Allied troops crossing the Channel the other way for the D-Day landings, and that they were perceived as a good omen. I could not trace the source. Do any readers know?

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