This Hawkmoths Guide features all 18 British species of hawkmoths.
Beautiful paintings by Richard Lewington show both the adults and the caterpillars of all 18 hawkmoths. Use the accompanying text, which covers the distribution, larval food plants and adult emergence time of each hawkmoth, to confirm your identification.
Hawkmoths (family Sphingidae) are some of the most colourful and conspicuous of moths in Britain and Ireland. Excluding vagrants or accidental introductions there are 18 species on the British and Irish list. Nine of these species are residents, while the other nine are summer migrants. Migration from southern Europe can start as early as February. Later in the year multiple waves of migration take place across the south and east coasts during settled periods of fine weather.
Like all moths and butterflies, hawkmoths have a four stage life cycle: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa and adult. Eggs are laid singly, concealed under leaves or on buds of the food plants. After hatching the larva passes through five stages, becoming larger as it grows. A useful hawkmoth identification clue is the hooked tail horn of the larvae, present in almost all our species. When the larva is fully grown it moves to the ground to pupate. Later the emerging adult splits the hard pupal case and crawls away to finish developing its wings. Only some of our species feed as adults.
You can look for different species in the hawkmoths guide during the day and around dusk. Flowers attractive to the two day-flying bee hawkmoths and the hummingbird hawkmoth have nectar guides with strong ultraviolet patterns. Honeysuckle, which is very attractive to the two elephant hawkmoths and the striped hawkmoths, reflects a great deal of ultraviolet light. This is clearly visible to the moths at and just after dusk.