The Poplar Hawkmoth

David Chapman / 12 August 2014

Moths come in many shapes and sizes but not many are as large or shapely as the poplar hawkmoth, a species which can be found throughout the UK.



With a wingspan of up to 10cm, the poplar hawkmoth is a big moth.  Its wings are intricately marked with a camouflage pattern comprising subtle natural colours.  On its forewings it has a white comma shape whilst the chestnut brown patches on its hindwings, though usually partly hidden, are both noticeable and striking.

What really makes the poplar hawkmoth special is the shape of its wings.  The fringe of both fore- and hindwings look like they've been cut by pinking shears.  The forewings are long and relatively slender, swept back somewhat like an aeroplane. The hindwing is broader and projects out from beneath the forewing when at rest, giving the moth a distinctive, quite ornate, appearance.

Despite its name you don't have to live near poplars to see this hawkmoth.  Its larvae do feed on a wide range of poplars but also on various willows and sallows.  This is the most widely distributed hawkmoth in Britain and is a common visitor to gardens.  

In the north of the UK its summer season comes to an end in August while in the south it has a second generation of the year which flies during August and September.

I find it fascinating to set a moth trap in my garden.  I have a special moth trap complete with mercury vapour lamp but it is possible to use a bright light shining onto a white sheet.  Set it a short while before dusk and watch what happens.  No harm comes to the moths through trapping and it is thrilling to see the range of colours and shapes of British moth species.

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