Hummingbird hawkmoths and bumblebees

by Richard Jones

Each afternoon... we were visited by hummingbird hawkmoths at the honeysuckle flowers. But it took me a few days to realize the bumblebees were different.

Hummingbird hawkmothOn holiday in northern France last week I was struck by the similarities in the landscape, but very subtle differences in the wildlife.

With its gently rolling hills, hedges, grazing meadows, small woods, narrow lanes and winding streams, I could easily have been in part of the Weald. But the wildlife reflected its slightly more southerly location, the Departement Mayenne between Normandy and the Loire.

There were plenty of painted lady and clouded yellow butterflies, the speckled woods were the mainland European form, orange spotted rather than the yellow speckled ones we get in Britain, and was that a swallowtail fluttering down the road?

Each afternoon, as we sat in the garden of the gite, we were visited by hummingbird hawkmoths at the honeysuckle flowers. But it took me a few days to realize the bumblebees were different. There were several species, but my eye was caught by the well-groomed buff orange ones. In the UK most of the all-orange bumbles, also sometimes called carder bees, are Bombus pascuorum. This was not always the case - the very similar B. muscorum used to be nearly as widespread, but has suffered great declines in the last half century.

Identification guides will explain that the difference between the two species comes down to the presence or absence of a few black hairs amongst the orange on the thorax and abdomen. This requires some means of restraining the insect and a magnifying glass at least.

They also talk of B. muscorum having a denser, more even pelt than its rather scruffy cousin. The dapper French bees on the flowers around the pool are muscorum without a doubt. It's a delight to see so many of them, they are an all too rare treat back home.

The decline in the UK's bumblebees is usually blamed on increasingly intensive farming, as grazing becomes heavier and cutting for silage replaces hay meadows and their associated wild flowers. There is plenty of farming hereabouts, but the land is emptier and the grip of agriculture is less tight. It's perhaps as the Weald was 50 years ago.

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Gardeners' World Web User 31/08/2009 at 19:29

i was weeding down my allotment today and i saw this was attacking every moth and butterfly which landed on this globe poppy or thistle are they natural enemys

Gardeners' World Web User 01/09/2009 at 17:58

wasp was attacking the moths spelling mistake

Gardeners' World Web User 02/09/2009 at 09:14

Very interested to read about hummingbird hawk moths. Last week we were 'dead heading' our buddleia when amongst the bees and butteflies we spotted a bee like creature with a hovering motion and a long proboscis Could this be one? We live in Devon not far from Plymouth.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/09/2009 at 17:57

Reply to Michael Wasps are powerful predators of other insects and although they normally attack flies and aphids they are not above taking larger insects like butterflies. They chew off the wings and take just the body back to feed to their brood back at the nest.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/09/2009 at 17:32

To our intense excitement we saw a Hummingbird hawksmoth feeding from a flowering sage in our garden. It was absolutely beautiful and we feel very privileged to have seen this delightful moth.

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