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25 May 2021

24 May 2021 – After Midnight

Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi)    

‘Unmistakable’ is the single word that (either) Paul Waring or Martin Townsend uses to describe the Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi) in the indispensable Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (2003). Found all over the UK and on the wing (at Shandy Hall) from May through to August, the pattern on the wings is constant and the moth instantly recognisable. 

Chris Manley’s book British Moths states: ‘Hind wing projects well beyond forewing at rest’. In his account the name of the moth has a hyphen viz. hawk-moth.  ‘Our commonest hawk moth’ (without a hyphen) states Newman and Leed in their Text Book of British Butterflies and Moths (1913).  The Poplar Hawkmoth is often seen for the first time in a moth trap that has been left overnight as the insect tends to fly after midnight, when most enthusiastic trappers have packed up their equipment and gone to bed. 

Maitland Emmet, in Scientific Names of the British Lepidoptera (1991), reveals the meaning and historical references of moths and from him we learn that Laothoe was a mistress of Priam, King of Troy.  At least seven other females carried this name in Greek mythology but it seems Linnaeus singled this one out for particular attention. Populi is from the second part of the scientific name and refers to the food plants of the larva: Populus – the poplars, aspen, sallow and willow.

‘The wings moderately long; the anterior angulated or dentated along the outer margin; when at rest they form a triangle’, we learn from J. O. Westwood’s description in British Moths and their Transformations (1843).  Roy Leverton Enjoying Moths (2001) examines the hawk-moths (hyphen again) and singling out the Eyed and the Poplar, tells us how they ‘engage in slow but powerful wing-flapping as the aposematic hindwings are exhibited’.

Bernard Skinner tells the moth will ‘come freely to light’ in his Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles (1984). 

The rain continues. This moth and one other was the total catch on 24 May.