Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three species of hawk moths in different localities

Caterpillar of the Convolvulus Hawk moth (Agrius convolvuli)
In the past few days I found the caterpillars of three species of hawk moths in different localities around Malta. They belonged to the death’s head hawk moth, the convolvulus hawk moth and the Maltese spurge hawk moth. The first two are the largest moths in the Maltese islands. 

Hawk moths are medium sized to large moths with narrow wings and streamlined abdomens that make it possible for them to fly rapidly and for long distances. Some hawk moths can fly at 50 kilometres per hour and are among the fastest insects.

The convolvulus hawk moth is found throughout Europe and Africa. Its caterpillar (photograph) feeds on bindweeds which are known scientifically as Convolvulaceae hence the English name of this moth. 

In Maltese it is known as baħrija tal-leblieb. Leblieb is bindweed in Maltese. 

The caterpillar of this species, like that of most other hawk moths, has a horn-like structure at the posterior end of its body. It is dark in colour unlike the caterpillars of the two other species I found which are both very brightly coloured. 

The caterpillar of the convolvulus was crossing a path at Il-Majjistral Park. It was probably searching for a place to pupate. Hawk moths spend the winter months as a pupa.

 Before turning into a pupa the caterpillars of these moths burrow into the soil and remain under the surface or in a small chamber until they metamorphose into an adult moth. In topical species the change can take place in about three weeks but in colder parts of the world the adult emerges in spring or summer.

The adult convolvulus moth  is grey with pink, black and white spots on both sides of the abdomen. It spends the day on a wall or tree bark where it can be very well camouflaged. When disturbed it humps its thorax to scare any predator away.

This article was published in The Times on 10.11.10

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