🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

New life

Summer is the time of new life - baby chicks and  birds are hatching, my bathroom court-yard garden is full of new baby lizards and virtually every day I witness the birth of something.

Yesterday morning, as I was packing my garden tool basket, I came upon a spent cocoon and it was rather large, almost three inches. I wondered what on earth could have hatched, obviously a moth and I hoped she was still around somewhere. A search revealed her sitting on the edge of the patio step, trying to unfold her shrivelled wings. I quickly picked her up and carried her to the nearest tree, and only afterwards thought that I should have taken a photo of her before picking her up!

Once in the tree she started crawling up and vibrating her wings, making it very difficult to get a photo!

She's not this blurry in real life! Even while sitting still for a moment, her wings were trilling and vibrating, pumping blood through to strengthen them. I've come to the conclusion that she's one of the Hawk moths but have not been able to find a positive identification (there are 7 000 species of moths in South Africa!)

The Sphingidae are a family of moths (Lepidoptera), commonly known as hawk moths, sphinx moths, and hornworms; it includes about 1,450 species. They are moderate to large in size and are distinguished among moths for their rapid, sustained flying ability. Their narrow wings and streamlined abdomens are adaptations for rapid flight.

Some hawk moths, such as the hummingbird hawk moth or the white-lined sphinx, hover in mid-air while they feed on nectar from flowers, so are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds. This hovering capability has evolved only four times in nectar feeders: in hummingbirds, certain bats, hoverflies, and these sphingids (an example of convergent evolution). Sphingids have been much studied for their flying ability, especially their ability to move rapidly from side to side while hovering, called 'swing-hovering' or 'side-slipping.' This is thought to have evolved to deal with ambush predators that lie in wait in flowers.

And now there's a spin to the tale. As soon as I finished photographing her and had moved away, I noticed my Robin in the tree, hopping from branch to branch, trying to get a good look at what might be the biggest snack of the week! I immediately climbed up the lower branches of the tree, retrieved her and took her to another tree at the other end of the garden, hoping the Robin didn't know what I was doing. Upon my return to the patio, I noticed the Robin still hopping around in the tree, trying to find out what had happened and where that snack has disappeared to all of a sudden! Hopefully he, or any of the other birds, won't find her hidden in the foliage of the other tree.

Just before dusk I checked on her, and she was quietly hanging onto the trunk of the tree, quite well camouflaged, so hopefully she would be safe until night time. All moths are nocturnal and some species fly only for short periods either around dusk or dawn, while other species only appear later in the evening and others around midnight, but such species may occasionally be seen feeding at flowers during the day. A few common species in Africa, such as Cephonodes hylas virescens (the Oriental bee hawk), Leucostrophus hirundo, and Macroglossum trochilus, are diurnal.

Most species of Hawk moths are multivoltine, capable of producing several generations a year if weather conditions permit. When I checked early this morning, she was nowhere to be found and hopefully she survived the dangers of the night. And maybe I'll be seeing a lot more of these moths in the future.



  1. I enjoyed your post, Maree! Thank you for all that information about moths, and for saving her, too. :)

    1. Aaah, thank you for visiting Kathryn, I do hope my efforts were worth it and that she has survived to live a long, happy life!



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