Worcestershire Record No. 16 April 2004 pp. 24-25


Roger Umpelby

Hornets in Ashton-under-Hill

From mid-July until late August hornets were regularly seen feeding on ripening figs on trees trained against the house in two different gardens. The hornets largely ignored people and carried on feeding, in contrast people tended to treat the hornets with considerable respect. At any one time there were up to six hornets feeding.

In early September a single hornet was seen in a different garden, resting on an apple tree with ripe fruit. The tree had marjoram underneath which, being in flower, attracted a lot of flying insects – a choice of meat or ‘veg’ perhaps for the hornet, but it was not observed feeding.

From early October ripe pear fruit was falling from a large old standard pear tree in a different garden. On the ground the fruit attracted a range of insects including several species of butterfly. Over the next 2-3 weeks hornets were also frequently seen feeding on the fallen fruit but they were never seen attacking other insects. Again the hornets ignored people and even seemed to tolerate the pears being collected by the gardener, that is once the gardener was assured that the hornets were not likely to be aggressive. No hornets were seen after 19 October.

Hawk Moths

There are nine resident (breeding) species of hawk moth in the UK and records of each of these species are normally confirmed every year. In addition there are eight confirmed regular, although sometimes infrequent, immigrant species. In 2003 there were unusually high numbers of reports of immigrant species in England, including in Worcestershire.

Humming-bird hawk moth - these immigrant moths were unusually common in the summer in many areas of England, including Worcestershire. Unlike most other hawk moths this species often feeds in the day and therefore tends to get noticed. There were frequent reports from local gardeners in Ashton-under-Hill and Beckford of several moths at any one time feeding on plants such as Petunia, Nicotiana and Buddleia. When I lived in Devon I used to see this species most years, but in 20 years living in Worcestershire I have only seen the moth in two summers and then only single specimens. If the climate is warming we can expect to see much more of this species locally, although it is unlikely that it will over-winter here, at least in the short-term.

Convolvulus hawk moth – in early August 2003 I became aware that we had some large and slightly noisy late evening visitors in our garden in Ashton-under-Hill. These visitors were feeding on Nicotiana and Petunia flowers in the border behind the house, and they proved to convolvulus hawk moths. Each night from 12 August to 16 August as many as four of these moths were feeding at once, and on 18 August a pristine specimen was found resting on the wall of the house during the day. The adult moth is one of the largest moths seen in England with a wing-span of up to 120 mm. It is quite drab compared to most other hawk moths but does have bright pinky-red bars on its abdomen. It is an immigrant and arrives from southern Europe in low numbers in most years, normally from late June onwards. The moth is very attracted by flowers with a good supply of nectar and feeds when hovering up to 50mm from a flower, it has a very long proboscis! As a large moth it makes a loud low-pitched humming noise when hovering, but despite its size it is a very agile and rapid flier. While feeding the moths are easily disturbed, even by light from a torch, but if you are very lucky you may find a moth resting. The caterpillars feed on Convolvulus and are not often found, so Harry Green’s grandson was very fortunate to found one, it must be something in the genes! (see Worcestershire Record No 15)

Convolvulus Hawk Moth feeding and  Clouded Yellow © Roger Umpelby – not to be reproduced without his permission

Death’s-head hawk moth – this species is an uncommon visitor to the UK with the adult moth rarely being seen in the wild. The adult moth is arguably the largest moth seen in England, with a wing-span reaching as much 135mm (nearly 5˝"). Adult moths are nectar feeders but have been recorded on several occasions around beehives, presumably attracted by the scent of honey. The caterpillar is recorded occasionally in the UK, usually in commercial potato crops. In 2003 there were a number of records from various parts of England and I am aware of one reliable record from Worcestershire in potatoes near Shrawley. The damage the caterpillar causes is quite striking because they tend to completely defoliate individual plants and sometimes several adjacent plants leaving a bare patch in the crop. Another feature of the caterpillars is the loud crunching noise they make when feeding and it is sometimes this noise that reveals their presence. The caterpillars are not difficult to rear through to the adult moth and it is then that the derivation of the moth’s name becomes apparent, the thorax of the moth bears a very distinct and ghostly skull-like marking.

SKINNER, B. 1998. Colour identification guide to moths of the British Isles. London: Viking, 276pp.
SOUTH, R. 1961. The moths of the British Isles. Series one. London: Frederick Warne, 427pp.

Clouded yellow butterfly

The clouded yellow is an immigrant to the British Isles from Mediterranean countries and is recorded here in most years. Numbers recorded vary considerably from year to year according to weather conditions, but the butterfly is uncommon in most years. The clouded yellow is much smaller than our native yellow, the brimstone, and is a much more active flier with a rapid darting flight. The butterfly is easily disturbed and it is difficult to get close enough to one to see its features. Even when you do manage to get close to one they rarely rest with their wings open and tend to bask sideways on to the sun with their wings closed. Between 1983 and 2002 I have only seen this butterfly once in Worcestershire when two specimens were seen in an orchard near Childswickham. However in 2003 I recorded single specimens on three different occasions, two in Worcestershire and one just over the border in Warwickshire. The first sighting was at Norton (just north of Evesham) on 20 August on the headland of a commercial apple orchard. This specimen was not very active and was quite tattered which indicates it was probably a recent immigrant. The second specimen was found later the same day, at Dunnington in south-west Warwickshire, feeding on thistle flowers on some waste ground adjacent to some woodland and a commercial strawberry plantation. This specimen was in better condition than the first one, but still had some damage indicating it too was probably a recent immigrant. The third specimen was found on 15 October in my garden in Ashton-under-Hill resting on some short rough grass. This specimen was in absolutely pristine condition and, given its condition and the time of year, could only have been a ‘home-bred’ butterfly. Clouded yellow caterpillars, which feed on various Leguminous plants such as clover and meddick, are rarely found in this country and there have been few records of ‘home-bred’ butterflies so this third specimen was a real find.

CARTER, D. 1988. Butterflies. London: Elm Tree Books, 160pp.
SOUTH, R. 1941. The butterflies of the British Isles. London: Frederick Warne, 212pp
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