Moths of Britain and
Superfamily - BOMBYCOIDEA
Family - SPHINGIDAE
subfamily - SPHINGINAE
Mimas tiliae, Havant, Hampshire ©
The family Sphingidae comprises of over 1050
species worldwide. The family name is derived from the appearance of
the caterpillars, which adopt a posture reminiscent of the Egyptian
is divided into 2 subfamilies - the Macroglossinae, which are
incredibly adept fliers, and the more cumbersome Sphinginae, which
includes the Lime, Poplar and Eyed hawks.
hawkmoths, from both subfamilies, have cryptically patterned
forewings that break up their outline, making it difficult for
insectivorous birds to develop a "search image". Many of the hawks
are patterned to resemble the bark of the trees on which they
habitually rest during the daytime. Others including the Lime
Hawkmoth are marked with blotches of green, and have ragged wing
edges which in combination with the resting posture give them the
appearance of a bunch of crumpled leaves. The pattern of the Lime
Hawkmoth provides an extremely effective camouflage when it rests
amongst foliage in dappled sunlight.
The Lime hawkmoth
produces several beautiful colour forms. Some are patterned entirely
in shades of green; others have green markings on a buff ground
colour; and others such as that illustrated above, have a brick red
ground colour and red forelegs.
Mimas tiliae is a widely distributed
species, found across Europe and most of temperate Asia. There is
only one other species in the genus - M.
cristophi, which is found in China, Siberia and Japan, and is
similar in pattern to tiliae, but much
darker and more sombre in colour.
The Lime hawkmoth is primarily a forest
species, but is most commonly met with in suburban areas where it's
foodplants are grown as ornamental trees.
The eggs are oval, pale green and shiny. They are
usually laid singly or in pairs, and are attached to the underside
of leaves of the foodplants, which include lime
Tilia vulgaris ( Malvaceae ) and
various elms Ulmus ( Ulmaceae ).
The larvae, like
those of most hawkmoths have a prominent curved "horn" on the anal
segment. When in the first instar this horn is almost as long as the
body, but becomes progressively shorter and thicker with each
successive moult. When fully grown the larva is pale green, and
covered with tiny yellowish tubercles, giving it a very rough
texture. The horn is blue, and there are a series of diagonal
whitish stripes along each side of the body. The larva is very well
disguised, with the stripes perfectly simulating the veins of the
leaves among which it rests.
When ready to
pupate the larva changes colour to a dull earthy brown, and wanders
down the trunk of it's lime or elm tree, whereupon it burrows a
centimetre or two into the soil and excavates a cell which it lines
with a few strands of silk. Sometimes the pupa is formed on the
surface of the ground, among mosses. It can occasionally be found in
crevices in the bark of the trees. It is a dull reddish-brown
colour, with a rough texture.
adult emerges from the pupa in May or June, usually at about midday,
and climbs up a nearby stem or tree trunk, where it
hangs for about an hour as it inflates and dries it's wings. Males
take flight at dusk the same evening to search for females, which do
not themselves make any attempt to fly until mated. During the daytime
the moths rest on the stems of bushes, or on the branches of trees.
Both sexes will enter buildings, attracted by house lights, although
this is far less frequent now that generalised "light pollution" from
street lights and houses has become ubiquitous.
Mimas tiliae, female ©