The Hummingbird Hawkmoth and the Wood Spurge

April 8th, 2009 | Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

hummingbird hawkmoth

On a path in Collserola I came across a whir of wings near a Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides).  My camera caught the Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) uncoiling its lengthy proboscis to dip into the glistening nectar.

hummingbird hawkmoth uncoils proboscis

At rest, the moth is a non-descript brown, but in flight you can see its orange hindwings, albeit in a blur. So much movement requires copious quantities of nectar, so they are restless foragers. They are also strong migrators, crossing the Alps to reach central and northern Europe.

Though innately attracted to blue, Hummingbird Hawkmoths soon discover that flowers of other colours can be profitable too, including the inconspicuous yellow-green Wood Spurge. A long proboscis is not really necessary with this plant, which serves nectar up on a plate.

What the Wood Spurge lacks in colour it compensates with elegance. Each cyathium contains four nectar-secreting glands in the shape of half-moons. They encircle the male and female flowers, although young plants are sometimes male only, like this one.  The whole structure is about to be repeated as two pale green cyathia are poised to unfurl.

detail of wood spurge