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Global warming isn't all bad, explains Nigel Grinsted

The hyper-hot super-sunny summer we have just enjoyed caused a welcome invasion. If you have flowers like Buddleia or Lavender in your garden you may have seen some insects hovering in front of them, feeding with their long tongues (called a proboscis).

Day flying wonder

These are wonderful Hummingbird Hawk Moths. They are day-flying moths, although they do fly at dawn and dusk too. The ones seen in late spring and early summer will have migrated from the Continent. Many of those seen later in the year will have resulted from eggs laid by the earlier visitors. The caterpillars feed mainly on various Bedstraws (Galium).

The moth is a common resident on the Continent, but is a visitor here although it is thought it may sometimes overwinter here if it's not too cold. In its 2022 Garden Bird Watch, the British Trust for Ornithology recorded 5.2% sightings (normally 1.3%) and believes 2022 is a record year for Hummingbird Hawk Moth migrations to the UK.

They are not alone

Many other insects migrate to the UK every Summer, including butterflies, moths, dragonflies, wasps, bees and flies. Butterflies like the Red Admiral, Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow are almost entirely migrant, although they do breed here.

Some migratory moths are incredible – the Convolvulus Hawk Moth and the Death's Head Hawk Moth are two of the largest moths to appear in the UK. This year both species appeared widely across the UK. Whilst very large and quite conspicuous, they're night flyers so not easily spotted. At least two Convolvulus Hawk Moths were spotted in Somerset recently. Other beautiful migrants include the Clifden Nonpareil, which may now be a resident in the UK and possibly in Somerset, the Oleander Hawk Moth and the Striped Hawk Moth.

Dragons are here too

Hover flies also visit us. Scientists estimate that at least half a billion cross the Channel every year. They are excellent pollinators and pest controllers and are therefore great friends to farmers and gardeners. Dragonflies also migrate. Sometimes we see the Vagrant Emperor which travels from sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, the greatest distance that an insect migrates is believed to be the Globe Skimmer dragonfly that migrates from India to Africa across the Indian Ocean.

The mega-migrating Monarch

One of the most well know insect migrations is that of the Monarch butterfly which 'hibernates*' in millions in particular woodlands in Mexico and California. It wakes in the spring and migrates north to various North American states and Canada. On the way it lays eggs on Milkweed and the resulting butterflies continue the journey north. They then make their way back to Mexico and California. No single butterfly does the whole trip. So clearly they have excellent satnav! (My question – does a Mexican Monarch ever breed with a Californian Monarch and, if so, where do the offspring go to?)

Flying High

We mentioned the Painted Lady earlier – this lovely butterfly migrates up to 9000 miles from sub-Saharan Africa to the Arctic Circle, visiting places like the UK on the way. That's more than the Monarch. And now it seems they return too, at a height of 500 meters. Amazing!

This short article just touches on how beautiful, complex, resilient and fascinating insects are. And we haven't even looked at the beetles!

Nigel, please look at the beetles for us – Ed



*Strictly butterflies and moths don't hibernate but go into a state of diapause. True hibernation is experienced only by certain mammals.

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