Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

February 7, 2010

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth Surveys in Argyll 2010

Filed under: Moths — Tags: , — Andrew Masterman @ 3:29 pm

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth  (Hemaris tityus) has 50 Argyll records relating to 24 sites mostly in north Argyll but there is one much further south for the southern tip of Bute in 1960.  It is also found in some other parts of Scotland including the Cairngorms, Moray, Easter Ross and Wester Ross. The map below shows all the records of Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth (NBBHM) in Vice County 98 relating to the northern part of the Glasgow and SW Scotland branch of Butterfly Conservation area.

Distribution of NBBHM in VC98

Distribution of NBBHM in VC98

NBBHM is an amazing day-flying moth with a body length of about 2 cm and a total wing span of about 4-4.5 cm - so a large and spectacular moth!  It is on the wing from mid-May to early July in the same areas as the beautiful Marsh Fritillary. This is no co-incidence as they both have the same foodplant, Devil’s Bit Scabious and the same flight period so it is possible to see both these rare species of Lepidoptera at the same site on the same day!

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth   Credit: Phil Holt

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth Credit: Phil Holt

NBBHM is not the easiest of moths to identify in the field for two reasons.

  1. NBBHM does not look like a moth -  NBBHM has transparent wings and therefore looks like a large bumble bee (it is a very convincing bumble-bee mimic) but you can distinguish it from bumble bees because it does not fly like a bumble bee and it doesn’t buzz. Bumble-bees have an erratic zig-zag flight and are noisy too! NBBH tend to fly in straight lines and they have a large buff-coloured backside which is conspicuous and diagnostic. There are also insects known as bee-flies (Bombylius spp) but these are smaller than NBBHM and not as spectacular.
  2. NBBHM flies fast - this characteristic means you may only get a fleeting glimpse of an insect which looks like a bee but there is something un-bee-like about it. But this leaves you uncertain about whether or not you have indeed seen a NBBHM. As this is a UK BAP species, it is important that you are confident of your identication before you submit a record to the VC moth recorder. But NBBHM does like to nectar and this behaviour enables you to get a much better look at it to be sure of an identification. It nectars while hovering unlike bees which land to feed but in cooler cloudier conditions, you might see it at rest on nectaring plants.

The preferred nectaring plants of NBBHM are louseworts, bugle, viper’s bugloss, common bird’s foot trefoil, rhodedendron and red valerian. Apparently, you can lure it to a sprig of lilac which you could take with you into the field!

NBBHM only flies in warm sunshine so you do need good weather to see it. The habitat of NBBHM and Marsh Fritillary is low lying flat  damp grassland, sometimes a more heathy type habitat,  with abundant Devil’s Bit Scabious but the bottom of slopes which also tend to be damp may also provide good habitat. A couple of examples are shown below:

Grazed damp grassland

Grazed damp grassland

 

Marshy Heathy type habitat

Marshy Heathy type habitat

 

There are several areas in North Argyll where there are a number of historical records of NBBHM and branch members are encouraged to visit these areas to see this spectacular UK BAP moth, to recognise its habitat and to look for it in other nearby sites or other sites in Argyll.

One such area is Taynuilt where an open area known as the common grazings has patches of marshy habitat with abundant Devil’s Bit Scabious where NBBHM may be found and Marsh Fritillary can also be seen in low numbers. The red spot in the south-west of the map below (NM986307) which is just before the road goes into an area with houses (Balindore)  is a great spot to see NBBHM and Marsh Fitillary in a marshy area just to the east of the road (the red spot is on the wrong side of the road!).

NBBH Sites around Taynuilt

NBBH Sites around Taynuilt

 

Around Glen Creran is another good area with many NBBHM records with the Appin Peninsular being a hot spot and there may well be other sites to be discovered in the Appin peninsular.

NBBHM sites around Loch Creran

NBBHM sites around Loch Creran

 

There are also a number of NBBHM records for the Isle of Lismore just to the west of the Appin Peninsular. There is a passenger ferry from Port Appin which takes just 10 minutes enabling you to bring a bicycle if you wish and a car ferry from Oban taking 1 hour. See Lismore Ferry for more details.

NBBHM sites on Lismore

NBBHM sites on Lismore

 

There are a few scattered NBBHM records around Oban which suggests that it is under-recorded here so searching in the area between Oban and Loch Feochan may well result in the discovery of some new sites. There is also one record on the Isle of Kerrera  just to the west of Oban which is a short passenger ferry trip from south of Oban.

NBBHM sites around Oban

NBBHM sites around Oban

 

Any NBHHM records in Argyll VC 98 should be sent to andrewmasterman@hotmail.com. Records from other vice-counties should be sent to the appropriate recorder whose contact details can be found on the Mothscount website.

The above maps and the grid-references of the historical records can be found in this word document which you can print out.

There is a Butterfly Conservation leaflet on NBBHM (PDF 540 kb) available which provides more information on the lifectcycle of this amazing moth.

Andrew Masterman
VC98 Moth Recorder

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4 Comments »

  1. Great article about an amazing beastie! Was fantastic seeing them for the first time in Argyll during 2009!

    Comment by Scott Shanks — February 8, 2010 @ 5:47 pm

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