Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

We were sitting around a friend's garden the other evening eating barbecue, and someone said, "Oh looklooklook! A hummingbird!" But closer inspection revealed it to be something quite a bit more unusual and interesting. A hummingbird hawkmoth was steadily working the blue flowers that are so popular in our gardens around here (the name of which I haven't yet caught).

I'd seen them previously only in books but in Italy they are actually fairly common. Macroglossum stellatarum. I remember the first time I saw one in Santa Marinella I was coming home from the beach when we lived in the flat on the top of the hill. It was quite a long hike up and it was very hot out, so I stopped in the little bar and bought a cold drink and sat in the shade to watch the view. Along came this busy little fellow working the flowers and it was all I could do to refrain from getting up and following it around with my face two inches away. (I thought at the time that the Italian men at the bar would have thought me peculiar, but later realised that, being the only woman there at the obviously all-male bar as well as the only straniera, that was already a given, so I am sorry I worried about it now.)

This one let me come right up a few inches away to watch as it worked the little florets. I wish I'd had my camera.

You can certainly see why they are often mistaken for hummingbirds.

Isn't nature neat?


Wiki says that they lay their tiny eggs primarily on the roadside weed Galium aparine, which is the same thing I've been collecting and turning into a tisane.
The glossy pale green eggs are spherical with a 1-millimetre (0.039 in) diameter. They are said to look like the flower buds of the host plant Galium, and that is where the female lays them. They hatch 6 to 8 days after laying.[2] Up to 200 eggs may be laid by one female, each on a separate plant.
It's our good old friend, Sticky Weed, the stuff that's covered in velcro that you can throw at your little sister and will stick to your clothes. It grows in tangled masses everywhere and in the early spring I made a trip up into the hills to gather a huge bunch of it, dried it on the balcony and cut it up into bits.

As a tea or a tincture it is supposed to have anti-cancer properties and to stimulate your lymphatic system, something I've needed help with since they first started taking bits of me out. I started adding it to my tea last year after someone gave me a packet of it, but when I ran out, I couldn't find any more in any of the Italian erboristiae. No one had heard of it, so I looked it up and just went out and got some.

I've always wanted to try the childhood thing of collecting a moth or butterfly caterpillar and feeding it until it pupates. And the world can always use more hummingbird hawkmoths, don't you think?


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