Mas Blanc des Alpilles

Photos by Paul R. Bouman MD, Onnen, Netherlands:

 

"This  was first spotted in the early evening of June 2, 2002 on the terrace of the Hotel Mistral, in the village Mas Blanc des Alpilles near Saint Remy de Provence (France).

 

The insect was gathering nectar from the flowers bordering the terrace of the hotel.  I was

struck by its size and unusual shape and colors, but most of all by its behavior. Nectar was collected by inserting a long suction tube while hovering beside a flower.  In fact, the insect  only seldom sat down on a flower or leaf. Its behavior and the often curved appearance of the suction tube made me for a while even think  I was seeing a miniature hummingbird!

 

None of the hotel guests nor the proprietor of the hotel had ever seen an insect like this. Only one elderly Belgian lady recalled that some forty years ago she had seen a similar type of insect in the vicinity of Marseille. She raised the possibility  that the insect  might originate from tropical regions and could have entered France with a ship-load of fruit.

 

Being an amateur bird photographer, I managed to take the above pictures with my  hand-held Canon Eos 50 camera equipped with a Speedlite 380 EX  flash  and a Canon EF 300 /4.0 lens with Image Stabilizer and an EF 2 x  Extender.  The pictures were taken on Royal Kodak  film 400 ASA.  They depict the insect at almost  true size (3 and 4) or slightly magnified (2), its body length without antennae amounting to about 2.5 cm. "

 

   

 

"It was a wonderful surprise to learn that the name of my mystery insect is Hummingbird Hawk moth or Macroglossum stellatarum. A search on the internet by entering the scientific name gave a considerable amount of additional information. I even found that Macroglossum stellatarum is depicted on a postage stamp in a series on butterflies issued by the Channel Island Guernsey 1997!

See http://www.philately.com/guernsey_1997.htm

 

I now have quite a good picture of the habits and vital statistics of Macroglossum. It appears to occur over a wide zone of Southern Europe, North Africa, Central Asia and even in China and Japan. So the initial idea that it might have been imported in France by a ship load of  fruit was somewhat far fetched. The moth can do this all by itself and is able to travel over long distances!

 

And by the way: the moth also serves as logo for the Institute of Biology of the Free University of Berlin! They have devoted a very nice explanatory site to their logo:

    http://www.biologie.fu-berlin.de/macroglossum.html  "