And what a thing. It was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) - an insect which visits the balcony occasionally, but is by no means common. If I see one a year I'm lucky, and this was certainly the first I've spotted this year.
Excuse the not-exactly-perfect photos. They're not called Hummingbird Hawk-moths for nothing - they don't land on the plants but hover above them, keeping themselves alight by rapid wing flapping while they suck the nectar through their long proboscis (you can see it in the second and last photos). And they flit frequently from flower to flower. Which makes them difficult to photograph - especially when you've had to rush back into the house desperately trying to remember where you'd left your camera, and praying it would still be there when you got back. Which it was - but I had no time to worry about camera settings. I just clicked and hoped. However, if you follow some of the links you'll find some much clearer photos.
I knew they were described in a book I have (Collins Complete Guide to British Wildlife - a super book for basic identification of plants, birds, animals and insects found in the UK which I recommend highly), so later I went to look it up. They are apparently widespread across Mediterranean countries, central Asia and Japan, and get as far north as Scotland in the summer. In fact, following things up on the web later, I came across the UK Butterfly Conservation site, where you can record sightings. Mine's there now.
The adults love plumbago - that's where I almost always see them. But the book told me that the larvae feed on bedstraw.
My mind boggled. Was this beautiful insect in danger of dying out because of a lack of impoverished peasants stuffing their mattresses with straw? Were hypoallergenic fillings signalling the end of a species?
But no. Bedstraw is the common name of the genus Galium - which includes wildflowers such as Lady's Bedstraw and Hedge Bedstraw. I've not seen either growing much around Milan - which probably explains why we don't see the moths very often.
Moths. They look so different that it's hard to believe they really are moths - and one Italian site I found says that their visitors often mistake them for real hummingbirds. No sorry - not in Europe. I wish.
Ah well - that was my annual sighting, I thought. But then I came across this on the BBC Science and Nature site : Studies have noted that they have a remarkable memory, and return to the same flowerbeds at the same time everyday.
So maybe I should keep an eye open over the weekend.
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