Poplar hawk-moth

The Poplar Hawk-moth is large and normally dull to dark grey in colour, though some colour variants occur, most predominantly in females who show a lighter brown, buff or sometimes pinkish colour. Its hindwings contain two bright orange patches which it flashes when disturbed. 

  • Larvae: Its caterpillar is also large, growing up to 85mm in length. It is pale green in colour with yellow stripes on its sides and a light tail horn.
  • Latin name: Laothoe populi
  • Size: 70-90mm wingspan


The Poplar Hawk-moth is a common species in the UK and one which looks quite distinct from other species when at rest. This is due to its lack of a frenulum, a structure which normally holds the wings together. The absence of this allows the moth to hold its hindwings further forward than its forewings, giving it an unusual appearance at rest. It is a nocturnal moth so is not often seen, though it is attracted to light sources after dark. Adults can be seen between May and July, during which time they may produce up to two broods. Females lay up to 200 eggs on the underside of the host plant’s leaves either alone or in twos. Despite the presence of a proboscis, the adults do not feed.

In the Garden

As with many night flying moths, the Poplar is difficult to catch sight of. In the day, you are unlikely to see them unless you disturb one which is camouflaged in amongst a pile of leaves, for example. If you do, you will see the characteristic flash of the orange patches on its hindwings. At night, look out for this species around light sources, which it is a keen visitor to. Since it does not feed, the adult must be attracted to your garden by the promise of places to lay its eggs. As the name suggests, the most popular host plant is the poplar but other plants such as aspen, birch and sallow will also provide for its young.

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