Common name: privet hawk-moth

Scientific name: Sphinx ligustri

Family: Sphingidae (hawk-moths)

Habitat: woodland, gardens, hedgerows

Caterpillar foodplants: privet, honeysuckle, holly, ash, a number of garden plants

Predators: birds, bats and small mammals

Origin: native

What do privet hawk-moths look like?

Adults: long, pointed forewings wings with dark brown patches that are held to its side when resting. When pulled forward they reveal pink hindwings and a pink and black striped body.
Wingspan: 9-12cm
Caterpillars: large and vibrant green with diagonal white and purple stripes down its sides. The ‘horn’ on the tail end is yellow and black and slightly curved.

Privet hawk-moth caterpillar

Credit: Christopher Miles / Alamy Stock Photo

What do privet hawk-moths eat?

Adults: feed on the nectar of night-scented flowers such as honeysuckle and jasmine.
Caterpillars: eat the leaves of privet, honeysuckle, ash, holly and garden plants such as spirea and lilac.

Did you know?

The privet hawk-moth is the UK’s largest resident moth.

How do privet hawk-moths breed?

Adults are on the wing between June and July. They are strong fliers and range widely in search of mates.

Their caterpillars can be spotted from July to September. They pupate underground over the winter, emerging as adults the following summer.

Privet hawk-moth resting

Credit: Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy Stock Photo

Where do privet hawk-moths live?

Privet hawk-moths are common across southern and central England and Wales. They are regular visitors to suburban parks and gardens as well as woodland, hedgerows and the wider countryside.

Did you know?

Unlike butterflies which warm up by basking in the sun, most large moths ‘shiver’ to warm up their wing muscles for flight.

Signs and spotting tips

These moths feed by night but can sometimes be found resting on tree trunks during the day. They are attracted to light and are easiest to spot by using a moth trap.

One way to find their caterpillars is to look for their unusually-shaped droppings beneath likely feeding spots. They are small are dark, and said to resemble hand grenades.

Privet hawk-moth on fern

Credit: Ross Jolliffe / Alamy Stock Photo

Threats and conservation

The UK’s population is stable and not thought to be under threat, however the rapid spread of ash dieback disease could impact the abundance of suitable caterpillar foodplants on which to lay eggs. You can encourage these moths to visit your garden by planting strong-scented night flowers.