Macroglossum errans Walker, 1856
Australian Hummingbird Hawkmoth
(previously known as Macroglossa errans)
Don Herbison-Evans,
Stella Crossley

(Photo: courtesy of Maria Rosenfelder, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland)

The caterpillars of this species initially are green and covered in small pale dots. The fourth (penultimate) instar maybe green or grey, with a dark dorsal line, and a dark line each side containing white dots.

(Photo: courtesy of Tom and David Sleep, Queensland)

The fifth (last) instar may be green, brown or black, with a dark dorsal line, and with two variable broken dark lines each side, possibly edged above by white, yellow, orange or red.

brown form
(Photo: courtesy of Craig Nieminski, Darwin, Northern Territory)

When disturbed: the caterpillars rear up their head and thorax, and exude a horrible liquid from the mouth. The spiracles on each side of each segment are orange or red. The caterpillars have black true legs, and a black-tipped dark red forward-curving spine on the tail.

display posture
(Photo: courtesy of Julia Squires, Tarragindi, Queensland)

The caterpillars feed on various members of the RUBIACEAE family, including :

  • Dye Plant ( Coelospermum reticulatum ),
  • Mirror Bush ( Coprosma repens ),
  • Sweet Morinda ( Gynochthodes jasminoides ),
  • Ant Plant ( Myrmecodia beccarii ),
  • Pavetta ( Pavetta australiensis ),
  • Alahee ( Psydrax odoratum ), and
  • Hairy Psychotria ( Psychotria loniceroides ).

    (Photo: courtesy of Tom and David Sleep, Queensland)

    The caterpillars grow to a length of about 6 cms. The pupa is brown with a row of black spots along each side. It is formed in a loose cocoon in leaf litter several metres from its food-plant. The pupa has a length of about 10 cms.

    (Photo: courtesy of Tom and David Sleep, Queensland)

    The adult moths have patterned grey or brown forewings, each usually with a central sometimes-broken transverse pale bar, which is perpendicular to the hind margin.

    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The hindwings are yellow with a broad black border. The moths rest with the tip of the abdomen curled upwards. When it flies it controls the abdominal tip for more aerodynamic control as you can see in this youtube clip as it hovers over flowers sucking nectar, looking very like a Hummingbird. The moth has a wingspan of about 4 cms.

    (Photo: courtesy of Maria Rosenfelder, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland)

    The eggs are spherical and off-white, with a diameter of about 1.5 mms. They are usually laid singly under leaves of a foodplant.

    (Photo: courtesy of Tom and David Sleep, Queensland)

    The species is found in

  • New Guinea and
  • Solomons,

    as well as in Australia in

  • Northern Territory,
  • Queensland (listed as Macroglossum hirundo), and
  • New South Wales (listed as Macroglossum hirundo).

    This species was for many years thought to a be a subspecies of the south Pacific species Macroglossum hirundo (Boisduval, 1832), but recent DNA studies, and comparison of related larval forms, have indicated that it is a species in its own right.

    (Photo: courtesy of Scott Gavins, Fraser Coast, Queensland)

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, pl. 16.3, p. 413, (listed as Macroglossum hirundo).

    Maxwell S. Moulds, James P. Tuttle and David A. Lane.
    Hawkmoths of Australia,
    Monographs on Australian Lepidoptera Series, Volume 13 (2020),
    pp. 176-179, Plates 41, 76, 88.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 202, (listed as Macroglossum hirundo).

    Francis Walker,
    Lepidoptera Heterocera: Sphingidae,
    List of the Specimens of Lepidopterous Insects in the Collection of the British Museum,
    Part 8 (1856), p. 96, No. 20.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 12 September 2011, 7 May 2023)