By: Michael Fox
In 1862 Charles Darwin wrote to a friend at Kew [Gardens] “I have just received such a Box full from Mr Bateman with the astounding Angraecum sesquipedalia [sic] with a nectary a foot long. Good Heavens what insect can suck it”, and in a second letter just a few days later suggested “in Madagascar there must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between ten and eleven inches [25.4–27.9cm]”. The Guardian
It was 130 years later that Darwin’s prediction was confirmed with the observation, in Madagascar, of Hawk Moth Xanthopan morganii praedicta using its 20cm tongue or proboscis [prəˈbɒsɪs] to feed on orchid Angraecum sesquipedalia.
Video: Georgia Nierfeld
We have 65 species of hawk moths in Australia: like Georgia’s amazing Bee Hawk Moth Cephonodes kingii. While our hawk moths do not have huge 20cm tougues most are in the sub-family Macroglossinae: makros, large + glossa, tongue. Their very long tongues (proboscis) allow them to hover in front of flowers while they access the plant nectar.
Hawk moths hovering in front of flowers are often mistaken for Hummingbirds which are only found in the Americas. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and at 6cm it is similar in size to our Australian hawk moths.