There are repeated reports about hummingbirds in Europe. But in fact it is the pigeon tail, a migratory butterfly with impressive flight behavior. Here you can learn more about the hummingbird among butterflies.


Biologically, the diurnal moth from the family of swarmers (Sphingidae) is given the cumbersome name Macroglossum stellatarum. However, because of the tufts of hair at the lower end of the tail and the associated distinctive shape, it has been given various trivial names, the range of which vividly illustrates the possible optical interpretations. The animal is often referred to by the following names:

  • dovetail
  • pigeon tail
  • carp black

Less the optics, but rather the buzzing, with fast flapping wings in the air standing in the air led to the also common designations

  • Hummingbird
  • hummingbird hawk moth

size and appearance

Even the purely objective numerical values ​​of the pigeon tail are impressive:

  • Wingspan in the western distribution area about 36 to 50 millimeters
  • Wingspan in the eastern range about 40 to 76 millimeters
  • Weight up to 0.3 grams
  • Length of proboscis about 25 to 28 millimeters

In addition, the appearance of the animals can also impress, despite an undeniable simplicity:

  • Stocky physique
  • Very hairy thorax
  • Upper side of the thorax and fore wings colored grey-brown
  • Fore wings provided with two wavy dark gray bands
  • Hindwings orange-brown with a black border
  • Wing base strongly yellowish tinged from below
  • Darker coloring towards the end of the abdomen
  • Sides of body with several tufts of white hair
  • Brown-black tuft of hair divided into two at the end of the abdomen (actually elongated scales as a navigational aid in hovering flight)
  • Underside of head and thorax light grey
  • Antennae club-shaped, finely scaled in rings
  • Light compound eyes with a typically dark center reminiscent of a pupil (“pseudo-pupil”)
Note: Rarely, individual specimens can deviate from the generally very homogeneous color scheme and have a significantly lighter or darker pattern.


The hummingbird butterfly has an enormously wide range of distribution. It extends in the west from the European Atlantic coast to the eastern Pacific coast of the Asian continent. The area can also be delimited in a north-south direction, but must be divided into three sections:

A permanent settlement shows a strip across the whole width, which ends in the south at about the level of the African coastal regions on the Mediterranean Sea. In the north, on the other hand, it ends with the main Alpine ridge and only penetrates further north in western Europe.

This is followed by a zone that is only inhabited in the summer months and ends roughly at the level of southern Scandinavia.

In the south, two local zones of exclusively winter settlement extend somewhat further into the Northwest African interior. On the other hand, the Indian subcontinent and the mainland zones of Asia bordering to the east are also populated during the cooler winter months.

Viewed vertically, the distribution of the pigeontails ranges from sea level to the subalpine vegetation zones at around 1500 meters above sea level. The caterpillars, on the other hand, can be found up to a height of only 1000 meters.

way of life and reproduction

The hummingbird butterfly prefers to live in open terrain. A sufficient supply of food in the form of nectar-rich forage plants is important. The pigeon tail is not choosy and flies to a wide variety of forage plants from clover to fuchsias to violets. Experiments clearly showed that the moths are primarily attracted to particularly large, brightly colored flowers.

Feeding takes place in hovering flight, with the long proboscis being inserted into the calyx. This is where the well-known whirring and at the same time motionless standing in the air, which is often confused with hummingbirds, occurs.

On the other hand, the abundance of areas suitable for propagation is far more limited. This is because the females only lay eggs where there is sufficient nectar and where the food plants preferred by the hatching caterpillars can be found. The availability of nectar is particularly important because the oviposition of the hummingbird butterfly extends over such a long period of time that the female animals have to consume nectar again and again while they are laying their eggs.

Only four of the twelve native rennets are currently known to be food plants for the caterpillars in Germany:

In the Netherlands, the laying of eggs and feeding of the larvae of woodruff (Galium odoratum) and dyer’s madder (Rubia tinctorum) are observed again and again.

It has not yet been adequately researched why the animals in south-eastern Europe and the distribution areas further to the east also accept other plants.

Note: The dovetail does not care whether the forage plants thrive in the wild or in strictly structured parks. Therefore, the animal can be found again and again in flowery gardens and other plantings.

The development

After mating, which usually takes place in the area where they sleep (stone walls, steep slopes, etc.), the female lays up to 200 eggs. Each egg is attached to a separate plant on the young shoots in the area of ​​​​the buds that have not yet opened. After six to eight days, a caterpillar hatches from each of the spherical eggs, which are just under a millimeter in size. The initial size of two to three millimeters is quickly abandoned. They are particularly easy to recognize shortly before the final pupation in bright green and with a narrow yellow stripe running lengthwise on the side.

After around 20 days, the caterpillar pupates, with the pupa either hanging under a shoot of the host plant or positioned on the ground in a loose web between individual plants. The moth hatches after about three weeks, and its development in the ochre-colored, slightly transparent pupal shell can be observed very early on.

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