HYLES HIPPOPHAES (Esper, [1789])


GB: Seabuckthorn Hawkmoth; Seathorn Hawkmoth, F: Sphinx de l'Argousier, D: Sanddornschwärmer, RU: Oblepikhovyi Brazhnik; Yuzhnyi Brazhnik, H: déli szender, E: esfinge del espino amarillo, FI: Tyrnikiitäjä, IT: sfinge dell'olivella spinosa.

Sphinx hippophaes Esper, 1789, Die Schmetterlinge (Suppl.) (Abschnitt 2): 6, pl. 38, figs 1--3.

Type locality: Wallachei, Milkowfluss bei Foran [Wallachia region [Muntenia], southern Romania].

(Taxonomic note. There is increasing contact between subsp. hippophaes and subsp. bienerti (Staudinger, 1874) in the southern Ukraine, Moldova and Romania, and in western and southern Turkey. This produces intermediate hybrids, such as f. malatiatus Gehlen, 1934a, and f. kiortsii Koutsaftikis, 1974. The Aegean population appears to be subsp. hippophaes, but with a trace of subsp. bienerti visible in many examples. Some adults of the Crimean population are intermediate in coloration and pattern between subsp. hippophaes and subsp. bienerti, but can be assigned to the latter. However, with the widespread planting of Elaeagnus angustifolia across southeastern Europe and western Turkey, this status quo has started to break down. As a result of this the population in southern Romania, the type locality of supsp. hippophaes, is being taken over by subsp. bienerti.)

[Further details on this species, as well as photos of all stages, can be found on Lepiforum.]

Part of a plate from Esper (1789).


Holarctic; western Palaearctic region. Pleistocene refuge: Poly/monocentric -- Adriatomediterranean and Pontomediterranean subsections of the Mediterranean refuge.


Female Hyles hippophaes hippophaes, Canton Valais, Switzerland. Male Hyles hippophaes hippophaes f. kiortsii, Ayvalik, W. Turkey.

Wingspan: 60--80mm. Very unlikely to be confused with other Hyles species. Most individuals from the Aegean population have more extensive black markings than those from central Europe; however, there is sufficient overlap in colour variation not to split the two groups into separate taxa. The original description and illustrations by Esper ([1789]) clearly indicate that the Romanian population is indistinguishable from that in the Aegean. Where multiple climatic conditions are present, such as along mountain chains, adults of this species are very variable in wingspan, markings and colour intensity. In fact, adult coloration is very much dependent on the temperature developing pupae are exposed to. Heat produces more reddish and paler individuals, while low temperatures give rise to darker and greyer adults.

Male Hyles hippophaes hippophaes, Le Puy Sainte Reparade, Durance River, France.


Within its range, populations can be somewhat isolated. However, as this species is prone to wander, individuals may turn up at great distances from known breeding grounds, leading to confusing records. Frequents river valleys in mountainous areas (up to 500m in Spain and Switzerland), mountainous steppe and sand-dunes. River islands overgrown with Hippophae rhamnoides are a favoured haunt in central Europe. In some western European localities, as a result of river flood-control measures, Hyles hippophaes is becoming increasingly rare as its hostplant cannot compete with riverine shrubs and trees which take over stabilized riverbanks.

As with nearly all members of this genus, pairing is a short affair lasting not more than three hours, generally before midnight. Afterwards, most females spend a few hours every night feeding, mainly before 23.00 hours and before dawn. Oddly, this species does not fly very much and spends much of the night resting.

Whilst strongly drawn to flowers, light holds little attraction.


Late April to early July, with a peak in mid-June. A partial second brood in August often occurs. It is not unusual for only three weeks to elapse between the two broods.


OVUM: Almost spherical (1.1 x 1.0mm), pale greenish grey. Deposited on both the upper and under surface of leaves, usually near the edge, on the lower branches of the hostplant. Thicket-edge or isolated shrubs are preferred, most eggs being laid in late June.

LARVA: Full-fed, 75--80mm. Polymorphic: unstriped or striped.

Full-grown larva of Hyles hippophaes hippophaes on Elaeagnus angustifolia, southern Romania. Photo: © Tony Pittaway Full-grown larva of Hyles hippophaes hippophaes on Hippophae rhamnoides, southern France. Photo: © Jean Haxaire. Full-grown larva of Hyles hippophaes hippophaes on Hippophae rhamnoides, southern France. Photo: © Jean Haxaire.

On hatching, the eggshell is ignored, the 3--4mm-long larva proceeding to find a resting place below a leaf, a site to which it returns after each spell of feeding. At first only the cells on the leaf upperside are eaten, leaving clear 'windows' in the leaf; in the second instar leaves are consumed in the normal fashion. Initially pale grey with a white dorso-lateral line and grey horn, it gradually becomes dark green, thickly speckled with white and dark grey.

The final instar has several colour forms. The main one is dark green (in some cases suffused with pink), thickly speckled with white and grey; superimposed on this are an off-white dorso-lateral line, often with orange eye-spots, and a broader, white, ventro-lateral stripe running just above the legs. Horn long, thin, orange below, black above, with two elongated orange spots at its base; head green, with two brown lines.

A less common form is silvery grey, with a black, broken dorso-lateral line from which emanate black, equally broken oblique lateral stripes with white, red, or yellow patches often present in between. Head brown and grey; horn as above.

There are also two very rare colour forms in which all green coloration is replaced by either pinkish brown (Loeliger, 1996) or dark grey/black. The latter appears more readily under cold conditions.

Larvae frequently sun themselves openly on the upper branches, amongst those they have already stripped of leaves. There is a very heavy mortality due to parasitoids. Those that survive eventually become light purple-brown before descending to find a pupation site, often after hours of perambulation on the ground.

Most common during late June and July; in some areas also during early September.

Part of a plate from Duponchel & Guenée (1849).

Major Hostplants. Hippophae rhamnoides in Europe.

Minor Hostplants. Elaeagnus angustifolia, an introduced oleaster from central and eastern Turkey now established over much of southern Europe. This is the main hostplant of the Aegean population (Pittaway, 1982a). [In captivity, the larvae will thrive on many species of ornamental Elaeagnus, and will also accept Epilobium angustifolium when larger.]

It should be noted that in the French Alps larvae of natural hybrids between this species and Hyles vespertilio (Esper, 1780) are regularly found on Epilobium dodonaei, with many being of the pink form (J.-M. Bompar, pers. comm.). This is not surprising as, contrary to appearance, the two species are closely related. Using mtDNA techniques, Hyles vespertilio and H. hippophaes have been shown to exhibit a closer relationship than previously understood, but both taxa nevertheless remain valid as all other analyses support a clear differentiation between them (Patzold, Marabuto, Daneck, O'Neill, Kitching & Hundsdoerfer, 2021).

Adult of the natural hybrid Hyles hippophaes hippophaes X Hyles vespertilio, southern France. Photo: © J.-M. Bompar.
Larva of the natural hybrid Hyles hippophaes hippophaes X Hyles vespertilio, southern France. Photo: © J.-M. Bompar.

PUPA: 40--50mm. Pale yellowish brown, or light grey-brown, with dark brown striations. More elongated than others of the genus. Enclosed in a flimsy yellowish cocoon amongst roots or under stones. The overwintering stage.

Pupa of Hyles hippophaes hippophaes, France. Image: © Tony Pittaway.


Tachinidae: Exorista fasciata (Fallén, 1820), Exorista larvarum (Linnaeus, 1758), Exorista grandis (Zetterstedt, 1844), Masicera sphingivora (Robineau-Desvoidy, 1830).

Adult of Masicera sphingivora, Germany. Photo: © Tony Pittaway.


Separated into two main areas which seem to be the remnants of a much larger, post-glacial range. From northeastern Spain (Portbou, Catalonia (Pittaway, 1983b)) across southern France (Frionnet, 1910; Chanselme, 1997), southern Switzerland (Schweizerischer Bund für Naturschutz, 1997) and northern Italy (Parenzan & Porcelli, 2006) to Slovenia. Then, as a separate population, Moldova (Derzhavets, 1984; Tugulea, 2016), Romania (Esper, [1793]; Székely & Szabó, 1995; Vlad Dinca, pers. comm. 2007; Manci, Sitar, Corduneanu & Balan, 2015), Bulgaria (Beshkov, 1998; Danner, Eitschberger & Surholt, 1998), northern Greece (Koutsaftikis, 1970; 1973; 1974), the Aegean Islands (de Freina & Piatkowski, 1999) and western Turkey (Pittaway, 1982a).

This species will very probably also be found in more areas of northern Spain, Hungary and Romania, countries with large areas of hostplant (both wild and planted). It has been recorded as a vagrant in England (Gilchrist, 1979), northwestern Spain (Basque Country (Gómez Bustillo & Fernández-Rubio, 1976)), southern Spain (Malaga (Ribbe, 1909-1912)), southern Portugal (near Faro), Czechia (Hudeček & Šuhaj, 1996) and Slovakia (Danner, Eitschberger & Surholt, 1998). Recently recorded from the Apennine Mountains east of Florenz, Italy (Dapporto, Fiorini, Fiumi & Flamigni, 2005).

Recorded in the past from Germany (Bavaria) (Heinemann, 1859; Forster & Wohlfahrt, 1960), but no longer resident in that country (Danner, Eitschberger & Surholt, 1998). Although sometimes reported as extinct in Switzerland, it still occurs (2020) along the upper reaches of the Rhone Valley, Canton Valais.

Extra-limital range. None.


From central Turkey and the southern Ukraine eastwards to Liaoning (China) and Mongolia, extending south to Kashmir and north-west India and north to Lake Baikal and the Tuva A.S.S.R. in Russia as subsp. Hyles hippophaes biernerti.

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