Clearwing Hummingbird Moth
That looks like a baby hummingbird!
One may think there is a tiny baby hummingbird flying among the flowers, but more than likely it's a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth.
This pollinator feeds during the day and it's shape, coloration and scaleless wings give it the appearance of a small hummingbird. There are two common varieties of this attractive and interesting member of the Sphinx moth family. We’ll also explore a few other species of Sphinx moths.
Moths are Insects and belong to the Order Lepidoptera, which includes both Moths and Butterflies. There are about 100 families of moths with hundreds of genera (plural of genus) and over 150,000 species. They live in all parts of the world, except in the very cold mountaintops and polar regions. Most Moths live in the tropics.
Moths and butterflies are very much alike, but there are several characteristics that distinguish them from butterflies:
- Moths usually have less colorful wings.
- Moths have furrier bodies.
- The antennas of moths are feathery or threadlike.
- Most Moths fly at night. One exception to this rule is the Clearwing Hummingbird Moth.
Both insects go through a metamorphosis where the caterpillars change completely before becoming adults.
Description and Habits
The two types of North American Hummingbird Moths are very hard to tell apart. One type, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe), resembles a small hummingbird. The other which is called the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis) actually looks more like a large bumblebee, than a hummingbird. The ranges of both species overlap quite a bit, so you can have both in a given location. Both species have fast moving, scaleless wings and furry bodies with large abdomens and coloration similar to that of a hummingbird. The scales on the wings are actually rubbed off in flight soon after it emerges from the pupa.
Like other butterflies and moths, its mouth part is a straw-like siphoning, feeding tube called a proboscis. But, unlike most other moths, the Hummingbird Moths fly and feed during daylight hours in open woodlands, fields, gardens and backyards between the months of March and September.
The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth - Hemaris thysbe belongs to the order Lepidoptera / Suborder Macrolepidoptera / Superfamily Sphingoidea / Family Sphingidae, common names include hawk moths, hornworms or sphinx moths. The species Hemaris thysbe (Fabricius) is also called common clearwing, hummingbird moth or sphinx colibri.
Its range goes as far north as Alaska, east to Maine and Newfoundland and south to Florida and Texas. This species is most commonly seen in Southeastern Louisiana where we live. Adults are reddish-brown and green and have a wingspan of about two inches.
The Snowberry Clearwing Moth - Hemaris diffinis is in the order Lepidoptera and family Sphingidae. It is about 1.25 to 2 inches. It actually looks more like a large bumblebee than a hummingbird. The name probably comes from the humming sound its wings make that is similar to that of a hummingbird. Another difference from the Hummingbird Clearwing is that the Snowberry's abdomen has yellow and black segments like a bumblebee. In its larval stage it eats plants such as honeysuckle, viburnum, hawthorn, snowberry, cherry, and plum.
In the northern part of their range, they have at least 2 broods of young, but in Louisiana there are six broods, occurring every thirty days from March through August. One pale green egg is deposited on the underside of a leaf and the small brownish larvae stay hidden on the leaf vein. When mature, the large green larvae pupate in thin walled cocoons on the ground under leaf litter.
The large green caterpillars eat viburnum, hawthorn, honeysuckle, buckbrush, wild cherry and plum and a few other types of fruit trees. Adults hover and sip nectar at many different flowers, including honeysuckle, beebalm, phlox, lilac and blueberry and milkweed. One of the sure ways to tell a Hummingbird Moth from a Hummingbird is that the moth will often rest on the flower while it drinks.
This excellent guide is my new "go to" book for identifying adult moths. There are separate editions for the Southeastern and Northeastern part of the country. It is organized well so it is easy to use. The photographs are good and descriptions accurately detail each species. Before I bought this book I didn't realize how many moth species there were in my neck of the woods - amazing!
Other Sphinx Moths
There are many other types of Sphinx Moths which are active at night. The caterpillars of each can be identified by the specific host plants it uses to raise its young. For example, the Rustic Sphinx lays its eggs on only Fringe Trees and Jasmine. Clearwings have similar looking caterpillars, but lay their eggs on different plants. The photo above shows a very large Rustic Sphinx caterpillar dining on Fringe Tree leaves. You can see the green olive-like fruit of this female Fringe tree.
Sphinx moths get their name because, when the larvae is disturbed, they elevate the front part of their body and assumes a Sphinx-like position. The larvae of many sphinx moths are known as hornworms because of the horn or spike that is attached to the last segment of their body.
The tomato hormworm (Five-spotted Hawk Moth) and the tobacco hornworm (Carolina Sphinx Moth) are harmful to the crops they are named for. The name "Hawk moth" and Sphinx moth are both used, but hawk moths are actually another group in the family.
The Sphinx moth pictured below is a Pink Spotted Hawk Moth. Its larvae is called sweet potato hornworm because it feeds on sweet potato vines. The flower that the adult moth is drinking nectar from is pink ginger.
How many times have you run across a caterpillar and wondered what the adult moth or butterfly looked like? This wonderful Princeton Field Guide will help you on your quest. It is well organized with a good index and fabulous detailed photographs. The descriptions cover identification keys, occurrence, common food plants and interesting remarks. If you have a pollinator garden, you'll want to add this book to your library.
Hummingbird Moth Video
Hummingbird Moth Poll
Have you ever seen a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth?
© 2008 Yvonne L B