Hummingbird Moth

( Sphingidae family)

Folks often mistake the Hummingbird Moth for a baby hummer, a bee, or even a flying crayfish when when indeed they are insects.

Your gardens are ideal places to watch for a hummer look-alike.

A Sphinx Moth.

A classic example of special creation as these swept-winged, stout-bodied insects dine on flower nectar and pollinate flowers in a manner remarkably similar to hummingbirds.

Like their avian namesakes, they can hover seemingly motionless, while tapping nectar reserves with their long, coiled tongue. Some species even have green backs, further adding to their hummingbird resemblance.

Unlike hummingbirds, though, they are late risers, waiting until the sun warms their wing muscles to stir them into action.

They also have fuzzy antenna and a long proboscis (tongue) that sucks nectar like a straw, where as hummers lick.

Members of the Sphinx Moth Family, this enormously varied group derives its family name from the caterpillars that can pull their forebody up into a Egyptian sphinx-like pose.

The caterpillars are known as hornworms because they have a long, harmless spine that arises menacingly from their back near their posterior.

While most sphinx moths visit flowers at night, hummingbird moths (also called clearwings because of the transparent patches in their wings) frequent gardens in full daylight.

At a distance, some black and yellow species resemble huge bumblebees. However, bees settle on the flower, descending into the bloom, while hummingbird moths feed in a tireless manner, seldom resting.

While hummingbirds can’t smell very well, sphinx moths require a keen olfactory sense to sniff flowers and to sense pheromones, chemicals they release to attract mates.

A week after the female lays eggs underneath leaves, the larvae hatch and begin eating nonstop for nearly a month.

Hummingbird-moth caterpillars feed mainly on honeysuckle, hawthorn, snowberry, and viburnum, but different species have special taste preferences.

The caterpillars transform into pupae, which are enclosed in well-hidden, dense brown cocoons formed on the ground under fallen leaves.

Many pupa will bury themselves into the soil. If disturbed, the pupa thrashes its abdomen to scare any would be predators and can even decapitate an ant.

Depending on timing, pupae either overwinter in the soil or emerge as adult moths in summer.

Some pupae overwinter under leaves, transforming themselves into flying adults the following spring.

Since most sphinx moths fly at night and often need to be identified in the hand, it’s difficult to gauge their population levels.

It’s imperative that scientists learn what they can, because many plants depend on them for their survival.

moth larvae

hummingbird moth pupa

Taxonomists have struggled with this group, since the different species vary in appearance at different locations in their vast ranges, and even different broods in the same location may look somewhat different.

It is now generally agreed, however, that there are four species of hummingbird moths in North America.

Range can help you to sort them out, but several species overlap and at first glance they look similar. All species have clear parts in their wings and the males have a dramatic anal tuft, often in varied colors.

In northern climates, Hummingbird Moths appear in midsummer, while those in southern climates often have two broods, the first in mid spring, the second in midsummer into late fall.

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