hummingbird clearwing moth

Second post for the day and this should be it until tomorrow unless I see something that just can’t wait to be shared.

Yesterday afternoon, while bringing in clothes off the line that stretches over the perennial beds, I caught sight of an interesting visitor to the garden — a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe). It was nectaring at some vibrant pink phlox. I didn’t have my camera with me, but called to my mom (who is here visiting at the farm this week), and she brought it out to me. Although the light was failing, and I didn’t have time to set-up for a good shot, I did manage to capture a few images before the moth moved on.

As can be seen from these photos, this moth has wings with clear sections and an irregular dark outer edge. When it feeds from a flower, it beats its wings very rapidly, and resembles a hummingbird. Its body is also shaped a little like a hummer. It has a very long proboscis (feeding parts) which can be seen in the above photo (click on images for larger view). In the lower photo, the moth is feeding, its proboscis extended into the nectar filled flower with just a little of it visible below the head. At first glance, I thought this moth was a little dark to be Hemaris thysbe, but I think that the poor light had something to do with the coloration.

Many people are confused by these moths, thinking that they are either very small hummingbirds, or very large bees. At my Wasps and Hornets galleries on Pbase, I get quite a few enquiries about “giant bees” that may well be some species of Clearwing (Hemaris) moth.

The main foodplants of Hemaris thysbe larvae are Viburnum and honeysuckle. Both now grow in our garden and the surrounding meadows, so this must account for recent appearance of these moths in our garden.

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7 Responses to “hummingbird clearwing moth”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    I have always wanted to see Hummingbird Moths. They are so interesting looking. Are they regular visitors to your yard? We just don’t see them here on the peninsula, which is really a shame. We’re still not seeing any Painted Lady, and only a few Red Admirals this year. At this time last year our butterfly bush was literally covered with them.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Robin – We had seen Clearwing moths in other locations in the past, but not in our gardens until this summer. I think the foodplant mix probably wasn’t right until a couple of years ago, or else we just missed seeing the moths. About 3 years ago, we plants some Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), in the gardens and along the fencerows back in the fields. We also have a lot of wild honeysuckle bushes that seem to have appeared out of nowhere, so I think there’s now good habitat for these moths.
    This really has been an usually good year for butterflies and moths in this area — the past couple of summers have not been nearly so good due to lack of rain.

  3. Randa Says:

    I saw these moths for the first time in my life last year. I thought they were some kind of bee…thank you for clarifying this!

  4. burning silo Says:

    Randa – The moths move so quickly that I don’t think most people get a good enough look to know what they are. Last year, my brother called to ask me if I’d ever heard of a very large brown bee because he kept seeing them in his garden. Turned out that it was a Hummingbird Clearwing moth.

  5. Mark Paris Says:

    I think you identified this moth for me in an earlier post. I saw one a few weeks ago for the first time. It was trying to get nectar from some variegated gardenia leaves. It was quite a surprise to learn that it is a moth because it is so different from most moths in appearance while flying.

  6. Tommy S. Says:

    I was in Colorado last week and one of these flew right over me as I was sitting on a blacony of a restaurant in Breckenridge, CO. I almost swatted at it because I thought it was a bee! then I saw it feeding on the flowers above us and i thought it was a butterfly. Once I saw this website, I knew thas had to be it! It is such a startling thing to see this moth for the first time ever!

  7. burning silo Says:

    Tommy – Glad to hear that you have solved a mystery. That’s the fun part about reading nature-related blogs. You often find the missing piece to a puzzle.