One of the most fascinating moths, in my opinion, is the hummingbird moth. I have had people proclaim that they had miniature hummingbirds or baby hummingbirds visiting their flowers. Most likely, it is this creature. And, at first glance, it does look just like a hummingbird. But if you take a closer look, you will notice it has six legs, antennae and a proboscis. As a side note, all the hummingbird moths shown here in this post are feeding on Common Milkweed.
There are four types of hummingbird moths that live in the United States. The two most common ones that you can see in Indianapolis are Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis and Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe.
They are called clearwings because they have clear patches on their wings. The wings look like panes of glass in a stained glass window. What is fascinating is they don't start out that way. When they hatch, the entire wing has scales on it, but after their first flight, the scales fall off revealing the clear patches. Here is a link to Bugguide that has a great photo of a Snowberry Clearwing that has just emerged. This loss of scales is possibly to mimic the clear wings of bees, so predators will not bother them.
Their genus name is Hemaris that comes from the greek hemera which means day. Very appropriate considering these are day-flying moths. Most moths come out at night.
Here is a photo I captured of a Snowberry Clearwing. It is a bumblebee mimic, with coloration that will fool possible predators that don't want to mess with the painful sting of a bumbleee. It has a fuzzy yellow body with bands of black. Its wings have more slender margins of scaling along the edges than the Hummingbird Clearwing. The caterpillars sometime feed on Snowberry plants.
My friend John Howard took this shot of the Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe. It has a thicker area of dark scaling on the edge of the wings than Hemaris diffinis. Also, it has a greenish appearance on the body, tinged with red or burgundy. This red coloration, that looks like blood, is where the scientific name thysbe comes from. Apparently, Johan Christian Fabricius, the entomologist that first named this moth in 1775, was a mythology fan. Pyramus and Thisbe are characters in Greek and Roman mythology that met a tragic end. Pyramus was supposed to meet Thisbe and instead found a blood-stained scarf and a lion nearby. Pyramus thought she was dead, so he killed himself. Geesh, talk about an over reaction! Anyway, she wasn't dead, but became so distraught over Pyramus's death that she killed herself, too. Sad story, but beautiful moth, nontheless.
So next time you think you have a hummingbird visiting your flowers, take a closer look. It may be one of these amazing moths!