Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hummingbird Moth

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!
StumbleUpon

15 comments:

andrea said...

thankyou...this really anwserd questions..when i first seen it i told my mom i thhought it was a fairy...and she thought i was crazy then she seen it herself a few days later.and she finally belived me...and then i told my friend and cousin and they thought i was going crazy...so i took pictures of it and showed them...now we see it all the time...and we had no clue what it was...we thought it was some sort of a mutant bee...but you anwsered alot of questions..thankyou so much...!

andrea said...

Thankyou so much...you anwserd many questions...i was the first one to see it in my family...and i told my mom and she thought i was crazy....i swore it was a fairy...she thought i was crazy...i didnt know what else to say...and then a few days later she seen it and asked me what it was. and i told her that, that is what i saw..and she thought it was some sort of fairy to...and i a little while after that i told my friend cousin and grandparents and they all thought me and my mom where phyco.and so we seen it again later that day..and we took pictures and showed eveyone they had no idea on what it was..so we just called it a fairy...then i was zooming in on a few of the pictures we took and showed my cousin and grandparents and they said they still dont know.and them finally my grandma said that it looked like a mutant bee of some sort...so i started looking on the internet and i fanally saw these pictures and i said omg thats it...and that leads me to this now posting a comment...but again thankyou so so so so much!

Heather Steele said...

Thank you! I took pictures today of what I thought were tiny hummingbirds, but after reviewing the much clearer images in the photos, I realized that I was looking at something quite different. I knew it wasn't a bee, but I wasn't sure it could be a moth either. Thank you for this wonderful article! Also, I do have a couple really wonderful pictures from today if you would be intrested in adding them to your blog. Thank you, again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post! I too had no idea what I was looking at. I found it on my petunias flying from flower to flower. I'm scared of most bugs here in Missouri so when I told my family I saw a half bug/half bird they just ignored me thinking I was being dramatic. I'm going to show them these pictures, proving furthermore that Missouri has some seriously strange bugs. Thanks again.

Mike said...

Thank you so much, i just caught one of these and thought it was a strange looking hummingbird, then i saw this post and i felt like an idiot, because its not a hummingbird at all

KennethHickman123 said...

I see these Moths all the time, I knew they were Moths but I didn't know what they were called so Thank You for identifying it for me.

Indiana Daisy said...

My daughter and I saw a hummingbird moth for the first time in our garden yesterday. It seemed to enjoy the Larkspur. We had no idea what it was. It looked like a large bumblebee however the size and color was so different. Ours had a white head and underneath with yellow and brown. We are in the country near Michigan City, Indiana. Kathy and Laura

Janet Creamer said...

Hi Kathy and Laura,

It could be a Snowberry Clearwing, which can be more brown that black and its face is white. Or, possibly a White-lined Sphinx moth which is brown and white and acts like the hummingbird moths. Here are a few photos from BugGuide of those beasts. :) You might have to cut and paste the addresses.
Snowberry Clearwing http://bugguide.net/node/view/18039

White-lined Sphinx
http://bugguide.net/node/view/
544948/bgimage

Anonymous said...

This is the strangest bug I have ever seen. I really thought I was watching a baby hummingbird till I got a pic of it. It looks like a mix between a bee a bird and moth..lol I am in upstate NY along the shores of Lake Ontario, are they usually in NY? Thanks for all the info it was a big help!!

Diane said...

I just spotted one of these today and thought it was a baby hummingbird. I live in Madoc Ontario Canada. These a beautiful little guys

Anonymous said...

Same mistake made here yesterday just south of Kansas City . Thought it was a baby hummingbird because it was obviously not an adult bird.

Anonymous said...

I live in Pa ..an just the other day saw my first Hummingbird Moth...what a sight..I thought to it was a baby hummingbird...they are very pretty ...such a sight to see...hope that they keep coming back..

Oneida said...

We were in Pulaski, Virginia the other day and saw one, we had no idea what it was. Thank you so much, now we know what it is! : )

Anonymous said...

today we were eating on our patio and thought they were baby hummingbirds! thank you for identifying these moths! they seamed to like our butterfly bush.

Anonymous said...

Today we were eating lunch on the patio and spotted a strange creature! We just thought they were baby hummingbirds! When we got the canera out and looked closley we saw the 6 legs and such and that made us second guess ourselves! Our hummingbird moths here in ohio seem to like butterfly bushes! Thanks forn identifying these!