Have you seen a hummingbird moth this summer?
Hummingbird moths dart around from flower to flower exactly like a hummingbird does. When their movement catches your eye, you think for a moment that you have spotted a tiny hummingbird. When you look more closely, you notice that the tiny creature hovering over a nectar rich blossom and darting from plant to plant actually has clear wings.
This is a good clue that you are observing a moth, not a bird. Although their profile is similar, the moth is a true insect and has antennae.
Hummingbird moths also have a furry covering on their back, much like a bumblebee. If they stay still long enough for you to see their eyes, you’ll notice the compound eyes of an insect.
If you’ve ever tried to observe a hummingbird, you know they are very shy. Although you can eventually begin to work with a hummingbird who visits a feeder, hummingbirds usually fly away when they sense a human presence. Hummingbird moths don’t seem to mind having you close by.
They go about their hungry business of visiting flowers without paying much attention to the camera, or the person behind it.
Hawk moths and sphinx moths are members of the Sphingidae family of moths. These are the fastest flying of all insects. They have the peculiar ability to hover in flight as they feed. Hummingbird moths, all of which belong to the genus Hemaris, are considered to be hawk moths. Since hummingbird moths all have clear wings, they are sometimes called, “clear wing moths”.
The tobacco hornworm caterpillar and tomato hornworm caterpillar will eventually leave their chrysalises as the Carolina sphinx moth, and the five spotted hawk moth, respectively. Both are able to hover over blossoms as they sip nectar. Their bodies and wings are mostly brown.
Many of these beautiful members of the Sphingidae family are found in Virginia gardens. This Hemaris thysbe is the second species of Hemaris I’ve observed in my garden this summer. I’ve seen them in gardens all over the state. They especially love perennial gardens full of phlox, butterfly bushes, lilac, and hibiscus.
Like all moths and butterflies, Hummingbird moths begin life as an egg laid on a leaf. The egg hatches into a caterpillar, who eats leaves for several weeks before forming a chrysalis. When you find caterpillars on plants in the garden, please remember the beautiful creatures they will soon become.
Although they damage the host plant they’re munching, most plants will soon recover with new growth. The caterpillar transforms into its beautiful adult form while in the chrysalis, and when it comes out, is ready to fly off in search of nectar.
To bring these creatures into your garden, plant the nectar rich flowers they love. For a list of plants to include in a butterfly garden, click here. Avoid using insecticides which will poison them. Avoiding pesticides and herbicides allows wildlife to live in your garden in peace and safety. Provide areas of trees and dense shrubs where they can rest and lay their eggs. Your reward will be their presence in your garden for many years to come.
All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013
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