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Hummingbird Moth - Insect or Bird Newsletter

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Hummingbird Moth - Insect or Bird?


Photo by D. Compton


An interesting recent question:

Q: I had a very strange bug (?) visiting my yard. It looks like a cross between a moth and a hummingbird.

And another:

Q: I have a Meyers lemon tree full of blooms and this little guy went flying by my head, not shy at all, having a ball. Saw a picture someone sent in on Facebook to you. Can you give me information on this little bird? Never saw one before now and what a treat for me to see.

Photo by M. Ridgeway

It's actually a very pretty moth.

Hummingbird Moth or Clearwing Moth

Hemaris thysbe

Description: Beautiful moths that look like hummingbirds. Wingspan 1 1/2-2" (38-50 mm). Wings initially plum-red to brownish black, but scales drop off after 1st flight, leaving clear areas devoid of scales, except along veins. The body is spindle-shaped, mostly olive-green with plum-red bands across abdomen and rear tufts. Caterpillar is yellowish green with darker green lines and reddish-brown spots on abdomen and with yellow tail horn.

Life Cycle: Caterpillar feeds on foliage of plants of the honeysuckle family and others.

Flight: April - September.

Habitat: Forest edges, meadows, and cultivated flower gardens.

Range: Coast to coast in the North; also east of the Great Plains south to the Gulf.

Discussion: This moth hovers over flowers in full sunlight, producing a buzz with its wings similar to but softer than that of a hummingbird similarly engaged. There are two generations a year.

Life History: Adults fly during the day, and hover at flowers to sip nectar. Caterpillars pupate in cocoons spun at the soil surface.

Flight: Two broods in the south from March - June and August - October, one brood in the north from April - August.

Caterpillar hosts: Honeysuckle (Lonicera), snowberry (Symphoricarpos), hawthorns (Crataegus), cherries and plums (Prunus), and European cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus).

Adult food: Nectar from a wide variety of plants including Japanese honeysuckle, beebalm, red clover, lilac, phlox, snowberry, cranberry, blueberry, vetch, and thistles.

Habitat: Open and second-growth habitats, gardens, and suburbs.

Range: Alaska and the Northwest Territories south through British Columbia to Oregon; east through the Great Plains and the Great Lakes area to Maine and Newfoundland; south to Florida and Texas.

Here's an excellent site for more information on this wonderful insect.

If you have any questions on this newsletter or any other topic, tune in Sunday 8 am - 11 am (CST) to the Dirt Doctor Radio Show. Listen on the internet or find a station in your area. The phone number for the show is1-866-444-3478.

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Naturally yours,

Howard Garrett




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