Hummingbird moths are fascinating creatures known for their resemblance to hummingbirds, often displaying similar hovering abilities and feeding habits. These moths belong to the family Sphingidae and can be found in various parts of the world, including North America and Europe.
These intriguing insects have a relatively short life span. After going through the stages of egg, larva, and pupa, an adult hummingbird moth typically lives for two to six weeks. During this time, they remain active in search of nectar from flowers, making their presence beneficial for the pollination process.
What Is a Hummingbird Moth
Hummingbird moths are fascinating insects that resemble small hummingbirds in appearance and behavior. They belong to the Sphingidae family, specifically the Hemaris genus. These moths are:
- Plump with a reddish-brown color
- Possessing a tail that opens into a fan
- Covered in scales on their wings, with some species sporting clear wings
Behavior and Habitat
These fascinating creatures are known for their unique behavior, including:
- Hovering over flowers to feed on nectar with a long proboscis
- Visiting flowers during the day, unlike most moths
- Having tongues that can reach up to four inches in length
Hummingbird moths are commonly found in gardens and typically feed on nectar from various types of flowers.
Types of Hummingbird Moths
There are several types of hummingbird moths, including:
- Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe): This moth has a furry greenish-yellow or tan body with a reddish-brown band across the abdomen and a wingspan of 1½ to 2¼ inches.
- Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum): This species is characterized by their fast and strong wings that allow them to hover in place, like a hummingbird.
- White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata): A common “hummingbird” moth with distinct dark lines and a horn at the hind end of their larvae stage.
Below is a comparison table highlighting key features of these types:
|Feature||Hummingbird Clearwing||Hummingbird Hawk-Moth||White-Lined Sphinx Moth|
|Body Color||Greenish-yellow or tan||Brown, black, and white||Olive green, with white lines|
|Wingspan||1½ to 2¼ inches||1.6 to 1.8 inches||2.2 to 3.5 inches|
|Larvae Feature||–||–||Horn at the hind end|
By understanding their unique features, behavior, and habitat, we can better appreciate the beauty and importance of these remarkable insects in our ecosystem.
Life Cycle of a Hummingbird Moth
Hummingbird moths lay small, round, and greenish-white eggs on host plants, such as honeysuckle and hawthorn. The eggs are laid singly and hatch within a few days to a week, depending on the temperature.
After hatching, the larvae (caterpillars) emerge, and their appearance varies depending on the species. For instance, some caterpillars display a green color with a horn-like structure at the end, while others may be brown or black. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of their host plants, growing and molting several times in the process. This stage lasts around 2-4 weeks, during which these larvae grow up to 3 inches in length.
Features of caterpillars include:
- Green or brown colors
- Horn-like structure at the end
- Feeding on host plant leaves
Once the caterpillars have reached their full size, they pupate by forming a cocoon, either on the ground in leaf litter or by spinning a loose silk cage on the host plant. This stage lasts for approximately 2-3 weeks, after which the adult hummingbird moth emerges.
Characteristics of the pupa stage:
- Cocoon formation
- 2-3 weeks of development
- Adult moth emergence
Adult hummingbird moths are fascinating insects, notable for their hovering behavior and exceptional resemblance to hummingbirds. They have a wingspan of 1½ to 2¼ inches and display a greenish-yellow or tan body, often with a reddish-brown band across the abdomen. Their primary food source is nectar, which they acquire using their long proboscis while hovering above flowers.
Comparison of hummingbird moths and hummingbirds:
|Size||1½ to 2¼ inch wingspan||3 to 5 inches in length|
|Body color||Greenish-yellow or tan with reddish band||Various bright, iridescent colors|
|Wings||Scale-covered, some species have clearwing||Feathered|
|Food source||Nectar||Nectar, insects, and spiders|
Overall, the life cycle of a hummingbird moth includes stages of egg, caterpillar, pupa, and adult, each with distinct features and roles. Utilizing host plants and hovering to feed on nectar, these fascinating insects are important pollinators in their ecosystems.
Feeding and Pollination
Adult Feeding Patterns
Hummingbird moths mainly feed on nectar from various flowers. Some examples of their favorites are:
Their feeding method involves hovering over flowers and using their long proboscis to extract nectar. This is similar to other hawk moths and even hummingbirds.
These moths play a significant pollinator role in the ecosystem. Some key features of their pollination role are:
- Active during the day
- Visit pale or white flowers
- Attracted to fragrances
Due to their feeding patterns, they help transfer pollen between flowers, contributing to the reproductive processes of these plants. A comparison between hummingbird moths and other pollinators highlights their similarities and differences:
|Pollinator||Feeding Time||Pollination Method||Nectar Sources (examples)|
|Hummingbird Moth||Day||Long proboscis, hovering over plants||Phlox, Verbena, Monarda|
|Hawk Moths||Night||Long proboscis extraction of nectar from flowers||Nicotiana, Mirabilis|
|Hummingbirds||Day||Long bill, tube-like tongue drinking nectar||Salvia, Fuchsia|
In conclusion, hummingbird moths play an essential role in the pollination process, feeding on nectar from specific flowers, and sharing similarities with other pollinators like hawk moths and hummingbirds.
Habitats and Distribution
Locations Around the World
Hummingbird moths can be found in various locations worldwide, including North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Some examples of their habitats are:
- In the United States, they are commonly found in California and other parts of the country.
- Europe has various species of hummingbird moths, ensuring their presence in several European countries.
- Asian and African countries also have their specific species of hummingbird moths.
|North America||Hemaris thysbe, Hemaris diffinis|
|Europe||Hemaris tityus, Macroglossum stellatarum|
|Asia||Cephonodes hylas, Macroglossum trochilus|
|Africa||Hummingbird Hawk-Moth – Macroglossum trochilus|
Factors Affecting Habitat
Hummingbird moth habitat preferences are influenced by factors like plant availability and climate. Some key factors are:
- Plant availability: As these moths feed on flowering plants’ nectar, habitats with abundant flower populations are ideal.
- Climate: Mild climates are preferable for hummingbird moths. They can be found in warmer regions and may have reduced activity during colder seasons.
Behavior and Adaptations
Communication and Mating
- Most species of hummingbird moths are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day.
- Male hummingbird moths use their antennae to detect female pheromones for mating.
- They have long tongues to drink nectar from flowers while hovering, similar to hummingbirds.
- Some species can be nocturnal or active during twilight hours.
For example, a common diurnal species is the hummingbird clearwing, which is easily recognizable by its “furry” greenish-yellow or tan body and reddish-brown band across the abdomen.
Predators and Defense
- Primary predators include birds, lizards, and spiders.
- Hummingbird moths use camouflage as their main form of defense.
- They can mimic hummingbirds, bees, or wasps to deter potential predators.
Comparison Table: Defense Strategies
|Mimicry||High||Resembling a wasp|
|Camouflage||Moderate||Blending in with surroundings|
|Flight speed||Low to Moderate||Escaping predators|
In summary, hummingbird moths adapt their behavior and appearance to effectively communicate, mate, and defend themselves from predators. They are fascinating creatures that play a crucial role in pollination during their short lives.
Identification and Species of Hummingbird Moths
Native to North America
In North America, some common hummingbird moth species include the White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata) and the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis). The White-lined Sphinx moth features a wingspan of 2-3 inches and is active during dusk, making it appear like a hummingbird in the evening sky 1. On the other hand, the Snowberry Clearwing has a wingspan of 1-2 inches and mimics the appearance and hover behavior of a bumblebee2.
White-lined Sphinx moth (Hyles lineata)
- Wingspan: 2-3 inches
- Active at dusk
- Fast fliers
Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)
- Wingspan: 1-2 inches
- Mimics bumblebee appearance
Examples of host plants for these species include honeysuckle, cherries, and hawthorns.
Native to Europe and Asia
In Europe and Asia, some notable moth species are the Bee Hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis) and the Slender Clearwing (Macroglossum stellatarum). The Bee Hawk-moth has a wingspan of 1.5-2 inches and showcases a stunning combination of brown, red, and white colors, while the Slender Clearwing exhibits a wingspan of 2 inches and feeds on flowers, much like hummingbirds do3.
Bee Hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis)
- Wingspan: 1.5-2 inches
- Beautiful color combination
Slender Clearwing (Macroglossum stellatarum)
- Wingspan: 2 inches
- Feeds on flowers
Common host plants for these species include viburnums, dogbane, and beebalm (monarda).
|Species||Native Region||Wingspan||Active Time||Example Host Plants|
|White-lined Sphinx||North America||2-3 inches||Dusk||Honeysuckle, cherries|
|Snowberry Clearwing||North America||1-2 inches||Daytime||Hawthorn|
|Bee Hawk-moth||Europe and Asia||1.5-2 inches||Daytime||Viburnums|
|Slender Clearwing||Europe and Asia||2 inches||Daytime||Dogbane, beebalm|
In conclusion, hummingbird moths from different regions have unique features, but all share their ability to hover and feed on flowers like actual hummingbirds. The identification and categorization of these species can help better understand and appreciate their significance in nature.
Interaction with Humans and Gardens
Attracting Hummingbird Moths
To attract hummingbird moths to your garden, consider planting flower species that provide nectar, such as:
These insects favor blooms in colors like red, pink, and purple. Keeping a pesticide-free environment will also help maintain the presence of these pollinators.
Contributions to Ecosystems
Hummingbird moths, like Hemaris diffinis, are essential pollinators for various plants. They play a vital role in supporting ecosystems by:
- Pollinating flowers
- Improving plant reproduction
- Providing food for birds and other predators
|Beneficial pollinators||Can be mistaken for tomato hornworm|
|Attracts biodiversity in gardens|
These moths are examples of convergent evolution with hummingbirds due to their similar physical features and feeding habits. They contribute to the ecosystem by pollinating flowers and creating a dynamic habitat for plants, insects, and birds. In contrast, their close relatives, the hornworms, can be pests for tomatoes and other plants. Ultimately, their presence in gardens can promote a healthy ecosystem and diversify the local environment.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Agrius cingulata
pink spotted hawk moth
I Know that this is a hummingbird moth. The best I can compare it to on your web site is the pink spotted hawk moth. I see them very late in the evening dartings around some ginger lilies I have planted. Just thought I would get you opinion and share this picture I took of one of the moths. 9-24-2005 Georgia
Hi there Oakley,
This surely is a Pink Spotted Hawkmoth, Agrius cingulata. Great image.
Letter 2 – Hummingbird Moth
flying humingbird like insect
Hello Mr. Bugman,
Enjoy your website. I saw this interesting insect several weeks ago and was happy to see it again when I had my camera in hand. At first I thought this insect was a small humming bird, but when I looked at it closer I realized it was an insect. It hovers and moves in a similar manner as a hummingbird. Any ideas about what this insect might be? I have some other closeups if you need them.
This is one of the day flying sphinx moths, Family Sphingidae, known collectively as Hummingbird Moths.
Letter 3 – Hummingbird Moth from Japan
Green moth found in Japan
October 13, 2009
My friend took a photo of this lovely moth in Tokyo, mid-October, near her apartment. I’ve been trying to find out exactly what it is, and I think it may be a Cephonodes species, but I’m unsure exactly what. If you could help give an exact ID that would be wonderful 🙂
Your photo is tiny and lacking in resolution, but we agree that this is a Cephonodes species, probably Cephonodes hylas. We found a photo quickly by doing a web search of Sphingidae Japan, and then double checked on the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic website. That site states: “When the moth first emerges, which it usually does in the early morning, the hyaline portion of the wings is covered densely with greyish scales. These come off in a little cloud when the wings are rapidly vibrated before the first flight (Bell & Scott, 1937)” and we believe these scales are present in your specimen, indicating that it has newly metamorphosed and has not yet flown. Diurnal Sphinghids are often called Hummingbird Moths in North America since they are frequently mistaken for hummingbirds, and we are taking creative license with that common name in our posting title.
Letter 4 – Hummingbird Moth from Japan
mixture between butterfly, carterpillar and dragonfly?
Location: Japan, Tokyo
October 12, 2010 7:23 am
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to what kind of insect this is. I saw a lot of those flying insects in Japan lately.
They have a green/yellow or brown/orange hairy body, that looks a little like a big carterpillar.
They have antennae and a proboscis like a butterfly. But their wings are like the wings of a dragonfly and their flying style is also similar to a dragonfly. I think they’re between 4-7 centimeter long.
They’ve been eating the nectar of the flowers on the photo.
I’m sorry for the bad quality but it was quite difficult to take a photo because they were moving really fast all the time.
Thank you for your help!
Signature: Britta Stein
In North America, closely related diurnal Sphinx Moths are called Hummingbird Moths or Hummingbird Clearwings. We have previously identified a species in Japan as Cephonodes hylas, and that may be your species.