Snowberry Clearwing vs Hummingbird Clearwing: A Friendly Comparison

Snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing are two fascinating moth species that, at first glance, might be mistaken for hummingbirds. They both have a unique hovering flight pattern and feed on nectar from flowers, similar to actual hummingbirds. In this article, we’ll delve into the differences and similarities between these two delightful creatures.

The snowberry clearwing, scientifically known as Hemaris diffinis, has specific food plants for its larvae, including species of honeysuckle, dogbane, and rose family members like hawthorn, cherries, and plums source. On the other hand, the hummingbird clearwing, or Hemaris thysbe, is identifiable by its “furry” greenish-yellow or tan body, complete with a wide reddish-brown band across the abdomen and a wingspan of 1½ to 2¼ inches source.

As you explore the enchanting world of snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing moths, you’ll come to appreciate their distinctive characteristics and behaviors. So, let’s dive into discovering more about these lovely creatures that bring a touch of magic to your garden.

Overview of Snowberry and Hummingbird Clearwing

Taxonomy and Identification

The Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) and Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) are two species of clearwing moths that belong to the same family, Sphingidae. These moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds or bees due to their hovering behavior while feeding on nectar from flowers. They are well-known pollinators and can be commonly found in gardens and other flower-rich habitats.

Snowberry Clearwing moths are commonly found in Arkansas, while the Hummingbird Clearwing can be found in the northern United States and throughout much of the eastern half of the country.

Distinct Features

While both species have similarities in appearance and behavior, there are some key differences between the two:

  • Size: The Snowberry Clearwing is smaller than the Hummingbird Clearwing.
  • Coloration: The Snowberry Clearwing has more black and yellow coloring, whereas the Hummingbird Clearwing has more green or olive coloring on its back.
  • Forewing pattern: The Hummingbird Clearwing has a ragged boundary between the dark and clear areas on its forewing, as opposed to a smoother boundary in the Snowberry Clearwing.

Below is a comparison table of the two species’ features:

Feature Snowberry Clearwing (H. diffinis) Hummingbird Clearwing (H. thysbe)
Size Smaller Larger
Coloration Black and yellow Green or olive
Forewing Pattern Smooth boundary Ragged boundary

Recognizing these distinct features and understanding their habitats will help you better appreciate the fascinating world of clearwing moths. So, next time you spot a Snowberry or Hummingbird Clearwing in your garden, take a moment to admire their unique beauty and vital roles as pollinators.

Physical Characteristics

Colour and Size

The Snowberry Clearwing and Hummingbird Clearwing moths are both members of the Sphingidae family and share some similarities in appearance. However, they also have distinctive characteristics that set them apart.

Snowberry Clearwing

  • Yellow to vibrant green body with black markings.
  • Wingspan ranges from 1.4 to 2.0 inches.
  • Mostly transparent wings with black spots.
  • More info at Missouri Department of Conservation.

Hummingbird Clearwing

  • Greenish-yellow or tan “furry” body.
  • Wide reddish-brown band across the abdomen.
  • Wingspan ranges from 1.5 to 2.25 inches.
  • More info at Wisconsin Horticulture.

Wings and Flight

Both the Snowberry and Hummingbird Clearwings are known to have clear wings, hence their name. These wings allow them to hover and swiftly dart from flower to flower, mimicking the flight patterns of bees or small hummingbirds.

Snowberry Clearwing

Hummingbird Clearwing

Thorax and Legs

The thorax and legs of these moths are adapted to their unique feeding habits, allowing them to nimbly maneuver while feeding on nectar.

Snowberry Clearwing

Hummingbird Clearwing

  • Large, furry thorax similar to Snowberry Clearwing.
  • Protruding head with large eyes.
  • Conical abdomen extends well beyond hind wings during flight.
  • More thorax and leg information at Missouri Department of Conservation.

Habitat and Distribution

Worldwide Spread

The Snowberry Clearwing and Hummingbird Clearwing are fascinating species of moths that share many similarities, but differ in their habitat and distribution. Both can be found in North America, where they are widely spread. The Snowberry Clearwing is found across the United States, extending northward to British Columbia and eastward to Pennsylvania and the New England states1. In contrast, the Hummingbird Clearwing is predominantly found in the south of the United States[^5^].

Habitat Preferences

Each species has unique preferences when it comes to their habitats. The Snowberry Clearwing is versatile and inhabits slopes and valley bottoms in a variety of areas, such as the Sierra Nevada and the mountains of southern California. They can also be found in coastal regions and some parts of Canada[^4^]. On the other hand, the Hummingbird Clearwing prefers areas with flowers they can feed on during the day, including gardens and meadows2.

Species Regions Habitat Preferences
Snowberry Clearwing United States, Canada Slopes, valley bottoms, coastal areas
Hummingbird Clearwing South United States Gardens, meadows, areas with flowers

To summarize, while both the Snowberry Clearwing and Hummingbird Clearwing can be found in North America, they have slightly different habitat preferences. The Snowberry Clearwing is more versatile in its choice of habitat, while the Hummingbird Clearwing prefers areas rich in flowers for feeding.

Feeding and Nutrition

Nectar and Flowers

Snowberry clearwings and hummingbird clearwings are both drawn to the nectar of flowers. They have a preference for certain types of flowers, like vines, bluebells, monarda, phlox, and verbena. These insects play an important role in pollination as they move from one flower to another in search of nectar.

As a pollinator, the snowberry clearwing visits various types of flowers to gather nectar for its nutrition. The hummingbird clearwing does the same, with a similar taste in flora. Here is a comparison table of their preferred flowers:

Snowberry Clearwing   Hummingbird Clearwing
Vines                 Vines                
Bluebells             Bluebells            
Monarda               Monarda              
Phlox                 Phlox                
Verbena               Verbena              

Both snowberry and hummingbird clearwings contribute to plant pollination when they feed on the nectar of these flowers. This, in turn, helps in the propagation and maintenance of the plant population. As a gardener, providing a friendly habitat for these pollinators would be mutually beneficial to these insects and your garden’s overall health.

Remember to choose flowers that attract snowberry clearwings and hummingbird clearwings and plant them in your garden. This will not only ensure good pollination but also create a pleasant environment where these fascinating creatures can thrive.

Breeding and Life Cycle

Eggs and Caterpillars

During the breeding season, both snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing females lay their eggs on the host plants. They choose plants that their caterpillars will later feed on, such as honeysuckle, snowberry, and hawthorn. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars begin to feed on the leaves of these plants.

The caterpillars of both species have distinct appearances. Snowberry clearwing caterpillars are usually green with black spots and a yellow stripe along their sides. Hummingbird clearwing caterpillars, on the other hand, are mostly green with a dark green stripe running down their backs.

Cocoon and Adult Stage

As the caterpillars grow, they eventually reach their final instar and begin to pupate. They spin a cocoon within the leaf litter and debris on the ground. It takes about two weeks for the pupa inside the cocoon to develop into an adult moth.

Once the adult moths emerge, they begin to search for food and mates. Both snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing moths are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They hover around flowers, sipping nectar with their long proboscis, much like hummingbirds.

The main differences between the two moths can be observed in their appearance. Snowberry clearwing moths have a yellow and black banded abdomen, while hummingbird clearwing moths have a greenish-yellow or tan body. Both species have a wingspan ranging from 1½ to 2¼ inches.

In summary, the breeding and life cycle of snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing moths involve similar steps of egg laying, caterpillar feeding, pupation, and adult emergence. The main differences between the two species are their caterpillar appearances and adult moth colorations.

Interactions with Other Species

Predators and Defences

Birds and other predators often hunt both the snowberry clearwing and the hummingbird clearwing moths. These moths, however, have developed fascinating defense mechanisms to protect themselves. One such mechanism is their ability to mimic other species, such as bumblebees, to deter predators. While feeding, you might notice their rapid wing beats, which help them evade potential threats.

  • Snowberry clearwing: Fuzzy golden yellow body with black and yellow bands on the abdomen 3.
  • Hummingbird clearwing: Furry greenish-yellow or tan body with reddish-brown bands across the abdomen 2.

Mimicry and Camouflage

Both the snowberry clearwing and the hummingbird clearwing moths use mimicry and camouflage as ways to elude predators. By mimicking the appearance of bumblebees, they discourage would-be predators from attacking them.

  • Mimicry: Both species have evolved body colors and patterns that resemble bumblebees 3 2.
  • Camouflage: When resting, these moths often blend in with their surroundings, making it difficult for predators to detect them 1.

Given their striking resemblances to other creatures, it’s no surprise that snowberry clearwings and hummingbird clearwings often go unnoticed or are mistaken for insects, like bumblebees. Be sure to observe their unique behaviors and adaptations in the wild whenever you encounter them.

Attracting Clearwings to Your Garden

Garden Plants

To attract the beautiful snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing moths to your garden, consider planting some of their favorite nectar-rich plants. These can include:

  • Honeysuckle: This vine or shrub produces fragrant, tubular flowers that are sure to draw in clearwing moths.
  • Dogbane: A perennial plant with small, fragrant flowers adored by clearwings.
  • Hawthorn: These shrubs or trees offer clusters of small, white flowers that provide nectar for clearwing moths.

Other plants that you can add to your garden for these pollinators are cherries, plums, mertensia, viburnums, and hawthorns3. Planting a diverse variety of these plants will help create a welcoming environment for both snowberry and hummingbird clearwings to visit.

Protecting Clearwings in Your Garden

It’s equally important to ensure that your garden provides a safe and comfortable habitat for these moths. Here are some tips to protect clearwings in your garden:

  • Avoid using pesticides: Chemicals can be harmful to clearwing moths along with other pollinators. Opt for natural pest control methods instead.
  • Provide shelter: Make small piles of branches or allow for leaf litter to accumulate. These can be used by the clearwings for attaching chrysalis or cocoons2.
  • Offer water sources: Incorporate shallow bowls with water or a bird bath in your garden that can serve as a water source for clearwings and other pollinators.
  • Allow areas for larval feeding: Snowberry and hummingbird clearwing caterpillars consume foliage of particular host plants1. Including these plants in your garden provides a home not just for the adult moths, but for their larvae as well.

By following these tips and incorporating their preferred plants, you can create a vibrant garden that is a haven for both snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing moths.

Conservation and Threats

Threats

The Snowberry Clearwing and Hummingbird Clearwing moths play important roles as pollinators in nature. However, these unique creatures face several threats, such as habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and climate change. Shrinking habitats reduce the availability of food and nesting sites for these moths. Moreover, pesticide use harms not only pests but also beneficial insects like these pollinators.

Conservation Efforts

Efforts to protect the Snowberry Clearwing and Hummingbird Clearwing moths include conservation programs that focus on preserving their habitats and promoting sustainable practices. Here’s how you can help:

  • Plant native flowering plants to provide food sources for these moths and other pollinators.
  • Avoid using harmful pesticides in your garden.
  • Create safe nesting sites by leaving natural debris such as leaf litter and fallen branches in your yard.

By taking these simple steps, you can contribute to the conservation of these essential pollinators and ensure a healthier ecosystem for all.

Conclusion

In this article, you’ve learned about the Snowberry Clearwing and the Hummingbird Clearwing. Both are fascinating moth species that mimic other creatures in their appearance and behavior, which may surprise you.

Snowberry Clearwing:

  • Larvae feed on specific food plants, like honeysuckle and snowberry.
  • Resembles a small hummingbird in flight.

Hummingbird Clearwing:

  • Has a furry greenish-yellow or tan body with a wide reddish-brown band across the abdomen.
  • Visits flowers during the day, feeding on nectar with a long proboscis.

The snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing have similarities, but they also have distinct features that set them apart. Awareness of these interesting creatures can help you identify them and appreciate their role in nature.

Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Clearwing
Appearance Resembles small hummingbird Furry greenish-yellow body
Feeding Habits Specific food plants Feeds on nectar from flowers

So, next time you’re out in nature, keep an eye out for these intriguing moths. You might be surprised by their fascinating adaptations and behaviors.

References

The snowberry clearwing and the hummingbird clearwing are two different species of moths with some similarities and differences in their appearance and behavior.

The snowberry clearwing typically has a wingspan of 1½ to 2¼ inches. They are regarded as important pollinators and are commonly found in gardens, darting from flower to flower sipping nectar in full sunlight.

On the other hand, the hummingbird clearwing has a fuzzy, olive to golden-olive-colored body, with a dark abdomen. These moths are known to mimic bumblebees, as they also hover around flowers during the day to feed on nectar.

Here’s a comparison table highlighting the differences between the two:

Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Clearwing
Wingspan: 1½ to 2¼ inches Fuzzy olive to golden olive body
Common pollinators Mimics bumblebees

Some features of both species include:

  • Daytime feeding habits
  • Fast, hovering flight
  • Long proboscis for sipping nectar

In summary, while both snowberry clearwing and hummingbird clearwing moths share certain features, they can be differentiated by their colors, size, and mimicking behavior.

Footnotes

  1. Hornworms and “Hummingbird” Moths – 5.517 – Extension 2 3

  2. Hummingbird Moth, Hemaris thysbe – Wisconsin Horticulture 2 3 4

  3. Snowberry Clearwing | Missouri Department of Conservation 2 3

Reader Emails

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 – Possibly Snowberry Clearwing Caterpillar

 

pink and green horned caterpillar
June 30, 2010
I took a picture of a large pink and green caterpillar with a single horn that I found in the Carbon County, PA area. It was in a grove of crabapple trees. It was discovered in mid June. Any help on identification would be greatly appreciated.
Jessica
Carbon County, PA

Possibly nowberry Clearwing Caterpillar

Hi Jessica,
Your caterpillar is a Hornworm in the family Sphingidae.  We are nearly certain your caterpillar is that of a Snowberry Clearwing,
Hemaris diffinis, and we are basing that on a photo posted to BugGuide.

Letter 2 – Pecan Bark Borer or Lesser Pecan Tree Borer

 

Clear Winged Moth – Synanthedon geliformis
May 5, 2010
I took this picture of a elm borer moth in mid-April and ID’d the moth easily enough; thankfully I noticed in the picture that the antennae are a little fuzzy and started with moths – I’d though it might be a wasp when I spotted it, with those narrow looking black wings. It took me a lot longer to ID the bush it was visiting, some sort of viburnum, I’m pretty sure now. It’s part of a neighbor’s hedge, but they didn’t know what it was. Since this is a still picture, it doesn’t show that the moth was flexing just the tip of it’s abdomen up occasionally.
I love your website. It has really helped learn more about ID’ing the smaller fauna of our world.
Karen H.
Belleview, FL

Pecan Bark Borer

Hi Karen,
First, we want you to know that we are setting your photo to post on Mother’s Day because we are leaving our office behind for a few days to visit our mother in Ohio and we will not be checking our email nor posting any letters while we are away.  Your letter has us quite puzzled because you mention using our humble site to make identifications, yet we do not have an example of a previous posting of Synanthedon geliformis, and furthermore, the single image posted to BugGuide does not list a common name.  We next tried a google search of the scientific name, and we found a mounted specimen posted to the Moth Photographers Group website, but again with no common name.  There appears to be a real dearth of information on this species online, but eventually we discovered a mention on the Index to the Common Names for Florida Lepidoptera website, where it is called a Pecan Bark Borer.  More searching led us to the Full Text of Pecan Insects online and this information:
“THE LESSER PECAN TREE BORER.
(Synanthedon (Sesia) geliformis Walker.)
Two different species of clear winged moths, both related to
each other and to the peach tree borers, occur on pecan. One
species has been recorded by Ilerrick* as attacking the pecan in
Mississippi and this species appears to be the one attacking it in
North Carolina. The moth is deep steel blue in color with yellow
bands on abdomen and legs. Gossardt found a species attacking
pecan in Florida and, not finding the adult, judged it to be the
same insect. We have never taken this insect in Georgia, our form
producing a moth which is dark brown in color, with a bright red
hind body, or abdomen. It also seems probable that this is the
species occurring in Florida. Since this form is related more
closely to the Lesser Peach-tree Borer, and since moreover, the
name Pecan Tree-borer has already been applied to the other spe-
cies, it has seemed best to call our insect the Lesser Pecan-tree
Borer.

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