The hummingbird moth belongs to the moth family, but looks something like a hummingbird. You might find it during the spring and summer months, darting from flower to flower in your garden in search of nectar-bearing buds.
Hummingbird moths are part of the sphinx moth family, also called hawk moths. Four species of hummingbird moths live across North America. The two most common are the Snowberry Clearwing (Hermaris diffinis), found more commonly in the west, and the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), usually found in the east. Several species of hummingbird moths can also be found in Africa, Europe, and Asia. In England, these moths are called Bee Hawk-Moths.
The hummingbird moth, a plump insect with a long tongue, moves and flies like its namesake the hummingbird. This moth is able to hover in mid-air, like a hummingbird, and can dart about from one flower to another. The hummingbird moth carries its very long tongue rolled up under its chin when it’s not gathering nectar from flowers. The tip of its tail spreads open like a fan, and its wings are covered with scales.
Some of the hummingbird moth species lose the scales on their wings, and these are called clearwing hummingbird moths. In size, the hummingbird moth is about 1-1/2 inches long while the actual hummingbird is about 3 inches long. The Hummingbird Clearwing has an olive back with a reddish-brown abdomen. The Snowberry Clearwing is yellow and black.
The hummingbird moth’s food is nectar found in a variety of flowers. In early spring, hummingbird moths are attracted to bluebells (Mertensia) when they begin blooming. Later in the summer, you can find these moths around phlox (Phlox), bee balm (Monarda), honeysuckle (Lonicera), or verbena (Verbena). Hummingbird moths can be seen in open meadows, along the edge of forests, and in home gardens. While most moths are active at night, hummingbird moths fly in the daytime.
The hummingbird moth lays its round, green eggs on plants, usually on the underside of leaves. The caterpillars are yellowish green or brown in color, with a spiked horn at the end of their bodies. As caterpillars, they eat the leaves of plants such as honeysuckles, snowberry, blueberries, and roses. Spinning a cocoon among leaf litter, the caterpillar emerges as a moth in late spring or early summer. In southern areas, where the summer season is longer, there can be more than one generation of hummingbird moth born each summer.