The hummingbird moth is a hawk-moth that is not to be confused with the hummingbird vertebrae species. At first glance, the hummingbird moth's flight pattern, humming sounds, and affinity for tubular flowers can appear like a hummingbird - but the moth descends from the insect kingdom. These moths are nocturnal, and live predominantly in the Eurasian continent.
The hummingbird moth is not a hummingbird but shares some of its characteristics. These creatures’ most crucial common characteristic is that they’re both excellent pollinators. They love the same tubular flowers and are known to feed on nectar and pollen, but they will also eat other insects. The difference is that hummingbirds tend to pick their flowers according to their color (not just taste and smell).
It can hover like a hummingbird – its’ wings move as fast as it can fly backward and migrate for long distances. The hummingbird moth’s tongue is its most distinctive feature – its tongue curls when not used. Like hummingbirds, it uses it to drink nectar from flowers – except that hummingbirds have more of a bill.
You can see hummingbird moths in the same places you see hummingbirds. You can usually find these moths in the same temperate regions of North America – but also in Mexico and Canada. The appearance differs from that of a hummingbird – Hummingbird moths are smaller in size.
The hummingbird moth has a body similar to a bee; its wings are larger and have stripes and spots on them; they have six legs and a long proboscis (longer than a hummingbird). Their two sets of antennae are longer and thicker as well. The patterns on their wings are bold and easily recognizable.
Personality-wise, hummingbird moths are more relaxed and friendly – they even travel together with other moths. Hummingbirds are known to be more solitary. They can be aggressive toward hummingbirds and wary towards humans. Hummingbird moths are usually nocturnal creatures (like other moths), while hummingbirds are primarily active during the day.
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Facts about hummingbird moths
Types of Hummingbird Moths
- The are many species of hummingbird moths. Some of them include Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, Sphinx moth, Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe), Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis), Five-Spotted Hawkmoth, and White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles Lineata).
- The hummingbird clearwing is probably the most well-known species, as they are the most commonly seen.
- The hummingbird moth (of the genus Hemaris) is a member of the Sphingidae family, and Bee Hawk-moth is a common name used in Europe.
- The hummingbird moth is found mainly in North America and some areas of Europe and Africa. In the US, you can see them in Florida and Texas. But expect to spot them in warmer parts of Canada too.
- The most common sightings are of the hummingbird clearwing and the snowberry clearwing. The former has an olive green thorax and head with pale colors on the side.
- When it comes to hummingbird moth species, thysbe (hummingbird clearwing) is different than the gracilis and diffinis types (Snowberry Clearwing moth) in two ways: the lack of branding on the thorax and its light-colored legs.
Size and Appearance of Hummingbird Moths
- Its wingspan is usually 1.6-1.8 inches but can reach up to 2-3 inches (in the White-lined Sphinx)
- Their bodies are between 2 – 2.4 inches long.
- While the hummingbird moth resembles a hummingbird very much, its wings are moth-like. The hummingbird moths’ forewings are brown with black lines, and the hindwings are orange with a bit of black.
- Their tail ends look like a fan, and the wings are covered in scales (a common trait in Lepidoptera types).
- Some of the species’ bodies look like a bumblebee (especially the snowberry clearwing)
- Their long tongue is under their chin, like in most moths.
Diet and Activity
- It feeds on nectar from plants like red valerian, phlox, bee balm, dogbane, butterfly bush, plum tree, and honeysuckle
- It’s thought that the proboscis is so long in order to reach flowers with long and narrow tubes like Buddleia (butterfly bush), Nicotiana, Viola, Verbena, and Phlox. It’s also the perfect way to feed themselves without having to fight for their food (less competition)
- You can see them the most during the summer, but you can also catch a glimpse in spring.
Hummingbird moth life cycle
Like most moths, the hummingbird moth goes through the same 4 life cycles: egg, larva, pupa, and (finally) adult moth.The female will lay about two broods of 200 eggs per year (sometimes even more). The eggs are round and green and usually hatch in about 1 to 2 weeks. Caterpillars are usually green with gray stripes and a horn that ranges from purple-red to blue and orange on the tail (which is why they’re called hornworms).
The caterpillars camouflage themselves perfectly between the leaves (because of their green color). They are considered pests because they often destroy gardens of tomatoes, tobacco, or potato crops – depending on the type of moth. The pupa of a hummingbird hawk is brown with sharp corners.
They fall on the ground between the leaf litter and pupate when they are grown. Leaving the leaf litter on a host plant (like cherries, hawthorns, and viburnums) unbothered can help these little pollinators build their cocoons.
If you get to see the tiny hummingbird moth, you’ll be impressed by how much it looks like a real hummingbird. This little hummingbird moth is a monarch butterfly look-alike that beats its wings rapidly to hover and even fly backward like the real thing.
While both of their bodies have adapted similarly to the world outside, they’re entirely different creatures. If you have ever seen a hummingbird hovering in front of a flower and wondered if it’s a real bird or a very tiny moth, you need wonder no longer. Now you can tell the difference.