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Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

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Since the mid-1980s Yvonne has maintained a registered NWF backyard wildlife habitat where a variety of birds, insects and frogs abound.

Foraging nectar from a native Monarda fistulosa flower.

Foraging nectar from a native Monarda fistulosa flower.

That looks like a baby hummingbird!

One may think there is a tiny baby hummingbird flying among the flowers, but more than likely it's a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth.

This pollinator feeds during the day and it's shape, coloration and scaleless wings give it the appearance of a small hummingbird. There are two common varieties of this attractive and interesting member of the Sphinx moth family. We’ll also explore a few other species of Sphinx moths.

Pickerel weed is a versatile native plant that grows in wet areas. It is a favorite of many pollinators including hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and moths.

Pickerel weed is a versatile native plant that grows in wet areas. It is a favorite of many pollinators including hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and moths.

Moth Facts


Moths are Insects and belong to the Order Lepidoptera, which includes both Moths and Butterflies. There are about 100 families of moths with hundreds of genera (plural of genus) and over 150,000 species. They live in all parts of the world, except in the very cold mountaintops and polar regions. Most Moths live in the tropics.

Moths and butterflies are very much alike, but there are several characteristics that distinguish them from butterflies:


  • Moths usually have less colorful wings.
  • Moths have furrier bodies.
  • The antennas of moths are feathery or threadlike.
  • Most Moths fly at night. One exception to this rule is the Clearwing Hummingbird Moth.

Both insects go through a metamorphosis where the caterpillars change completely before becoming adults.

A lovely hummingbird moth forages wild bergamot flowers.

A lovely hummingbird moth forages wild bergamot flowers.

Description and Habits

The two types of North American Hummingbird Moths are very hard to tell apart. One type, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe), resembles a small hummingbird. The other which is called the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis) actually looks more like a large bumblebee, than a hummingbird. The ranges of both species overlap quite a bit, so you can have both in a given location. Both species have fast moving, scaleless wings and furry bodies with large abdomens and coloration similar to that of a hummingbird. The scales on the wings are actually rubbed off in flight soon after it emerges from the pupa.

Like other butterflies and moths, its mouth part is a straw-like siphoning, feeding tube called a proboscis. But, unlike most other moths, the Hummingbird Moths fly and feed during daylight hours in open woodlands, fields, gardens and backyards between the months of March and September.

Pickerel weed is a favorite nectar plant.

Pickerel weed is a favorite nectar plant.

The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth - Hemaris thysbe belongs to the order Lepidoptera / Suborder Macrolepidoptera / Superfamily Sphingoidea / Family Sphingidae, common names include hawk moths, hornworms or sphinx moths. The species Hemaris thysbe (Fabricius) is also called common clearwing, hummingbird moth or sphinx colibri.

Its range goes as far north as Alaska, east to Maine and Newfoundland and south to Florida and Texas. This species is most commonly seen in Southeastern Louisiana where we live. Adults are reddish-brown and green and have a wingspan of about two inches.


Vervain, a tropical plant, is another favorite.

Vervain, a tropical plant, is another favorite.

The Snowberry Clearwing Moth - Hemaris diffinis is in the order Lepidoptera and family Sphingidae. It is about 1.25 to 2 inches. It actually looks more like a large bumblebee than a hummingbird. The name probably comes from the humming sound its wings make that is similar to that of a hummingbird. Another difference from the Hummingbird Clearwing is that the Snowberry's abdomen has yellow and black segments like a bumblebee. In its larval stage it eats plants such as honeysuckle, viburnum, hawthorn, snowberry, cherry, and plum.

Arrow Wood Viburnum is a larval host plant. Its blooms are foraged by a variety of other pollinators.

Arrow Wood Viburnum is a larval host plant. Its blooms are foraged by a variety of other pollinators.

In the northern part of their range, they have at least 2 broods of young, but in Louisiana there are six broods, occurring every thirty days from March through August. One pale green egg is deposited on the underside of a leaf and the small brownish larvae stay hidden on the leaf vein. When mature, the large green larvae pupate in thin walled cocoons on the ground under leaf litter.

The large green caterpillars eat viburnum, hawthorn, honeysuckle, buckbrush, wild cherry and plum and a few other types of fruit trees. Adults hover and sip nectar at many different flowers, including honeysuckle, beebalm, phlox, lilac and blueberry and milkweed. One of the sure ways to tell a Hummingbird Moth from a Hummingbird is that the moth will often rest on the flower while it drinks.

Huckleberry Flowers

This Vaccinium is also called wild blueberry.

This Vaccinium is also called wild blueberry.

The caterpillar of a rustic Sphinx moth feeding on a native fringe tree. The frilly blooms appear in spring, and on female plants, are followed by olive-like fruit.

The caterpillar of a rustic Sphinx moth feeding on a native fringe tree. The frilly blooms appear in spring, and on female plants, are followed by olive-like fruit.

Other Sphinx Moths

There are many other types of Sphinx Moths which are active at night. The caterpillars of each can be identified by the specific host plants it uses to raise its young. For example, the Rustic Sphinx lays its eggs on only Fringe Trees and Jasmine. Clearwings have similar looking caterpillars, but lay their eggs on different plants. The photo above shows a very large Rustic Sphinx caterpillar dining on Fringe Tree leaves. You can see the green olive-like fruit of this female Fringe tree.

Sphinx moths get their name because, when the larvae is disturbed, they elevate the front part of their body and assumes a Sphinx-like position. The larvae of many sphinx moths are known as hornworms because of the horn or spike that is attached to the last segment of their body.

The tomato hormworm (Five-spotted Hawk Moth) and the tobacco hornworm (Carolina Sphinx Moth) are harmful to the crops they are named for. The name "Hawk moth" and Sphinx moth are both used, but hawk moths are actually another group in the family.

The Sphinx moth pictured below is a Pink Spotted Hawk Moth. Its larvae is called sweet potato hornworm because it feeds on sweet potato vines. The flower that the adult moth is drinking nectar from is pink ginger.

A pink spotted Hawk Moth is one of the many species of Sphinx moths that pollinate our gardens at night. This one is visiting peach colored ginger.

A pink spotted Hawk Moth is one of the many species of Sphinx moths that pollinate our gardens at night. This one is visiting peach colored ginger.

Hummingbird Moth Video

Hummingbird Moth Poll

© 2008 Yvonne L B

Let's hear it for Moths!

Pat Goltz on October 02, 2012:

We have another species of hummingbird moth, not a clearwing. The clearwings are beautiful. Our hummingbird moth will fly in daytime; on two of the three occasions I got photographs, it was daytime.

pheonix76 from WNY on August 04, 2012:

I love looking at moths and butterflies -- have been enjoying quite variety of species visiting my flowers this summer. Including plenty of hummingbird clearwing moths! Thanks for sharing, beautiful photos. :) Featured on my "Giant Silk Moths of North America" lens.

brightwings-butterflies on July 25, 2012:

hey great photos. This is a really net lens. So may people love butterflies but don't know anything about moths, even the day-flying ones.

CaterpillarArts1 on June 24, 2012:

You have some really neat closeups, I wouldn't be able to do that even if I tried! I bet a 9 acre preserve is a lot of fun, albeit challenging, to run.

SteveKaye on June 23, 2012:

Amazing lens. I really like the photography in the video. Thank you for publishing this.

magictricksdotcom on June 22, 2012:

Your lens answered questions I've had for a few years now. Several summers ago, we had a "pet" hummingbird moth who fed on the petunias we kept in containers around our patio. He actually became a bit used to our presence, and we were able to take a lot of great photos of him. Now I know all the facts- thanks!

Dianna206 on June 21, 2012:

I have never hard of the Clearwing Hummingbird Moth. Those are amazing! Don't you just love the furry cuteness of moths?

SimplyHolly on June 21, 2012:

I had seen the Clearwing Hummingbird Moth before and had no idea what it was. Now I know! Thanks! They are beautiful and truly unique.

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on June 21, 2012:

@GlobalHobo: Gosh, thank you very much for the lovely comment. I'm glad that you enjoyed reading the lens and that you came away with a little more knowledge about the creatures in Louisiana.

Sent from Yvonne's iPad

GlobalHobo on June 20, 2012:

I'm new here at squidoo and have just been cruising around checking out various lenses. I have many, MANY more to look at, but yours is the first I've felt compelled to comment on. Yours is a well-put-together lens, pleasant to look at, very interesting to read. But what really grabbed me was that as I went down the page, I felt like I was learning as much about you as I was about moths. Thank you!

CCTVwebmaster on June 20, 2012:

Amazing pictures!!! So interesting!

daviddaly on June 20, 2012:

Wow, their beautiful. I'm not sure why moths worry me when butterflies don't. Maybe it has something to do with the night or something. Great photos by the way.

xXOUTDOORSXx on June 19, 2012:

we just had the miller moth season here in New Mexico, thousands of them everywhere!

ryokomayuka from USA on June 19, 2012:

I have a big fear of insects but very interesting. I have never of them but if I did see the i would probably run.

pawpaw911 on June 19, 2012:

Beautiful photos. We have them around here, too, and we just enjoy the heck out of them.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 18, 2012:

Am glad you did this lens. Love to know this info.

kimbesa from USA on June 18, 2012:

I did not know these existed...now I do. The next challenge is to get a long enough look to tell whether I'm seeing a bird or a moth. Thanks!

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on June 18, 2012:

@Ilonagarden: Thanks Ilona1, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ilona E from Ohio on June 18, 2012:

This was so educational and fun, too. I loved the info and the beautiful illustrations.

ceejaycmarshall on June 18, 2012:

Wow, I learned a lot from this lens! Thanks!

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on June 18, 2012:

I always wondered what that was buzzing about on my flowers.

Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on June 18, 2012:

Very interesting! We found a luna moth the other night, hanging on to a window screen under a porch light. What a beautiful moth!

Robin S from USA on June 15, 2012:

I've seen these but didn't know what they were called. Thanks!

FallenAngel 483 on May 27, 2012:

Fascinating to learn that these moths have more broods the further south they live. I wish we had this moth where I live. I have now realised, thanks to this lens that I have no night scented flowers in my garden. This I will change. Great lens!

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on May 23, 2012:

What interesting and beautiful moths! You photos are gorgeous.

brbrooks on September 02, 2011:

Nice lens, I liked reading it.

dahlia369 on August 27, 2011:

I see quite a few kinds around my house but don't know their names. For me it's enough to stand and watch them - and smile... :) Beautiful lens! :)

Jeremy from Tokyo, Japan on August 16, 2011:

I've seen snowberry clearwing moths and wondered what in the world they were. Now I know. Thank you!

Vicki Green from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA on July 06, 2011:

There are so many beautiful moths, but the hummingbird moths are my favorite. Beautiful photos!

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on May 27, 2011:

Good photos and info on this moth. I wonder if you wouldn't want the other moths on a separate page, perhaps.

Blessed by a Squid Angel and will be featured on Best Insect Pages on Squidoo lens.

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on May 22, 2011:

@anonymous: I know of no moth that stings. Clearwing Hummingbird Moths are harmless. They drink nectar from flowers. They live in gardens and woodlands and act like other moths and butterflies. You can safely let the moth go without being harmed.

anonymous on May 22, 2011:

i saw a clearwing himmingbird hawk moth but at first had no clue what it was so i searched the web, but on one site it said they can STING you. is that true? i have it in a jar now but im scareed it might sting me if i let it go! help!

anonymous on May 22, 2011:

i caught this THING in a jar it looked like a moth and a bee mixed together, so i searched the web and this site and found out it was a clearwing hummingbird hawk moth. but on one site it said that these moths can STING i don't know if its true or not, but i have questions too, where does it live? and DOES it sting? because if i does im letting it go with armor gloves on so it does not retaliate and come back and sting me!

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on April 01, 2011:

Stopping by this beautiful lens to leave you a blessing

Indigo Janson from UK on October 04, 2010:

What an enchanting little moth, it does look like a hummingbird though I've never seen either. You've shown with these moths that they really can be creatures of beauty.

missbat on September 12, 2010:

We just don't have these here in the Pacific Northwest. I sure wish we did. They look so beautiful!

wilddove6 on September 10, 2010:

Gorgeous lens on a very special subject.

Amazing little creatures!

I've actually seen them here in Canada, and didn't know they occurred as far South as they do...very interesting.

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on September 08, 2010:

Beautiful lens. Blessed and lensrolled to my butterfly lenses.

Sherry Venegas from La Verne, CA on September 08, 2010:

The clearwing is gorgeous. I do not know why but the moths give me the creepy factor. After I saw that horn worm my skin started crawling. I need to get to know them better. Moths are not prevalent in Southern California.

Very good lens. You did it again.

HorseAndPony LM on November 08, 2009:

We were very lucky to have Hummingbird moths in our Pennsylvania garden. They were so amazing. We would follow them around a watch their every move. What a great lens.

lynette76 on July 08, 2009:

We have a lot in common. I too photograph butterflies and moths. Every summer I have at least 3 hummingbird moths in my garden. They are my favorite!

ElizabethJeanAl on October 25, 2008:

Welcome to the Totally Awesome Lenses Group.

Lizzy

ElizabethJeanAl on October 25, 2008:

I love the butterflies. In the summer when my garden is in full bloom, there are tons of them in my backyard. I love it!

Great lens

Lizzy

julieannbrady on September 09, 2008:

Ah, what beautiful pictures you have on display. The hummingbird moth is SO interesting and unique. Terrific pics of moths! 5*****

tdove on September 01, 2008:

Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

RinchenChodron on August 31, 2008:

This is a super lens ***** I'm emailing it to my friend who has worked at the Butterfly Museum in Denver - she'll enjoy it.

James20 on August 20, 2008:

You made my day!

About five years ago I was out taking pictures were I used to live in Kentucky and I saw this, what you call the Hummingbird clearwing moth. I took many pictures of it and did not know what it was. Thank you. 5*****

James

enslavedbyfaeries on August 05, 2008:

Your lenses are so beautiful and the photos are amazing! Welcome to the Going Buggy group.

ElizabethJeanAl on July 21, 2008:

Great lens!

5* and Favored.

Lizzy

Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on June 01, 2008:

What a Great Lens! 5 Stars and Favored!

The Creatures of the Woodlands came over to check out your lens and learned so much from it that they are sending you some virtual Three Bear's Porridge to warm you when you return from your Walk in the Woods.

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