The Hummingbird Moth, Hemaris thysbe, the Little Bug Who Looks Like A Bird
Look! It's a hummingbird! No, a bug! No, a hummingbird...
It's probably Hemaris thysbe, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth or Common Clearwing (wingspan 38-50 mm), who so closely resembles a hummingbird when feeding that many people never really notice that it's a moth hovering over the flowers.
The diurnal nature of many of these moths (most moths are nocturnal) and its similarities to the hummingbird in size, foraging behavior, and feeding structures often makes it one of the most common cases of mistaken identity in nature.
Flying in the day in meadows, forest edges and flower gardens, hummingbird moths typically visit one flower for a very short time, then dart away to find another. With its clear wings and body shape and size, the Hummingbird Moth bears an uncanny resemblance to its avian namesake.
The Hemaris thysbe moth feeds through a proboscis, a long, straw-like tube kept curled under the head when not in use. Its range includes Alaska and the Northwest Territories south through British Columbia to Oregon, east through the Great Plains and the Great Lakes area to Maine and Newfoundland, and south to Florida and Texas. Central Texas residents know that its range incorporates the Texas Hill Country, especially in the spring.
From some angles, this little moth looks just like a hummingbird. His fast, hovering wing action can sound like the buzz of a hummingbird's wings, too.
Hummingbird Moths lay small, green eggs on the undersides of leaves in early spring. The eggs hatch into larvae with a prominent horn on the rear. After feeding on fruit trees, honeysuckle, snowberry and hawthorn, the caterpillars form dark-brown cocoons in the leaf litter. There may be a second brood in southern areas like central Texas.
These interesting little moths are not considered a threat to Central Texas gardens. In fact, they can be quite beneficial through pollination of many species of plants. When brushing against plant anthers while dining, the moths are dusted by pollen and their fuzzy little bodies are excellent pollen carriers. Popping over to another flower of the same species, the Clearwing transfers pollen from the previous plant, an exercise in cross-pollination necessary for the production of seeds.
To attract them to your garden, provide flowers with a strong, sweet scent and are white or pale in color. These garden varieties may attract several kinds of sphinx moths, including the hummingbird and one that mimics the bumblebee.
Just like so many other fascinating creatures dwelling here on the Edwards Plateau, the Hummingbird Moth is well worth a second look.
It's easy to see why he's called a "Clearwing."
Some speculate that glimpses of these insects inspired tales of fairies.