Hummingbird Moth Facts

Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird Moth Facts – everything you need to know about the hummingbird moth species. Facts, images, videos & species information is included in this article.

Quite a few backyard birders are wildly enthusiastic about hummingbirds—the tiniest birds in the world, but what about the hummingbird moths? It will be interesting to hear from the hummingbird lovers if they ever saw a hummingbird moth seeping nectar from the hummingbird feeder hung at their backyard.

At this point, however, one cannot help but wonder whether too many of us would actually be able to spot a hummingbird moth even if we saw one and not mistake it as an actual hummingbird! Yes, these insects look so much like their avian namesakes that unless you are looking from really close quarters, it is incredibly difficult to differentiate the two.

The Hummingbird Moth

Indeed, nature works in strange ways and the hummingbird moths are a fascinating example of this! Two creatures from two different species with entirely different lineages and yet they come to resemble each other so much not only in looks, but in behavior, feeding habits and other things as well, and this is simply awesome! So, below are some interesting facts about hummingbird moths that may help you to better understand as also appreciate this strange phenomenon of nature.

Facts about the Hummingbird Moth

Convergence evolution

First of all, this strange resemblance between an insect and a bird has come to take place courtesy an evolutionary phenomenon known as convergent evolution. To get somewhat technical, this convergence is the cause of homoplasy whereby two creatures from different families and orders come to develop analogous structures that perform the same functions as well.

Put more plainly, it is as a survival mechanism that hummingbird moths have evolved as a species so closely mimicking the looks and functions of the hummingbirds. First of all, unlike most species of moths, the hummingbird moths are diurnal rather than nocturnal species. This makes them more vulnerable to predators. On top of that, their colorful appearance, no matter how pleasing to the human eye, is not good at all as camouflage.
So, by dint of mimicking a bird, they are able to stay relatively safe from the predators and are able to ensure the survival of the species.

How close is a hummingbird moth to an actual hummingbird?

Well, as with hummingbirds themselves, there are different species of hummingbird moths as well (more on that later). However, all these species have many things in common (which is why they are all called hummingbird moths, after all!). In general, these moths, just like hummingbirds, have extremely strong wings and are able to seep nectar from flowers while hovering over them.

Hummingbirds, as many of you may know, can beat their wings more than 80 times per second. So, when they hover over flowers, their wings are flapping so rapidly that it is impossible to have a clear view of the wings with naked eyes. Now, hummingbird moths have similarly strong wings. The flapping motion of their wings are not as fast as that of the hummingbirds, still it is pretty fast and is enough to make them hold their position while they are hovering over and seeping nectar off the flowers. The rapidly flapping wings of these moths mean that they do not only look and act as the hummingbirds, but make the similar humming sound as well! Commonly, the wingspan of a hummingbird moth is around 1.6-1.8 inches, although one of the species, namely the White-lined Sphinx, boasts of a larger wingspan (2-3 inches).

Size and structure

The hummer moths are normally 1-2 inches smaller than the hummingbirds. As for their body components, the moths have large blackish eyes as well as larger abdomens and wings compared to most other moths. Among other things, it is their larger size that makes it difficult to differentiate them from actual hummingbirds.

The moths also have three pairs of legs but the legs are so tiny that it is difficult to spot them with naked eye, especially with all that hovering and flapping going on!
As insects, these moths have a soft and curled proboscis that comes in and out of their mouth as and when needed. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, have stiff pointed beaks as proboscis.

The hummingbird moths also have two small antennae at the top of their heads, but again they are so small compared to their overall size that it is not easy to locate them until looked from up close. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, of course have no antennae but some of the species do have crests.

Another difference is that the moths, in addition to their forewings, also have two smaller anterior wings.

What do these moths eat?

As for their diet, most of these hummingbird moths, especially those that are found in the US and are able to live in the colder northern latitude, prefer seeping nectars from pretty much the same flowers as do the hummingbirds of this region. In particular, they relish flowers like cardinals, butterfly bush, red valerian, salvia and verbenas. However, as we all know, the nectar is only one part of the diet of the hummingbirds while the other and more important part of their diet consists of various insects. The moths, on the other hand, thrive exclusively on the nectar from the flowers.

Different Species of Hummingbird Moths

Generally, there are three different species of hummingbird moths belonging to three separate genera. These are generally known as Hummingbird Hawk-moths, Clearwing Hummingbird Moths and the White-lined Sphinx.

Hummingbird hawk-moths

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

These moths from the Macroglossum genus are a resident of the warmer climates and are most commonly found in North Africa, Asia and parts of Southern Europe. During winter, they migrate to places that experience mild winters. These hawk-moths normally seep nectars from flowers of plants such as Viola, Buddleia, Nicotiana, Jasmium, Verbena, Centranthus, Phlox and Primula.

Apart from their preference for warmer climates, one thing that sets these moths apart from other species of hummingbird moths is the fact that they can sustain their flight considerably longer than the other types and can hover and feed even while it is raining. Their prominently diurnal nature has also led many scientists to opine that these hawk-moths possess superior color-learning abilities and vision.

Clearwing hummingbird moth

Hummingbird Clearwing

If you’ve seen a hummingbird moth in the US, most likely it is a Clearwing. Belonging to the genus Hemaris, these clearwing moths share many similarities with the above hawk-moths.

However, unlike the hawks, these moths are able to survive in considerably colder climates. These hummingbird moths are found in many regions of both North and South America, although they too migrate to warmer parts during the winters. Apart from the Americas, the Clearwings are also found in select parts of Europe, in UK for example, where they are commonly known as Bee Hawk moths.

These moths are slightly different from both hummingbirds as well as other species of hummingbird moths in that they have clear or transparent wings, contrary to the opaque wings of the birds and the moths of other species. However, it may be worthwhile to mention here that, out of the 17 known species of the moths of the Hemaris genus, two- Hemaris croatica and Hemaris rubra- do not have transparent or clear wings.

White-lined sphinx

White Lined Sphinx Hummingbird Moth

This hummingbird moth comes from the genus Hyles and sports the most colorful and attractive appearance of all hummingbird moths. Both wings and the body of these moths are covered with striking white, pink and tan stripes.

In the US, it is most commonly found in the state of California and this species is known as the main pollinator of the famous lemon lily plant. Apart from the US, they are also found abundantly all over Central America, West Indies and parts of Mexico as well as in the warmer regions of Canada.

The species has a somewhat larger wingspan (2-3 inches) compared to other hummingbird moths.

Life Cycle of Hummingbird Moths

Save little differences, life cycles of all the different species of hummingbird moths are pretty similar and follow pretty much the same patterns. So, we’ll discuss mainly the life cycle of hummingbird hawk-moth.

A female hawk-moth produces two broods each year, laying about 200 small, spherical, pale green eggs during each brood on the Galium plant. The eggs take approx 6-8 days to hatch.

In the larvae stage, the caterpillars sport a pale yellow color and then turn green upon maturing. In the last instar phase, the larvae develop maroon or brown horns at the rear and these gradually turn to blue with reddish specks in the last stage of development. The caterpillars or the larvae feed on Epilobium, Stellaria, Centranthus, Rubiaceaethers, madders, bedstraw and so on. This stage lasts for about three weeks.

Then in the pupae stage, the pupae stay safely enclosed within delicate thread like cocoons and heir brown color act as an effective camouflage. He cocoons stay either among dead leaves or near the plant’s base. The debris of the plant and the dying leaves help hide the cocoons. It is also at this pupae stage that the moth develops its proboscis, jutting out of the top of the cocoon, as well as two spiky horns at the rear, evolved as a defense weapon against potential predators.

Once the adult hawk-moth emerges out of the pupae, it has two sets of wings—the strong forewings and smaller hindwings, three pairs of legs, a large and broad abdomen and with its rear covered in setae.

[Note: Clearwing hummingbird moths choose teasel and honeysuckle as host plants during the laying of their eggs]

Lifespan of hummingbird moths

While hummingbirds live between 5-8 years, the lifespan of hummingbird moths is much shorter. The longest living moths live up to 7 months whereas some of the species live as little as 3-5 weeks.

Species FAQ

Is the hummingbird moth rare?

Four species of it exist in North America, the main ones being hummingbird clearwing, and snowberry clearwing, common in the East and West of the United States respectively. The hummers, unlike most moths, are most active during daytime hours or around dusk. They also fly at dusk and dawn, as well as when it is raining.

What attracts hummingbird moths?

The late summer attracts them, during which several species hawk moths, which feed on nectar from hosta blossoms and deep throated blossoms, drift in midair and flit from one flower to the other. They sip nectar from flowers with their long tongues, also known as proboscis.

Are hummingbird moths dangerous?

They are not dangerous or pose any threat to human beings as they do not bite or sting; however, they may pose problems in the garden, as large numbers of them are undesirable to plant life. Adult Hummingbird moths do not cause direct problems to flowers or plants.

What is the difference between a hummingbird and a hummingbird moth?

Many people mistake this enchanted insect for a hummingbird. But this is not the truth although they do resemble it. There are two species of such moths: The Clearwing Moth whose wings are either brownish with reddish veins or solid red. There are no scales in the inner portions of its wings, giving them its name. They typically have an olive green colored body with reddish bands on its lower parts. The other one is the White-lined Sphinx. It is easy to distinguish it, thanks to its white stripes and dark brown wings. The latter version is found throughout Central America.

What caterpillar turns into a hummingbird moth?

After feeding as well as mating, the female lays eggs on the leaves of small vines and shrubs, the favorites being cherries, hawthorns, viburnums, snowberries, and honeysuckles. These eggs hatch into caterpillars that love to munch on leaves. As with many species of sphinx and hawk moths, hummingbird caterpillars have a rather dramatic horn on the tip of its tail, and are commonly referred to as hornworms. After several weeks on consuming leaves, the caterpillars disperse and move to the ground to form rather ordinary pupae.

Is a sphinx moth a hummingbird moth?

As mentioned previously, these moths are members of the Sphingidae (sphinx moth family), which have long front wings and heavy bodies. These moths have a clear wings with a brown or black border. They are nearly invisible when they fly. The males boast of a flared tail, very much like that of a hovering hummingbird. The size is the obvious difference between the moths and the birds. While the birds can be as long as three inches, the moths are typically half that size.

Do these moths pollinate?

They do pollinate! Their long and tubular tongues are appropriate for sipping nectar from long-necked blossoms.