snowberry clearwing moth, Hemaris diffinis
Explore #136, September 25, 2008
Hummingbird clearwing moth
Update: I'm inclined to think this is the hummingbird clearwing, Hemaris thysbe, rather than the snowberry clearwing, Hemaris diffinis, due to the thickness of the black markings on the wings. Anyone have a better idea?
UPDATED AGAIN: It appears that this is a snowberry clearwing, due to its black legs, and its completely clear forewing cell. Hummingbird clearwings have white front legs and a white lower body, and have a dark crossband through their clear forewing area.
One of the dainty little hummingbird clearwing moths, which masquerade as some genetic cross between a hummingbird and a bee. This day-flying sphinx moth has clear wings and a fuzzy black and yellow body, like a bumblebee, and hovers in front of flowers like a hummingbird while it feeds from its long proboscis.
I remember the first time I saw one of these, in my parent's backyard, feeding on the white flowers of an abelia bush. It intrigued me... what was this strange insect-bird creature? Now I know what they are, and they still amaze me. They've been in my backyard all summer, feeding on my butterfly bushes. I haven't been able to get a decent shot of one while feeding, but I found this little guy one morning, lying in the middle of a gravel pathway. Honestly, i thought he was dead, but I picked him up to at least move him off the path (i still didn't want his little body to get crushed), and he clung to my fingers, obviously still full of life. I held him for a couple minutes, admiring him from every angle (i love his fuzzy little face!), and then he flew/buzzed away.
I felt very honored by my morning visitor.
UPDATE: I've had lots of people asking if these live in their part of the country, and how to attract them. This site lists the 4 species found in the U.S., and gives distribution maps for each species. Here (west Tennessee), the most common host plant seems to be honeysuckle, and the adults go to the same nectar plants that butterflies are attracted to. I usually see them on white butterfly bush, white abelia, and lantana. Here they're pretty prolific, but most people don't notice them... they look so superficially like bumblebees that i think most people just don't even realize what they're seeing.