Hummingbird? Bumblebee? Hawk Moth

I spent some time yesterday trying to track down daytime flying clearwing moths. We have two species in our area, the Clearwing Hummingbird Moth and Snowberry Clearwing Moth, both of whom belong to the sphinx or hawk moth family.

Both of these similar looking though highly variable moths, resemble large bumblebees, yet superficially act like (and can be confused with) hummingbirds that have similar foraging behavior – rapid wingbeats, hovering and reverse flight – but that is where any similarity ends.

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth


Whereas hummers only have a long thin bill that sticks out, clearwings have clearwings (hence the name); a broad reddish-brown-black band across the abdomen; a tail that looks like a lobsters; numerous protrusions in the form of legs and antennae, and a long proboscis which it keeps curled under its head as it flies and unrolls to sip nectar; and, when nectaring they will rest their front legs on the flower in order to stabilize themselves.

Six legs, two antennae, one proboscis, two clear wings and a lobster tail


While I did see both species I only managed to photograph one as it visited flowers such as phlox, clethra, monarda and buddleia in the garden. Their host plants include honeysuckle, viburnum, snowberry and cherry, so any combination of host (for the larvae) and nectaring (for the adult) plantings you have, is likely to attract this often overlooking and confusing insect. Here in the Delaware Valley region they can be seen from July through August.

all photos © adrian binns

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