It's no wonder this look-alike's identity is often mistaken.
By Kirsten Sweet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
A tiny clear-winged creature hovers next to a flower then quickly rolls up its feeding tube and flies away. A hummingbird? Close, but no. It's a hummingbird clearwing moth.
When Cindy Wells of Alliance, Ohio spotted a hummingbird clearwing moth, at first she thought it was a baby hummingbird.
"I was extremely excited, so I went and got my camera and snapped a few pictures of it," Cindy writes. "It wasn't until I developed the photos that I realized it was a hummingbird moth instead."
Although the differences between the bird and the moth become blurred while they're in motion, in photos or up close, the distinctions are quite evident. The hummingbird moths have antennae and their bodies are spindle-shaped.
Part of the sphinx moth family, the hummingbird clearwing moth closely resembles hummingbirds in feeding habits. It uses a coiled tube that it extends out of its mouth to feed, then rolls back up and out of the way. Hummingbird moths use the tube to extract nectar from flowers like honeysuckle, bee balm, lilac and snowberry.
"One of the most beautiful flying insects is the clearwing hummingbird moth," says Tom Dukes of Gerrardstown, West Virginia. "I was lucky enough to be standing next to a large thistle in full bloom when a hummingbird moth dropped in for a free lunch."
A distinct attribute is in its name-the clear wings. The wings of this moth start out as a solid red or brownish color with veins and borders a reddish-brown as well. The inner portion of the wings lack scales and are clear.
Hummingbird moths, scientifically known as Hemaris thysbe, have a wingspan of about 1-1/2 to 2 inches. Unlike other moths, which fly at night, the hummingbird moth flies during the day, usually in meadows, forest edges and flower gardens. Typically, hummingbird moths will stay at one flower for a very short time before darting off to the next one.
Jack Terres of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was lurking in his butterfly garden with a camera when he was joined by not one, but two hummingbird moths (pictured above).
"I was startled by the sight of two hummingbird clearwing moths," he writes. "While they seemed to be trying to stare each other down, they actually dined peacefully on a butterfly bush."
Female hummingbird moths lay small, green eggs on the undersides of leaves in early spring. They hatch into larvae that have a prominent horn on the rear.
The caterpillars feed on cherry or plum trees, honeysuckle, snowberry and hawthorn. When they're ready, the caterpillars form dark-brown cocoons in the leaf litter. Some spend winters like that, but others in the South, where there is a second brood, appear again in late summer or fall.
The hummingbird moth is sometimes associated with the tomato hornworm moth, another member of the sphinx moth family. But while tomato hornworms have a negative reputation due to their appetite for eggplant, potato and green pepper plants, the hummingbird clearwing stays away from such garden fare.
Instead, hummingbird moths are a delightful sight in the garden-hardly a pest.