12 Interesting Hummingbird Moth Facts

Updated: Apr. 25, 2023

A hummingbird moth can easily be mistaken for a hummingbird because it looks and acts similar. Learn what makes these sphinx moths unique.

The next time you’re near a patch of flowers and you think you see a hummingbird zip by, take a closer look! It just might be a hummingbird moth, a lesser-known but important pollinator.

What Is a Hummingbird Moth?

276151688 1 Gail Evans Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Gail Evans
Gallium sphinx moth on phlox

Sphinx moths are unique fliers that make many backyard gardeners say, “What was that thing?” At first glance, many think it’s a hummingbird or bumblebee. The moths feed from flowers during the day and can hover just like hummingbirds. This ability has earned them the nickname hummingbird moth. There are four types of hummingbird moths in North America: hummingbird clearwing moths, white-lined sphinx moths, snowberry clearwing moths and slender clearwing moths.

Find out why garden moths are important pollinators.

Hummingbird Moths Are Also Known As Sphinx Moths and Hawk Moths

Ugcjosh Kerry Cotten CaterpillarCourtesy Kerry Cotten
Snowberry clearwing moth caterpillar

Hummingbird moths are also commonly known as sphinx moths. Here’s the fascinating reason why. When the caterpillars raise their heads, the rest of their body remains flat. They resemble the posture of the statue of the mythical Sphinx in Egypt that guards the pharaohs’ tombs.

You may also know sphinx moths as hawk moths or hummingbird hawk moths, because their streamlined wings make them fast and agile fliers. They are also sometimes called bee moths or bee hawk moths.

What Does a Hummingbird Moth Look Like?

hummingbird mothsCourtesy Mike Satterelli
Snowberry clearwing moth feeding on tube shaped flowers

Hummingbird moths have thick, fuzzy antennae that are wider at the top. Long hairs, not feathers, cover most of the body. They also have six legs, like all other insects. They also have clear patches on their wings. The wings of clear-winged sphinx moths, such as the snowberry clearwing, become clear soon after emerging from the cocoon. Their bodies are plump like bumblebees.

These pictures will change the way you look at moths.

What Does a Hummingbird Moth Caterpillar Look Like?

hummingbird moth caterpillarRichard Day/Daybreak Imagery
Look for the distinctive horn to help identify these caterpillars. 

When full-grown, the caterpillars are about the size of your little finger and are smooth with a pointy horn at the tail end.

Stop the tomato hornworm from damaging your tomatoes.

Hummingbird Moths Are Not Birds

Bnbbyc17 Tony Attanasio 1Courtesy Tony Attanasio
A hummingbird is larger than a hummingbird moth

At a glance, hummingbird moths can easily be mistaken for their namesake. But hummingbird moths are insects, not birds. One way to tell the difference is their size. Hummingbird moths are smaller in size, at 1 to 2 inches long. Hummingbirds are typically 3 to 4 inches long.

Don’t overlook the lovely luna moth

Are Hummingbird Moths Rare?

277700337 1 David Volin Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy David Volin
Snowberry clearwing moth

The two most common hummingbird moths you’ll see in your garden are known as snowberry clearwings and hummingbird clearwings. Slender clearwings are rare in parts of their range.

Discover 5 silk moths that might be in your backyard.

Sphinx Moths Are Active at Night

If you spot a hummingbird-sized moth zip through your garden late at night, you’re probably looking at a sphinx moth. These moths are active both day and night, so plant flowers that bloom after dark like moonflower to attract them.

Do bugs, moths and butterflies hibernate?

A Hummingbird Moth Can Hover Like a Hummingbird

Hummingbird moth sips nectar from a purple flower.Courtesy Roger Hatley
A hummingbird moth sips nectar with its long proboscis

Hummingbird moths have a tail that opens like a fan when they’re hovering in the air to collect nectar from flowers, just like hummingbirds.

Meet the milkweed tussock moth and caterpillar.

Hummingbird Moths Feed on Nectar Flowers

276157954 1 Natalie Mccloy Bnb Bypc 2021 1Courtesy Natalie Mccloy
Hummingbird clearwing moth

Plant phlox, bee balm or any other pollinator favorites in your flower garden to attract hummingbird moths. Like butterflies, hummingbird moths have a extra long proboscis to sip nectar, sometimes twice the length of their body. Sphinx moths prefer tube-shaped flowers with nectar in the base of the petals, such as columbines, nasturtiums and four-o’clocks.

Psst—this is how to tell the difference between moths vs butterflies.

Hummingbird Moths Are Not Drawn to the Color Red

Unlike hummingbirds, hummingbird moths don’t zero in on red flowers. Tubular blooms in any color lure day-fliers, while fragrant white or light-colored blossoms hail the sphinx moth squad in the evening by both sight and scent.

Enjoy the backyard benefits of a moon garden.

Fast Top Flight Speed

254003300 1 Mary Karlie Carlson Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Mary Karlie Carlson
White-lined sphinx moth

These pollinators can really move! White-lined sphinx moths can fly 25 to 35 mph, very similar to the average speed of hummingbirds.

Look for These Moths Worldwide

Hummingbird moth species are found on six continents.

Next, meet the colorful moths you can see during daytime.