12 Interesting Hummingbird Moth Facts
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?
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.
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Hummingbird Moths Are Also Known As Sphinx Moths and Hawk Moths
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 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.
What Does a Hummingbird Moth Caterpillar Look Like?
When full-grown, the caterpillars are about the size of your little finger and are smooth with a pointy horn at the tail end.
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Hummingbird Moths Are Not Birds
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.
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Are Hummingbird Moths Rare?
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.
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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.
A Hummingbird Moth Can Hover Like a Hummingbird
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.
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Hummingbird Moths Feed on Nectar Flowers
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.
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Fast Top Flight Speed
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.
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