Focus on Natives: Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a… moth? The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe)

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a… moth?

The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) has been fooling people for centuries. From a distance, it is often confused with an actual hummingbird, but up close people generally note, “It doesn’t look quite right. Where’s the beak?” Of course, since it’s a moth, it doesn’t have a beak, but instead a proboscis like a butterfly. And that’s usually the quickest way to tell a hummingbird from a hummingbird clearwing moth, along with the feathery antennae on the moth’s head.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth by Jill StaakeHummingbird Clearwing Moth by Jill Staake
The clear spots on the wings are caused by areas where the moth lacks scales, allowing us to see the clear supportive wing membranes.

To make matters more confusing, this is a day-flying moth, active at the same time and near the same flowers as a hummingbird. They are one of only three creatures that have the ability to hover when they fly (the other two being hummingbirds themselves and some species of bats). As insects, these moths are much shorter-lived than hummingbirds (a few weeks in general) and instead of hatching from eggs, they grow from caterpillars and pupate in a cocoon.

You can attract these lovely little creatures to your own yard much as you would butterflies and hummingbirds. They seem to be especially fond of Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and Bee Balm (Monarda) for nectaring. Caterpillars host on honeysuckle (Lonicera), viburnum, hawthorn, snowberry, cherry, and plum. Look for these moths during daylight hours and occasionally in the evenings. They can be found throughout the entire eastern U.S. in the summer.

Fun Fact: A Hummingbird Clearwing Moth is said to have been the inspiration for the song “Bee of the Bird of the Moth” by They Might Be Giants. Lyrics include, “It’s messing with the plan, it can’t be believed/ ‘Cause it’s just a hummingbird moth/ Who’s acting like a bird that thinks it’s a bee”.

Do you enjoy seeing Hummingbird Clearwing Moths in your gardens? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Every weekend, the Focus on Natives segment highlights a plant, bird, or butterfly native to the Southeastern U.S. Know of a particular species you’d like to see featured here? Make your suggestions in the comments section below.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.