What Is This Moth That Looks Like a Hummingbird?

Backyard gardeners are often puzzled when they spot a moth that looks like a hummingbird. Experts reveal the identity of this mystery pollinator.

moth that looks like a hummingbirdCourtesy Diana Frye
This white-lined sphinx moth hovers like a hummingbird

Moth That Looks Like a Hummingbird

“We have hummingbirds around and we feed them. But we spotted a strange bug-like moth that acts and looks like a hummingbird but he is not. And was eating from our petunias exactly the way a hummingbird does. What is it?” asks Diana Frye of Ottumwa, Iowa.

Kenn and Kimberly: Your mystery guest is indeed a moth, a member of the sphinx moth or hawk moth family. More than 100 species of these big moths live in North America. Most of them do their feeding by hovering in front of flowers, just like hummingbirds do.

Many kinds of sphinx moths are active only at night, zooming about moon gardens and meadows in the dark. The one in your photo, the white-lined sphinx, may fly by day or night. It’s recognized by its striped and checkered body, white lines on the forewings, and broad pink stripe on the hindwings.

Discover 10 interesting facts about hummingbird moths.

moth that looks like a hummingbirdCourtesy Peggy Schafer
Hummingbird clearwing moth

“What is this insect? It moves as though it’s a hummingbird but it looks like a moth. Several of them visit my butterfly bushes,” asks Peggy Schafer of Ionia, Michigan.

Kenn and Kimberly: Yes, this is a type of moth called a hummingbird clearwing. They are in the sphinx moth or hawk moth family, and many of them hover at flowers just like hummingbirds. The majority of sphinx moths are active only at night, but clearwings visit blooms in the daytime. Their yellow and black bodies may suggest the color pattern of a bumblebee, which could help to protect them from predators, and they also move very fast. You did well to get such a good photo!

Next, discover 5 silk moths that might be in your backyard.

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Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.