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Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Common Name: Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

Scientific Name: Hemaris Thysbe.

What to look for?  You thought you saw a hummingbird – a very unusual-looking hummingbird! This “bird” was flapping its wings fast and furious - just like a hummingbird. And it even had a bird-like body. But it is not a bird; it is a most beautiful and interesting moth. The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth has a plump body of reddish brown color. Their wings are unique in that they are transparent – as the “clearwing” in the name suggests. These wings also have reddish brown borders and dark lining along the veins. Finally, their tail ends with delicate tail feathers.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth is most active in late spring to early fall. But you will have a better chance to see them here in the summer when the lavender Wild Bergamot or bee balms are in bloom. They will also frequent phlox, honeysuckle and verbena if you these flowers in your garden. However, Hummingbird Clearwing Moths move so quickly that it can be hard to view them.

How big are they? The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth averages around two inches in length. And their wingspan is also approximately two inches.

What are their flight patterns? The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth flies just like hummingbirds. They have rapidly-beating wings which allows them to remain suspended in the air in front of a flower. While hovering above these flowers, they unfurl their long tongues and insert them in flowers to sip their nectar.

How else do they behave? While most moths are active at night, Hummingbird Clearwing Moths fly and feed during the daytime. Like bees and hummingbirds, they feed on flower nectar. Whereas, a bee will land on the flower itself to feed, a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth hovers in front of the flower in the same way as a hummingbird does. Hummingbird Clearwing Moths also excel as pollinators – ranking up there with bees and hummingbirds. They drink nectar from blooms with open or deep flowers and pollinate many of them from the pollen that gets caught on their upper body. It reaches into these deep flowers through a proboscis - a long, straw-like tube kept curled under the head when not in use.

What’s for dinner? Hummingbird Clearwing Moths drink flower nectar from a wide variety of plants including Wild Bergamot and beebalm, red clover, lilac, phlox, snowberry, cranberry, blueberry, vetch and thistles. As caterpillars, they eat the leaves of honeysuckle, snowberry, hawthorns, cherries and plums.

Where do they take up residence? Hummingbird Clearwing Moths reside in gardens and wildflower areas from Alaska and across Canada down into California and across the U.S. from the Great Plains east.

When and where do they breed and nest? The life cycle of the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth includes either one generation (northern climates such as Illinois) or two generations (southern climates) of larvae born annually. The larvae, known as hornworms, undergo metamorphosis during the winter. They pupate in the soil, forming a sturdy cocoon in the leaf litter. In May and June, mature adults emerge from their cocoons and start the cycle all over again by depositing eggs on a host plant (host plants include dogbane, snowberry, honeysuckle, and dwarf bush honeysuckle). After approximately seven to ten days of growth, larvae hatch and for the next month feed on the host plant. After this period of growth, they drop to the soil and pupation is initiated again.

Where do they migrate? The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth does migrate. They fly northward from April to August and south in late spring and in the fall.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Like hummingbirds, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth emits an audible hum from the rapid movement of their wings.

Interesting Facts About the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth:

  • Just like the hummingbird, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth’s buzzing, humming sound is created by its rapid wing movement.

  • The next time you spot a caterpillar munching on your tomato plants, you may be looking at a future Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

  • The fast-moving Hummingbird Clearwing Moth has a rapid wingbeat up to 70 beats per second, enabling it to fly up to 12 mph.

  • Instead of a beak, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth has a long tongue-like proboscis that rolls out of its coiled tube to reach the nectar deep inside flowers. Its tongue is about double the length of the moth’s body.

For more information on the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Butterflies and Moths of North America, U.S. Forest Service, Canadian Wildlife Federation and Massachusetts Audubon Society

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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