It’s a Bird! It’s a Bug! It’s….um, no really….what IS it?!

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A hummingbird with antennae? Not quite.

This member of the sphinx family is a hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), otherwise known as the hummingbird moth. So yes, it is an insect. I was really excited to see it. I was sitting in my dining room last Sunday afternoon, looking out the patio door, when I noticed it flying in the back of the yard. I knew instantly that it wasn’t one of my hummingbirds (I’m so used to seeing the birds dart around my yard that I know when it’s not them), and after verifying it with my binoculars, I grabbed the camera and literally ran out the door! I’ve only seen these moths a handful of times and this was the first time I actually photographed one! Sorry for the poor quality. The sun was behind me, making it hard to see what my camera was focused on and the moth didn’t stay in one spot for very long. I had to crop in pretty close on these photos so you could actually see the insect.

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The name clearwing comes from the moth’s clear wings. It’s a little hard to tell in the photo, but there’s a section of the wings where there are no scales and it is clear.

Unlike most moths, the hummingbird moth is active during the daylight hours or close to dusk. These moths are a little smaller than a hummingbird and have the same feeding habits as their feathered friends, hovering around flowers just like hummingbirds do. In fact, they are often mistaken for hummingbirds. This imitation often prevents them from being snatched up by insect-loving birds.

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This hummingbird moth was drinking nectar from the wild germander growing in my yard. There are four species of sphinx moths in North America and this is the most common one in the Eastern United States. You can usually find them around meadows, forest edges and flower gardens.

How can you attract them?

First of all, quit spraying that insecticide! Apparently, they are particularly fond of viburnum, honeysuckle (please make sure you plant the native varieties!), phlox, beebalm, dogbane and verbena. They also like to feed on hawthorn.