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Snowberry Clearwing Moths Gathering Nectar

There are four species of clearwing (also referred to as hummingbird) moths in North America. The most familiar ones are the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) and the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe).  These day-flying moths fly and move like hummingbirds (hovering near flowers while drinking nectar) and the males have a flared “tail” like that of a hovering hummingbird.  It is also very easy to mistake one for a bumble bee.  Scales cover the wings of butterflies and moths, but clearwing moths lose many of these scales and thus have partially transparent (“clear”) wings.

Like most moths, clearwing moths have a very long tongue (can be twice as long as their body) which they carry rolled under their heads and that they use to reach the nectar of long-necked flowers.  They are attracted to the flowers of phlox, beebalm, honeysuckle and swamp milkweed (pictured), among others. If you approach a clearwing moth as it hovers, you may detect the humming sound that they make with their wings.

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12 responses

  1. Alice

    Fascinating moths, I love seeing them, but haven’t, yet, this year. They also like Lantana & Petunias

    August 26, 2019 at 8:49 am

  2. Mardy High

    I see a bright green larva below the moth photo. It looks like the hornworm that is attacking our tomato plants in the Enfield Community Garden. They hide very well and grow from a tiny worm emerging from the soil, to a four inch monster in 24 hours. We have removed dozens and dozens.

    We have some disagreeing Internet info on whether the tomato hornworm ( which is our enemy) turns into the hummingbird moth, which is a lovely pollinator.

    Can you help us, Mary?

    August 26, 2019 at 10:52 am

    • Hi Mardy, The hummingbird clearwing moth larva IS green, and has a horn (it’s a sphinx moth, like other horned caterpillars), but it is a different caterpillar than the one you find on your tomato plants! Those are either tobacco hornworms or tomato hornworms. To tell the difference between these two horned caterpillars, watch the video at https://entomologytoday.org/2013/12/14/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-tomato-and-tobacco-hornworms/ !

      August 28, 2019 at 12:42 pm

      • Mardy High

        Thank you so much for clarifying the different caterpillars, Mary. I loved the video!

        Mardy

        August 28, 2019 at 2:56 pm

  3. Bill On The Hill

    Hi Mary… Beautiful photograph btw!
    As a child growing up in southern N.E., not knowing the difference between a hummingbird & these fascinating insects, I have caught them in glass jars, poked some holes in the top & eventually released them… I see these clearwings gathering nectar from my lilac blossoms most seasons up here in the highlands…
    Bill… :~)

    August 28, 2019 at 8:11 am

    • I love all that you add to my posts, Bill. Always fun to read your comments! So sorry I don’t have time to respond to each one!

      August 28, 2019 at 8:30 am

  4. Bill On The Hill

    I understand completely Mary… Thanks for the kind words.
    I’m heading outside today to begin DAY (33) clearing damaged timber & brush above the pond area from last Oct.’s wind shear event up here in the highlands. Thus far I have squeaked out 3.55 + cords of firewood rounds, ready to be split.
    Bill… :~)

    August 28, 2019 at 10:31 am

  5. Linda G.

    Just to clarify, the clear-winged Hemaris moths (of which we have 4) are in the Family Sphingidae, not Sesiidae which is the family name for clearwinged moths. Sesiidae are smaller moths–often mistaken for wasps! 14 species of Sesiidae are listed in the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of northeastern America. Once you discover one of these tiny moths, you can’t wait to see the next one!

    September 3, 2019 at 3:58 pm

  6. Thanks, Linda. Not sure where you saw Sesiidae mentioned — I classified them in Sphingidae in the categories at the bottom!

    September 3, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    • Linda G.

      Hi Mary, I didn’t read your tag notes so thank you for pointing that out–though it didn’t occur to me you meant anything but Sphingidae. But since the common name for Sesiidae is “Clearwing Moths” it can be confusing when the same common name is used for the clear winged Hemaris moths. People are usually surprised when I show them a tiny Sesiidae moth, the larger Hemaris ones are more well known. Your photos of the adult and larvae are terrific. Thank you! With much admiration for your work, Linda

      September 5, 2019 at 12:07 pm

  7. Would love to see a side by side photo with above and a Sphinx moth.

    September 11, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    • Some day I will post about clearwings and include a photo of both Snowberry and Hummingbird!

      September 12, 2019 at 9:20 am

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