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Hummingbird Clearwing Moths Pollinating Flowers

The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) is a familiar sight to anyone with a garden full of beebalm, phlox, verbena or butterfly bush.  Clearly named after its similar appearance and hovering behavior to hummingbirds (as well as its partially transparent wings where scales have fallen off) this day-flying moth is an excellent pollinator.

Because its tongue, or proboscis, is so long, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth can reach nectar located at the base of tubular-shaped flowers.  If you look closely at this photograph, you’ll see a tiny clump of pollen near the base of the moth’s proboscis.  The structure of the Beebalm (Monarda sp.) it’s visiting is such that the stigmas (tips of the pollen-bearing male structures, or stamens) projecting from the upper lip of the flower are located where the moth will come in contact with them as it inserts its proboscis down into the flower’s nectaries. Hummingbird Clearwings carry their proboscis rolled up under their head and unfurl it when approaching a flower. (Thanks to Sally Fellows and Terry Marron for photo opportunity.)

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12 responses

  1. What a spectacular picture!! Thank you Mary.

    August 15, 2022 at 8:56 am

    • Thank you, Kathie! They beat their wings so fast that it’s hard to capture them in focus, to say the least. Took many hundred shots in bright sunlight and this was the sharpest one!

      August 15, 2022 at 3:02 pm

  2. I Love these beautiful creatures! So fascinating! It’s like a bee and a moth and a bird all came together! 🙂 ❤

    August 15, 2022 at 9:28 am

  3. Cheryl McKeough

    What a beautiful shot!

    August 15, 2022 at 9:58 am

    • Many thanks, Cheryl. One out of many hundreds I took!

      August 15, 2022 at 3:03 pm

  4. Wow! What an amazing photo!
    I’m curious about a couple of things: first, do the scales of their wings fall off significantly more than is the case for other moths and butterflies? and how does this affect their flying?
    And second, their flight is silent, unlike hummingbirds; is this because their bodies’weight is significantly less than the birds’ bodies (so they don’t have to flap so fast)? Or…?
    Thnaks for another stunning photo!!

    August 15, 2022 at 10:00 am

    • Hi Dell,
      I don’t know of other moths or butterflies who regularly lose large patches of scales on their wings without anything causing them to fall off, though there may be some. The pattern is quite similar in most clearwing moth wings, too.

      I have read that the wings make a soft buzzing sound, but I personally have never heard it…

      August 15, 2022 at 3:01 pm

  5. Alice

    Terry & Sally: what a most incredibly stunning photo!! It’s such an amazing moth to watch, flitting around. Saw my first one of this summer enjoying Bubblegum pink petunias, last week.

    August 15, 2022 at 10:46 am

  6. Alice

    I think I miss understood. Mary, you took the photo, but in their garden? It’s so detailed!

    August 15, 2022 at 3:32 pm

  7. pam Kerstner

    WOW that is so cool

    August 15, 2022 at 8:10 pm

  8. Sue Showalter

    Oh my what a stunning photo! The detail is remarkable. What a treat to see this.

    August 15, 2022 at 10:00 pm

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