Someone requested some info on the Hummingbird Moth! I promised it would be out yesterday… but stuff happened. Nonetheless, here it is! Some of my older followers might remember the “Moth of the Week” feature that died because I am a lazy butt. I think I’ll bring back something similar, but on a random schedule. It’s going to be called Macro Focus.
Macro Focus: Hummingbird Moth
The Hummingbird Moth(s) is one of the cutest and most popular of the moths. Scientifically named in the genus Hemaris and hailing from the order Sphingidae, these creatures are both pleasant to look at and helpful. They can be found through the eastern and northern parts of North America, extending as far up as Alaska!
Note that there are many moths in this genus that are commonly referred to as “Hummingbird,” often followed by “Clearwing” based on their appearance.
These moths are active in June and July. Caterpillars can either be helpful or pesky, depending on which plant they eat—viburnum plants including delicious blueberries to undesirable thistles. They pupate in the ground, and emerge in the next summer where they mate. They drink nectar, quickly darting from flower to flower like their name suggests. They are helpful pollinators to us. Females release pheromones from a scent gland to attract males. They fly during the day.
But wait, there’s more!
There is another moth commonly referred to as “Hummingbird,” but only in the Americas. This is the Hummingbird Hawk Moth, Macroglossum stellatarum. They are often called “Bee Moths” in Europe. This creature is also a member of the Sphingidae, but is considerably bigger than its cousins with a wingspan of about 1.6-1.8 inches, as opposed to the Hummingbird Clearwings which have a wingspan of about half an inch. These moths can be found throughout the Old World from Europe to Japan year round, particularly in warmer climates.
They have two to four broods a year. Larvae prefer to eat bedstraws and madders as host plants, feeding exclusively on top of them. Depending on how warm the climate is, they can reach adulthood in as little as twenty days. They also pupate underground or in leaf litter.
Adults have similar behavior to the Clearwings. They fly rapidly, drink nectar from orchids, and make a buzzing noise. Interestingly enough, the true hummingbirds and these moths evolved side by side in a remarkable case of convergent evolution. They fill similar niches in their habitat, but partition resources well, and can both be food for predators. These moths have a tuft of hair (called setae) at the ends of the abdomens, which they use to help disperse mating pheromones.
Hummingbird Hawk Moths are also remarkable in that they can remain active in high, their internal body temperatures as high as 45 degrees C, or 113 degrees F. This is about the highest strain any insect’s muscle system can take, excluding maybe honeybees whose internal temperatures can reach 130 degrees F.