This adorable insect’s scientific name is Hemaris diffinis. It’s also known as common clearwing, bumblebee moth, hummingbird moth and quite possibly more. A lot of names for such a small critter: 32-51mm / 1.3-2in.
Found in North America, though not Mexico, likely because its geographical range is mostly on the eastern half of the United States and Canada.
Having said that, its cousin the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) has a sizable presence in California and may decide to head south soon enough. It’s between 40–55mm / 1.6–2.2in.
Besides colour, you can identify one from the other by their legs: the snowberry clearwing is the one with black legs.
They can just as easily be found in our gardens as in various open spaces. If you want to attract them, plant bee balm, milkweed, butterfly bush, phlox or rhododendron, to name a few.
Europe’s warmer countries and Central-East Asia is where we find the hummingbird hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum). It’s of the same order (Lepidoptera) and the same family (Sphingidae) as the two above, but belongs to a different genus. Its size can stretch to 58mm / 2.3in. This map by Kulac & CarstorCC0 1.0 shows its range for different times of the year.
The European hummingbird hawkmoth is larger the North Americans.
To attract this moth to your garden, have a steady supply of nectar from plants, such as butterfly bush, galium, honeysuckle, jasmine and lilac.
Spherical green eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves on plants, such as cherry, hawthorn, plum, snowberry (of course) and viburnum for the larvae to eat and grow; however, most do little damage to the plants.
The caterpillars are called hornworms. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar drops to the ground in search of a place to form its (brown) chrysalis. It will overwinter beneath leaves.
In flight they look like chubby hummingbirds.
They act just like hummingbirds, hovering at a plant and even emit a perceptible hum from their wings. Their long tongues (proboscis), which rolls up when not in use, allows easy access to nectar from flowers out of reach to many other pollinators.
Where most moths are active at night (nocturnal), these moths fly about during the day (diurnal).
Some species lose most of their scales soon after taking flight due to their active life (hence the moniker clearwing) leaving transparent patches bordered in the various colours of its species.
Both adults and caterpillars have important roles to play. The adults pollinate and the caterpillars are a juicy food source for other insects and animals.
I had never heard of these insects before I started this journey into the insect world, but I’m going to investigate how geographically close they are to me. I feel lucky if I see a single hummingbird once or twice in spring, stopping by for a drink on its way, obviously, to better places. But if I can provide the right environment to entice these critters in, maybe I’ll get to see something just as dandy … and more often.
If they’re in your range, why not give thought to welcoming them into your garden, too.