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Hummingbird Clearwing Moths

A close-up of a hummingbird moth in flight feeding on a thistle flower with a bee on it.
photosbyjimn/Getty Images/iStockphoto
These moth are only around for a short period of time and are hard to find.

Out of the corner of your eye, you notice something hovering over a patch of flowers, quickly darting from one to the other. It’s a humming bird!

No, on second glance it’s too small, has a furry looking body, and it’s wings appear to be clear. It must be a massive bumblebee!

Close, but upon further inspection you notice that it uncoils a long tongue, which it uses to sip the flower’s nectar. Stumped?

Chances are you’ve found a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

There are five different species of Hummingbird Clearwing Moths in the United States. Unlike most moths that are active at night, these members of the sphinx moth family fly during the day, making them much easier to observe than their nocturnal relatives.

Quickly zipping from flower to flower, these strong fliers can hover, fly backwards and are capable of aerial acrobatics that are definitely more hummingbird-like. But with a wingspan of 2 inches or less, they are still much smaller than our smallest hummers.

Like butterflies and other species of moths, when Hummingbird Clearwings first emerge from the cocoon, their wings are fully covered with scales. It’s not until their wings dry, and their rapid wing beats cause much of the scales to fall off, that their namesake clear wings are revealed.

The coloration of a few species strongly resemble a bumblebee, but you can tell the difference by observing how they feed – hovering in front of flowers to feed, while bumblebees prefer to land.

So the next time you think you see what appears to be a tiny hummingbird or a large bumblebee, take a closer look. You might be seeing one of our amazing Hummingbird Clearwing Moths.

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