A Welcome Visitor

Hummingbird moth on a lobelia flower

Last Saturday I was sitting on the back patio reading. Next to me were six Riviera Mix lobelia plants that I had started indoors, blooming nicely. While flipping through the pages of my book, I heard a distinct hummingbird-like sound, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bumble bee-shaped insect hovering. Upon getting a closer look, the insect was a good distance from the flowers and was feeding by way of a long proboscis. The insect’s wings were beating fast, moving similarly to the manner of a hummingbird. It flew very close to me, and was not at all bothered by my presence. It made quick work of methodically exploring each lobelia flower in turn.

Within a few minutes, a real hummingbird flew in close and the insect beat a quick retreat. It darted up into the sky in a straight line, and at about 20 feet up, its flight path broadly arced to the right, with a speed and fluid movement evocative of the F/A-18 Hornets flown by the Navy’s Blue Angels.

I had never seen this insect in my garden before, yet I knew my visitor to be a hummingbird moth because of videos that I have browsed in the past on Youtube (I’m a longtime fan of Lepidopterans, butterflies and moths). Here is one of my favorite hummingbird moth videos

(start 2 minutes in to get right to the action)

The photo of the hummingbird moth included here is from my collection of public domain Lepidoptera images. Additional stunning (licensed) hummingbird moth photographs can be found here.

Hummingbird moths are also called Clearwing moths. They are sphinx moths in the genus Hemaris. Hummingbird moths are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. Their adult lifespan is 3-4 weeks.

Seeing a hummingbird moth for the first time was exciting for me. I wonder how long it will be before I see another? The Hummingbird hawk moth of Europe, visually very similar to our hummingbird moth, is trap-line; it will return to the same flowers at the same time each day. Might hummingbird moths do the same? I don’t know, but just in case, this coming Saturday at 2:30pm, I will again be on the back patio reading and waiting for a friend.

Have you seen hummingbird moths in your garden? Are there other insects, unusual or not, that make your time in the garden that much more enjoyable?