A Garden of Beautiful, Magical Surprises: Meet the Hummingbird Moth …

A Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) samples Ozark Bluestar nectar (Amsonia illustris)

Out early in the garden this morning, I stopped to photograph the Ozark Bluestar (Amsonia illustris), blooming along the path. I wanted to share springtime images of this beautiful, native perennial, which I often feature in my garden designs. In autumn, Amsonia turns chartreuse, followed by a gorgeous golden yellow/orange color (see previous post for photos), but it’s also beautiful throughout the growing season; with lovely blue flowers in May/June and fine, feathery green foliage. I grow various Amsonia species and cultivars in my own garden, and as I stopped to focus in on a flower, I was treated to a magical surprise. A hummingbird, butterfly or bee? No, actually this lesser-known pollinating insect is an amazing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe); though many people mistake this master of disguise for a hummingbird, hence the common name.

The Hummingbird Moth moves very quickly from flower to flower, gathering nectar with its long proboscis. Although I have tried to capture a photo of this fast-moving insect many times, I have never been successful until this morning. And wouldn’t you know it, the opportunity occurred by complete accident! Adult Hummingbird Moths feed on the nectar of many native and non-native flowering plants; including Beebalm (Monarda), Phlox, Lilac (Syringa), Amsonia, Blueberry (Vaccinium), and other blossoms attractive to their fellow pollinators, the butterflies and bees.

If you look carefully, in this photo you can see the Hummingbird Moth’s extended proboscis (a butterfly-like feeding tube/tongue)

The Hummingbird Moth is a member of the Sphinx Moth family, but although its larvae (a small green hornworm, with yellow legs) closely resemble the tomato hornworm/Five-Spotted Hawk Moth (Manduca quinquemaculata) and tobacco hornworms/Carolina Sphinx Moth (Manduca sexta) —notorious vegetable garden pests, which I wrote about last year in this post (click here)— Hummingbird Moth caterpillars feed non-destructively on the foliage of native shrubs and trees; including viburnum, cherry and plum (Prunus), snowberry (Symphoricarpos), hawthorn (Crataegus) and honeysuckle (Lonicera). So, should you happen to see small green “hornworms” on your ornamental trees and shrubs, don’t harm them! First, look them up here on Bugguide.net, as they are likely to be the larvae of our beautiful pollinating friend, the Hummingbird Moth! Magical creatures like the Hummingbird Moth count on us to help them by avoiding the indiscriminate use of pesticides (even organic pest controls, including Btk).

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2 Replies to “A Garden of Beautiful, Magical Surprises: Meet the Hummingbird Moth …”

  1. John

    Last year we had a persistent hummingbird moth, made visits over several days to the bee balm and phlox. They are amazing creatures. Made me gasp!

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