Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is it a hummingbird? Is it a bee? No, it's a moth!

The first time I saw a Snowberry Clearwing Moth in the garden I wasn't entirely sure what it was. It had several hummingbird characteristics, it was fast moving (they can reach speeds of 35 mph), it had fast beating wings that hummed, and, it hovered over blossoms while it sipped nectar, but, its coloring, antennae, six legs and long, butterfly-like proboscis clearly said "this is an insect in the butterfly/moth family"! It didn't take long to identify it as Hemaris diffinis, a day-flying moth in the sphinx family.
These moths hover and stabilize their flight by resting their front legs on the flower blossom
The Snowberry Clearwing Moth is a mid to late summer visitor to my garden. They're really quite interesting looking moths and have the same yellow and black coloration as bumblebees. They have large eyes and a long tongue/proboscis perfectly adapted for reaching deep down in tubular flowers like summer phloxes, verbena and monarda for hidden nectar. They're good pollinators and like bees, pollen sticks to their hairy bodies and is transferred to other flowers as they move about the plant community.

Now, that I've just typed that paragraph, I'm not sure why I thought it was a hummer when it clearly resembles a bumblebee! Hemaris diffinis's bee mimicry worked on me and it probably does a pretty good job insuring it isn't an easy meal for a fast moving bird! Oh isn't nature amazing and oh so clever!

while the photo isn't the best, you can see the clear wings!
Now that summer is sort of winding down here in the Mid-South, I've been checking the Arrowwood viburnums, Southern bush honeysuckles and the Loniceras (host plants) for any of its emerald green eggs. So far I haven't found any, but,  I'll continue to keep a look out for them and any green hornworms as they search for the right spot in the leaf litter to pupate and wait the winter out. Maybe, I'll get lucky and see the moth emerge in the Spring!
bumble bee mimicry reduces predation
Until then, I'll enjoy them on warm summer days as they hover and dart about the garden.


Some Snowberry Clearwing Moth particulars:

Caterpillar Hosts: Snowberry/Symphoricarpos, honeysuckle/Lonicera, dogbane/Apocynum, Viburnum, hawthorn, cherry, plum and dwarf bush honeysuckle/Diervilla lonicera

Adult Food: Nectar from flowers including phlox, monarda, coreopsis, lantana, dwarf bush honeysuckle, snowberry, orange hawkweed, thistles, lilac, and Canada violet...Any good nectar source.
Habitat: A wide variety of open habitats, streamsides, fields, gardens, and suburbs....with plenty of leaf litter to hide in all winter!

Distribution map of Hemaris diffinis source

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Beautiful Gail. Thank you for highlighting this delicate looking moth. I think you though hummingbird because of how they move. At least, that's why I wondered at first. They are so quick, and boy, do they love phlox. ~~Dee

  2. I've seen them, but haven't been able to get photos. You did a superb job - beautiful photos!

  3. The one I saw yesterday was foraging on a big Vernonia lettermannii, so it was flying quite slowly, and I was very close to it. I didn't realize that their wings were clear (in my photos, the wings were just a blur!)

    They're fascinating insects and fun to see. I hadn't seen one for awhile. I enjoyed learning more details about them....

  4. Great photos and info - these fast little guys are hard to photograph.We have them here, but the map doesn't indicate it.

  5. Love these moths! I often see them in spring on our creeping phlox and then again later in summer on the monarda and summer phlox. The distribution map shows a small area around the Atlanta area and nothing in NE Georgia where we are. You got some really nice photos of them. I find them extremely difficult to capture. I had no idea they flew so fast!

  6. Great shots of such an interesting insect. I used to see them in my garden when I lived in Massachusetts, but haven't seen any here in Washington. But we do get loads of hummingbirds here, so that was a good trade-off.

  7. Those are great captures, Gail. I know how hard it is to get a good shot because they are so dang fast!

  8. Beautiful moth. We get them here too. They are fun to watch. Great photos!

  9. I have one that I've only seen at night when my Datura opens. Great pics! I've never been able to get a good picture or really a good look for that matter but I thought it was one of my hummers, too.

  10. Fascinating, I have never seen anything like this...Great photos and the information was really interesting. I will start to look for this, it is always amazing what you see when you have just a bit more information

  11. I think most of us have been puzzled the first time we saw a hummingbird moth. And once again I say, I can't believe you caught one at rest! Love these crazy critters in my garden. I didn't know that lonicera was their host plant, and I just planted some last year. Sweet!

  12. The first time I saw this moth, I was also perplexed...and now I love watching them partake of the garden!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson