HUMMINGBIRD CLEARWING MOTH

Patty had two dreams. One was to acquire and protect as much land asd she could afford. The second was to develop a garden full of flowers for as much of the year as flowers are possible here in New England.

It did not take her any time to persuade me to share her dreams.

Patty found 85 acres of forested land in southern New Hampshire in one of those supermarket real estate advertising magazines. The land had been recently, respectfully, logged, and a pretty brook ran through the oak/hemlock woods for nearly the entire 2200 ft length of the lot.

Deering, Hedgehog Mountain, is where we decided to call home, and where we built our timberpeg home (another of Patty’s dreams).

And Patty started gardening.

Now, a bit over 10 years later, her dream of a glorious garden is being realized. A progression of flowers, early spring to late autumn has responded to near constant care: weeding, watering, thinning, dividing, moving about, and so on.

The collateral effects of the garden include apart from, of course, the pure beauty, a refugium from an otherwise pretty crappy world, a whole bunch of pollinating insects and ruby throated hummingbirds. Butterflies, bees of all sorts, and the hummingbirds dip and zoom around the flowers finding pollen and nectar among the echinacea, lavender, bee balm, Joe Pye weed … and incidental St John’s Worts and evening primrose and lupins … the list just goes on! Caterpillars such as those of the glorious monarch butterfly find a good home here in all the milkweed that we leave untouched.

Pollinator’s delight in Patty’s ggarden!

Among the most interesting of the insect visitors to garden has been the Hummingbird Clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe.

The Hummingbird Clearwing, a sphinx, or hawkmoth, is action on warm, sunny summer days. It is maybe a quarter the size (wingspan 1.5 – 2 “) of a ruby throated hummingbird, but its super rapidly beating wings give the same humming sound as the bird while it dashes from flower to flower, never alighting for more than the briefest of moments. Like the hummingbird, the clearwing hawkmoth can hover over prospective nectar sources. I have read that wings of the clearwing beat at 85 beats per second, while those of the hummingbird barely chug along at a mere 50 bps. Of course, its ability to hover enables to clearwing to suck nectar from flowers through it long proboscis — a superb example of coevolution. Hovering also makes sense for this heavy insect because delicate flowers do not provide feeding ledges for their pollinators — a serious revolutionary oversight! Moreover, remaining airborne gives the insect a head start should it need to escape a hungry predator. Males have a flared tail, again like the hummingbird, and their long straw-like proboscis unfurls to reach the nectar deep within flowers.

Hummingbird clearwing moth drawing nectar from monarda flowers

Our garden has a wide range of lowers and flower colors, but we have only seen the clearwing on this red monarda. It apparently doesn’t even visit the closely nearby purple monarda. It is known to show preference for red and purple flowers.

Four species of hummingbird moths occur in North America. Hemaris thysbe is most abundant in eastern North America, but it ranges widely in North America.

Caterpillars of the clearwing hawkmoth feed on cherry trees, European cranberry bush, hawthorns, honeysuckle, and snowberry. The insect overwinters in the soil as brown, hard-shelled pupae. In the late spring, it emerges as an adult moth.

These fascinating insects have been well=studied and a lot of information about them is available on-line. Much of the information given in this post comes from three web sites https://todayshomeowner.com/hummingbird-moths-in-the-garden/ , https://www.jungledragon.com/specie/4250/hummingbird_clearwing.html, and https://www.seacoastonline.com/story/lifestyle/2007/08/15/sue-s-nature-news-hummingbird/52821096007/.

Thanks to my friend and extraordinary naturalist Mike Thomas for identifying the hummingbird clearwing and many other insects.

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