Hummingbird moth

Giant bumblebee? Small hummingbird? Flying shrimp?

bee balm with a large yellow-and-black insect

Twice in the last week I saw a hummingbird moth in our garden. The first time I had only my phone to document it. It appears to be a hummingbird clearwing, Hemaris thysbe, and sort of looks like a flying shrimp or lobster.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to see one again when I had a “real” camera. This time it was a different moth – snowberry clearwing, or Hemaris diffinis – which looks more like a giant bumblebee.

yellow-and-black moth viewed from the left side, flying vertically with its proboscis inside a light purple bee balm

I reeled off more than a hundred shots, hoping that at least a few would be clear.

same moth viewed from above, its wings flat but blurry

A hummingbird moth looks like a hummingbird with its small size, darting behavior, and wings that move so fast they can barely be seen, but it is about half the size of a hummingbird and has antennae and a curling proboscis, which the birds do not.

moth nearing a bee balm from the top right, with its proboscis curled

Look how long the proboscis is when unfurled – all the way down into the flower:

moth to the left of a bee balm, with its proboscis extending two inches into the flower tube

The reason for the “clearwing” descriptor is obvious in this photo (at least, one of the clear wings is visible):

moth at the bottom left of a bee balm, with its left wing in focus and the green background visible through the wing

There are four species of hummingbird moths in North America, and in one week, I saw two of them in my own garden! Both times I saw this moth, it was evening, after the sun had gone behind the trees, and both times it was on our big cluster of bee balm.

snowberry at the right of a bee balm with its proboscis deep in the flower

hummingbird clearwing at the left of a bee balm, a little farther away but reaching its front foot to touch the flower

I also tried video both nights, with amateurish results because I could never accurately anticipate where they were going to go next – though a faint humming noise can be heard. This is the hummingbird clearwing:

And this is the snowberry clearwing:

Both nights the moths let me watch them flutter around for more than 10 minutes – and then, suddenly, each was gone.

bee balm on the left, snowberry flying straight up out of the top right of the picture

More about hummingbird moths


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  1. I believe it killed my butterfly bush. A week after it was all over my bush, it died. Maybe a coincidence? I wish I knew..


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