Hummingbird Bird and Moth

Top Photo: Juvenile male ruby-throated hummingbird, rapidly beating wings blurred to near invisibility, hovers in front of trumpet vine’s tubular flowers.

There are 16 species of hummingbird that breed in the United States. There’s only one species in the eastern states, ruby-throated hummingbird. If you see a hummingbird in North Carolina in summer, it’s a ruby-throated. From October into winter it’s most likely a different species that you see at your feeder, unless you’re on the Gulf Coast or our own Outer Banks. But that’s a story for another time.

Ruby-throated’s wingbeats vary from 40-80 beats a second. You have to use a fast shutter speed to stop the action. Their heart rate is about 250 beats per minute at rest, about 1200 beats when hovering over a flower. They need a lot of nectar to keep up that pace.

Young male hummer vigorously fueling up.

There are two species of moth you may encounter here at the museum which may at first look like a hummingbird. They have very rapid wing beats, are active during the day, and hover above, and extract nectar from, flowers.

They are the hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe) and the snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis).

The hummingbird moth has a green thorax and red abdomen, distinctly hummingbird colors. The snowberry clearwing, while its behavior is very hummingbird-like is yellowish in color on both the abdomen and thorax.

The snowberry clearwing seems to be the more common of the two, I certainly see more of them than the other. Spend time in a flower garden and you’ll likely see both species.

Adult snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis).
Snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) larva.

Both species use honeysuckle as host plants, with other plants used exclusively by each species. Besides honeysuckle, the hummingbird moth uses viburnum on which to lay eggs.

The hummingbird moth in the two photos shown here (below) is in the act of laying eggs. I’ll keep watch on this patch of viburnum for any caterpillars that may hatch in the coming weeks.

Adult hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe) laying eggs on viburnum.
Hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe) about to attach eggs to leaf.

I don’t have photos of a hummingbird moth larva. Hopefully, that will soon change.

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