Mistaken Identity

Hummingbird Moth

The Sphinx Moth or Hummingbird Moth is often mistaken for an actual Hummingbird. It flies during daylight hours, hovers with forcefully beating wings, and has a proboscis in which it feeds on the nectar of flowers. However, it is not a bird; it is the adult stage of the hornworm.

The hornworm is a large caterpillar almost two inches in length. The larvae develop on plants of portulaca, prim rose, peonies, tomatoes and wild grape although they rarely damage the plants. The caterpillars then pupate in the ground.

The most commonly observed Hummingbird moth is Hyles lineate or the Whitelined Sphinx Moth. It is the most colorful and can be identified by the white stripe on top of the forewing. Its range is from Central America through the United States and up into Canada.

The Whitelined Sphinx’ wings can span 2.5 to 3.5 inches which explains why you hear them before you see them. Sundown or dusk is the best time to catch them hovering over flowers as they feed. Keep an eye out; I saw three in the garden yesterday evening.

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