Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Clouds of colorful tall phlox greeted me in the garden after returning from a family vacation. Although not the exact shade of pink I would have chosen, these billowy blooms still supply a mid-summer punch to the border and nectar for garden friends.

At first glance, some might mistaken this guest (below) for a tiny hummingbird as it hovers above the blooms sipping nectar. But it’s a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) that is seen through central and eastern North America and Alaska. The ‘fur’ on the body of the insect looks more like a hummingbird’s feathers.

These attractive moths may confuse some because they are active during the daytime along with hummingbirds, not at night with many other moth species. Below see the curled proboscis or mouth part used to suck nectar from the flower.

As the moth prepares to feed, it uncurls the proboscis and inserts it into the center of a bloom.

I suspect the host plant for the hummingbird moth is my coral honeysuckle growing against a post beneath the deck. Tomorrow I will inspect the plant to see if I can discover any hummingbird moth caterpillars… which is fine with me. This insect is a delight to see in the garden… not a pest at all.

When is a bumblebee not a bumblebee?

Bumblebee on Bluebeard shrub

The answer: When it is a moth.

True bumblebees are all over my bluebeard shrub (Caryopteris ‘Blue Mist’) and all over any late blooming flower in the garden, honeysuckle, lantana, butterfly bush, wild ginger, asters, etc. If you’re weeding nearby or just admiring the insects, you might spot one ‘bee’ that is not like the others. The black and yellow colors seem right but this odd bumblebee will hover over the flower while it feeds unlike the other bumblebees that bump and collide and crawl over blooms to feed.

This odd-looking bee is not a bee at all. It’s a Bumblebee Moth, a Snowberry Clearwing Moth, Hemaris diffinis, and it is a pretty darn good bumblebee mimic. You’ll see it flitting around the garden feeding during the day just like the bees. Any predators should recognize the familiar yellow and black warning pattern and steer clear of the potential sting.  Except this little yellow and black moth is completely harmless. It’s simply a moth.

Snowberry clearwing bumblebee moth

The caterpillar of the moth is pale green on the back with darker green along the sides. There are numerous flecks on the body and a horn of bright yellow at the base with a black tip on the top. Although related to the tobacco hornworm, this bumblebee moth caterpillar will eat the snowberry,  honeysuckle,  and cranberry viburnum…. NOT your tomato plants! Be kind to these caterpillars.

Snowberry clearwing moth caterpillar

Interestingly, the snowberry plant, Symphoricarpus albus, that gave the insect its name is a hardy deciduous plant in the honeysuckle family that was brought back to the east with the Lewis & Clark expedition. When it reached Thomas Jefferson, he was enthusiastic about the plant with the lovely pink blooms followed by large pure white fruit, and penned “some of the most beautiful berries I have ever seen.” It’s deer resistant, great for cut flowers, likes shade and these little bumblebee moths like it. That’s all the persuasion I need. I think I must have a few snowberry plants in this garden next spring…. perhaps in the shade of the new secret garden!

Ann Hohenberger, the Garden Club of Gloucester

A Garden Stitch In Time

Caterpillars of all shapes and sizes, both moths and butterflies, are invading areas of the garden at this time of year.  Some, like the black swallowtail caterpillar, I welcome; others are pests, like the Eastern tent caterpillar, and then there are a few that interest me, like the Redbud Leaffolder.

A tiny moth caterpillar, the Redbud Leaffolder (Fascista cercerisella), has turned some of the tree’s lovely heart shaped leaves into a patchwork quilt by folding or rolling the leaves. These black/white striped caterpillars pull a corner of the leaf over and ‘stitch’ the edges together with silk thread while they consume the leaf from the inside. I have opened some of the leaves to have a peek inside. I found several caterpillars in each fold and I was met with a flurry of movement.  The caterpillars twist and jump, eventually falling to the ground as an escape.

A tiny leaffolder moth visits lamps at night

The adult is a teeny black moth with white spots. I have read that that these common moths breed twice a summer. I would not describe our tree as infested and I’m not ready to use pesticides.  I’m watching and waiting. If I sense a problem, I’ll first try picking the leaf and stepping on it to squish the inhabitants.  Pesticides will be the last option and it would have to be ruinous for the redbud before I take that final step.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester