What is it?

 

Well, one of its names is snowberry clearwing.

Snowberry clearwing, courtesty Christopher Johnson Insects Unlocked project, U of Texas CC1.0

 

This adorable insect’s scientific name is Hemaris diffinis. Its also known as common clearwing, bumblebee moth, hummingbird moth and hummingbird sphinx moth. A whole lot of names for such a small critter: 32-51mm / 1.3-2in.


Found in North America, though not Mexico, likely because its geographical range is mostly on the eastern half of the United States and Canada. Having said that, its cousin, the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) has a sizable presence in California and it may head south soon enough. It’s between 40–55mm / 1.6–2.2in.


You can identify one from the other by their legs: the snowberry clearwing is the one with black legs.


Europe’s warmer countries and Central-East Asia is where we find the hummingbird hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum). Its under the same order (Lepidoptera) and in the same family (Sphingidae) as the two above, but belongs to a different genus. This moth’s size can stretch to 58mm / 2.3in. This map by Kulac & Carstor (PD) shows its range for different times of the year.

 

H. diffinis larva, courtesy Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org CC3.0 US

 

Spherical green eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves on plants, such as cherry, hawthorn, plum, snowberry (of course) and viburnum for the larvae to eat and grow; however, most do little damage to the plants. The caterpillars are called hornworms. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar drops to the ground in search of a place to form its (brown) chrysalis. It will overwinter beneath leaves.

 

Hummingbird clearwing, courtesy Shenandoah National Park CC1.0

 

They can just as easily be found in our gardens as in various open spaces. If you want to attract them, plant bee balm, milkweed, butterfly bush, phlox or rhododendron, to name a few.

Hummingbird hawkmoth, courtesy Pexels.com CC1.0

 

The European hummingbird hawkmoth is larger the North Americans. To attract this moth to your garden, have a steady supply of nectar from plants, such as butterfly bush, galium, honeysuckle, jasmine and lilac.


Hovering at a flower, they look like chubby hummingbirds. And they act just like hummingbirds, hovering at a plant and even emit a perceptible hum from their wings. Their long tongue (proboscis), which rolls up when not in use, allows easy access to nectar from flowers out of reach to many other pollinators.


Where most moths are active at night (nocturnal), these moths fly about during the day (diurnal).


Some species lose most of their scales soon after taking flight due to their active life (hence the moniker clearwing) leaving transparent patches bordered in the various colours of its species.


Both adults and caterpillars have important roles to play. The adults pollinate and the caterpillars are a juicy food source for other insects and animals.


I had never heard of these insects before I started this journey into their world, but I’m going to investigate how geographically close they are to me. I’m lucky if I see a single hummingbird once or twice in spring, stopping by for a drink from the feeder I put out on it’s way, obviously, to better places. But if I can provide the right environment to entice these critters in, I can see something just as dandy … and more often.


If they’re in your range, why not give thought to welcoming them into your garden, too.


Want more pictures? Check out roads end naturalist for some awesome pictures. And butterfliesandmoths.org has oodles of pictures as well as amateur photos of where they’ve been sighted.


Cheers,

– Tess

ps: Here’s what a snowberry looks like:

Snowberry plant, courtesy Bernard Dupont CC BY-SA 2.0

Sites referenced:

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hummingbird_moth.shtml
http://m.espacepourlavie.ca/en/insects-arthropods/hummingbird-moths
https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/birdwatching/how-to-identify-birds/hummingbirds-and-hawkmoths/