Hummingbird Moth Facts: Discover The Amazing Moths That Look (And Sound) Like Hummingbirds!

As they dart from flower to flower in search of nectar, not only do hummingbird moths look like the birds they are named after, but they also sound like them; the rapid flapping of their wings makes a hummingbird–like buzz.

This page contains hummingbird moth facts, pictures and information. First we’ll find out about hummingbird moths in general before turning our attention to five species of hummingbird moth found in the United States. We’ll also take a look at the related hummingbird hawk-moth, a species found in the UK.


Page Index


What Is A Hummingbird Moth?

Most of the moths known as ‘hummingbird moths’ are members of the genus Hemaris in the sphinx moth family, Sphingidae. (You can find out what terms such as ‘genus’ and ‘family’ mean on this page: Animal Classification.)

Other sphinx moths commonly known as hummingbird moths, but not of genus Hemaris, include the white-lined sphinx moth, and the hummingbird hawk moth.

Hummingbird moths have barrel-shaped bodies, long wings and long proboscises (long, hollow mouthparts used to drink nectar). Unlike most moths, hummingbird moths are usually active during the day, when they can be seen darting from flower to flower in their search for nectar.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Snowberry clearwing moth – one of several moths of genus Hemaris known as hummingbird moths.

The insects’ appearance, flying style and nectar-gathering behavior means that they are often mistaken for hummingbirds, hence the name ‘hummingbird moth’.

Hummingbird moths of genus Hemaris are also known as clearwing moths on behalf of their transparent wings. Although the wings of clearwing moths are initially covered in scales like those of other moths, after the first few flights the scales fall off, leaving the wing panels transparent.

(Some hummingbird moths, such as the olive bee hawkmoth Hemaris croatica found in Europe and the Kashmir bee hawkmoth Hemaris Rubra found in Asia, don’t have clear wings.)

Which Hummingbird Moth Species Are Found In North America?

Of the 23 species in the genus Hemaris, four are found in North America: the hummingbird clearwing (H. thysbe), snowberry clearwing (H. diffinis), slender clearwing (H. gracilis) and Rocky Mountain clearwing (H. thetis).

The white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) – which as we’ve found is also known as the hummingbird moth – is also found in North America.

  • Scroll down the page or click here to see the five U.S. species of hummingbird moth.

White-lined sphinx moth
White-lined sphinx moth / hummingbird moth. Photo: Larry Lamsa (cropped by ActiveWild.com) [CC BY 2.0]
In Europe, moths of genus Hemaris are more commonly known as bee hawk-moths. There are three species present in Europe.

The hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), a moth found in Europe, Africa and Asia, is not a member of the genus Hemaris, although it is in the sphinx moth family.


Hummingbird Moth Facts

Appearance

Hummingbird moths have thick, bumblebee-like bodies and long wings. At the end of the abdomen is a tail-like tuft or fan of short, stiff bristles.

Snowberry clearwing feeding on Monarda plant.
Snowberry clearwing feeding on Monarda plant.

The coloration of hummingbird moths varies from species to species; common colors include olive green, rusty reddish brown and yellow. The colors on the animal’s back and underside are often different. Many hummingbird moths have horizontal bands or other markings on the body.

Antennae & Proboscis

Hummingbird moths have a pair of long, club-like antennae that usually widen towards the end. The proboscis is around twice the length of the body and is kept tightly coiled when not in use.

Hummingbird Moth Caterpillars

Hummingbird moth caterpillar
White-lined sphinx larva. Photo: Katja Schulz (cropped by ActiveWild.com) [CC BY 2.0]
Hummingbird moth larvae (caterpillars) are among several types of sphinx moth caterpillar known as hornworms due to the horn-like spike that projects from the rear the body.

Hummingbird moth caterpillars should not be confused with the plant-damaging tomato hornworm or tobacco hornworm, which are the larval forms of the five-spotted hawkmoth and tobacco hawk moth respectively.

The eggs of hummingbird moths are tiny, round, and glossy pale green in color. The chrysalises of most species have a glossy surface.

Hummingbird Moth Habitat

Hummingbird moths occur in a wide variety of habitats, but are most commonly found in meadows, cultivated gardens and suburban areas.

Behavior

Unlike most moths, hummingbird moths tend to be most active either during the daylight hours or around dusk. June and August are often peak months for activity.

Some hummingbird moth species, including the hummingbird clearwing, are migratory.

Movement

Hummingbird moths are agile fliers; they are able to hover in the air in one spot as well as fly backwards and sideways. Their rapid wing movements make a humming sound much like that made by hummingbirds.

Hummingbird Moth Life Cycle

hummingbird hawk moth pupa
Hummingbird hawk moth pupa. Photo: A. M. Liosi (cropped by ActiveWild.com) [CC BY-SA 2.5]
Like all butterflies and moths, a hummingbird moth goes through four developmental stages during its life: egg, larva, pupa and imago (adult).

Hummingbird moths breed during the summer. The female produces pheromones to attract a male, and after mating, she finds a suitable host plant on which to lay her eggs. The eggs are usually deposited on the underside of a leaf.

After hatching, the caterpillars feed until they reach their full size (usually within a couple of weeks). They then make their way to the ground where they pupate, forming a cocoon under leaf litter or buried in the soil.

In colder areas, a single generation is produced each year; in warmer areas, two or three generations may be produced in a year.

Depending on the species, an adult hummingbird moth may live as long as seven months or as little as three weeks.

What Do Hummingbird Moths Eat?

Hummingbird moths feed on nectar, often seeking out the same long-necked flowers as hummingbirds.

The moths are particularly attracted to plants in the honeysuckle family, including viburnum and snowberry. They also feed on the nectar of flowers such as horse mint, beebalm, phlox, verbena, dogbane, cardinal, red valerian, salvia, and buddleia (butterfly bush).

The caterpillars eat leaves and are more restricted in their choice of diet than the adult moths. The primary host plants are hawthorns, cherries, honeysuckles, snowberries, teasels and dogbane.

Are Hummingbird Moths Endangered?

None of the hummingbird moth species have been listed by the IUCN as endangered. However, some species may be in decline locally. For example, the slender clearwing (H. Gracilis) is considered threatened in Connecticut.


Hummingbird Moths Found In North America

Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe)

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth
Hummingbird clearwing moth in Virginia. Photo: Judy Gallagher (cropped by ActiveWild.com) [CC BY 2.0]
The hummingbird clearwing is a species of hummingbird moth found in the United States and Canada. It is found in Alaska, across Canada, and throughout the eastern United States to Texas and Florida.

The species typically has an olive green head and thorax, burgundy abdomen, and pale undersides, although colors vary between individuals.

The wings have clear central panels and brown / burgundy / olive green edges. The species’ wingspan is 4 – 5.5 cm (1.6 – 2.2 in)

The hummingbird clearwing can be differentiated from the snowberry clearwing by its pale yellow legs, and by the lack of banding on the side of the thorax.


Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Snowberry Clearwing Moth. Photo: Melissa McMasters (cropped by ActiveWild.com) [CC BY 2.0]
The snowberry clearwing is named after the snowberry plants on which the caterpillar feeds. The snowberry clearwing’s coloration varies from individual to individual, but the thorax is typically gold or olive-gold, and the abdomen black with one or two yellow / gold segments near the end.

The gold / black coloration of the snowberry clearwing means that it can easily be mistaken for a bumblebee.

The species if most abundant in the Eastern United States and the southeast of Canada, although it has been seen both in California and Alberta, Canada.

The snowberry clearwing can be distinguished from the hummingbird clearwing by the black stripe that stretches from the insect’s head, across the eye and under the wings on the thorax, and by its black legs.


Slender Clearwing / Graceful Clearwing (Hemaris gracilis)

Slender clearwing
Slender clearwing. Photo: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London (cropped by ActiveWild.com) [CC BY 3.0]
The slender clearwing is very similar to the hummingbird clearwing, having an olive head and thorax and burgundy abdomen.

The slender clearwing can be identified by the thin white band around the abdomen where it meets the thorax; the red-brown stripe running along the side of the thorax from behind the eye and under the wings to the abdomen; and the red-brown color of the upper surface of its legs.

The species is mainly found in the eastern United States.


Rocky Mountain Clearwing / California Clearwing (Hemaris thetis)

Rocky Mountain clearwing
Photo: Robert Young (cropped by ActiveWild.com) [CC BY 3.0]
As its name suggests, the Rocky Mountain clearwing is found in the western United States. Its range stretches from southwest Canada to northwest Mexico.

The species’ coloration is varied, but typically the head and thorax are olive-green and the abdomen is black with one or more adjacent yellow / gold segments.


White-Lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata)

White-lined sphinx moths
Hummingbird moths / white lined sphinx moths on showy milkweed at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming.

With a wingspan of between 2 and 3 inches, the adult white-lined sphinx is larger than the hummingbird moths of genus Hemaris found in the United States. It is also more likely to be seen flying at dusk and during the night than the day-flying clearwings.

The species’ long forewings are dark brown and black, with a white central stripe and several thinner cross-stripes. The hindwings are black with a wide pink central stripe. The abdomen is marked with several white and black stripes.

The white-lined sphinx is found throughout the United States as well as in southern Canada and Central America.


Other Hummingbird Moths

Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

Hummingbird hawk moth
Hummingbird hawk moth in Bulgaria. Photo: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
The hummingbird hawk-moth is a sphinx moth found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is similar in appearance to hummingbird moths (although it does not have clear wings), but is not in the genus Hemaris.

In the UK the hummingbird hawk moth is seen from late spring to early autumn. It has orange-brown wings, grey head and thorax, and black abdomen with white patches. The undersides of the head and thorax are white / grey. The wingspan ranges from 50 to 58 mm.

As its name suggests, the hummingbird hawk moth resembles a hummingbird when foraging, as it hovers, and darts sideways and backwards as it flies from flower to flower. Like the hummingbird moths of genus Hemaris, it also makes a humming sound when flying.


Discover More At Active Wild

2 thoughts on “Hummingbird Moth Facts: Discover The Amazing Moths That Look (And Sound) Like Hummingbirds!”

  1. I’m not at all sure what I saw, but it flew and sounded a lot like a hummingbird. I was sitting up in my bed watching tv, when this weird thing buzzed into my room and continued flying, somewhat slowly, across the room to the corner where I have stacked wooden cubes. It didn’t pay any attention to me. It scared me. It looked as if as a baseball from behind, wings were mainly brown with black markings and a large red area in the middle of its lower body just under the wings. The wing span looked approx 3 inches wide, at least, and the wings looked connected in the middle of its back and not at the sides of its body. The body looked about 4 inches long. I didn’t see the front of it at allIt seemed to know where it was going. I had moved in November with one extra large box of clothes and shoes that had been in storage. I know it wasn’t here when I moved in. I’m sorry, I haven’t seen it again, but I’ll try to get a picture or video, before I call pest control. It did look much bigger than any of the pictures I looked at, but the description fit, for the back side. Please let me know if there are any larger moths like this. Thank you,
    Linda

    Reply
    • Hi Linda,

      Thank you for your comment. Your mystery animal sounds too big to be a moth, so we strongly suspect that it was a hummingbird. We don’t know of any other larger moths that can hover in this way.
      Hopefully if it appears again you’ll be able to get a look at the front to see whether or not it has a bill.

      Regards,

      The Active Wild Team

      Reply

Leave a Comment