Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hummingbird Clearwings

A couple of weeks ago I walked through the largest patch of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) that I’ve ever seen – it covered well over two acres of an old field that’s gradually reverting to forest. Wild bergamot is a lavender flowering species in the same genus as the more familiar bergamot called “bee balm” or “Oswego tea”.

Flying rapidly from flower to flower was what at first glance could easily be mistaken for a hummingbird. But it wasn’t, it was actually an insect – a hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe).

Except for three other closely related species, hummingbird clearwings are unlike any other moth. Most obviously, they fly by day sipping nectar from a wide variety of flowers.

The second obvious feature of these moths is their transparent wings; the center portion of both the forewings and hind wings is transparent. So much so that details of objects behind the wings can be clearly distinguished.

As they fly, their long proboscis is coiled, but it’s extended as they approach a flower.

They spend only a second or two with their proboscis inserted into any individual flower, then move on to another.

The hummingbird clearwing moth is about half the size of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that feed on the nectar of many of the same species of flowers. The large patch of wild bergamot in this old field had attracted numerous hummingbird clearwings that flew so rapidly from flower to flower that it was difficult to get a decent photograph.


Essen Girl said...

These photos are incredible! Your best work yet!

Woody Meristem said...