Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Snowberry Clearwing: A Bumblebee Mimic

Our weekend neighbors put out a hummingbird feeder in their backyard a couple of weeks ago. Last weekend, they mentioned that the feeder had already attracted a bunch of "little" hummingbirds. My curiosity aroused by that remark, I spent some time late Sunday afternoon, and again Monday afternoon, sitting at their picnic table watching the feeder. I saw many bees and wasps attracted by the sweet nectar that the feeder had to offer, but no hummingbirds. The adjacent Butterfly Bushes also attracted a variety of insect life, especially several species of bees and butterflies that I wasn't familiar with. But what really attracted my attention were two very large, bumblebee-like insect that I initially thought might be hawk moths. The thorax had black-and-yellow markings like a bumblebee and it hovered at the flowers with rapidly-beating wings like a hummingbird; a long, protruding proboscis completed the hummingbird illusion. It didn't take too much Internet surfing to pin down the identify of these nectar feeders as Snowberry Clearwings (Hemaris difinnis), also known as Bumblebee Moths or Hummingbird Moths. The Snowberry Clearwing is a wide-ranging and fairly common member of the family Sphingidae, the sphinx moths (also known as hawk moths). The caterpillars of sphinx moths are known as hornworms, and a few, such as tomato and tobacco hornworms, are well-known garden pests. The Snowberry Clearwing differs from most other sphinx moths in that it has adapted to feeding during daylight hours rather than at night. A fascinating insect to have in the neighborhood!

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