Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hummingbird Clearwing

Convergent evolution at its finest - the hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) is definitely one of the coolest lepidopterans in the watershed.  I had the opportunity to photograph this individual a couple of years ago and it was amazing how much it resembled a hummingbird in its movements even in forward speed!  The clearwing is a member of the sphinx family of moths and is a close relative of the pandorus sphinx I highlighted a couple of weeks ago.

The hummingbird clearwing mimics its avian counterpart by
hovering from flower to flower imbibing nectar.  Hawthorn, wild
cherry and Japanese honeysuckle are good host plants for
clearwing caterpillar instars but the adults will visit a variety
of wildflowers including beebalm, thistles, lilac and in this case
spring rockets.

The distinct segmentation in the clearwing's thorax ensures it is not
an actual hummingbird.  This speicimen spans about 3 inches
from one wingtip to the other.  It's interesting how even the dark
green back mimics the ruby throated hummingbird male also native
to the Captina watershed. 

This moths wings beat an astounding 30-35 times per second and
it is always on the move making photography tricky.  Check out
the extended feeding tube probing the flower.  Adults usually
emerge from mid-June to mid-July in our area.  The next time you
see a hummingbird browsing through your flower garden take a closer
look and you may be surprised.


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