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Beneficial Bugs: Hummingbird Moths

Clearwing Moths are also known as Hummingbird Moths which are native pollinators and beneficial bugs for your garden

The hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) and the snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) are prevalent in gardens throughout Groton. These moths are remarkable creatures that contribute to garden ecosystems in various ways and are a thrill to see. Both are members of the Sphingidae family, commonly known as sphinx moths or hawk moths. Despite some similarities, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

The hummingbird clearwing moth closely resembles a small hummingbird in flight, hence its name. It has a plump, olive-green body with a reddish-brown abdomen and clear wings. The wings are mostly transparent with patches of reddish-brown near the tips, giving them a distinctive appearance. These moths have a wingspan of around 1.25 to 2 inches and are found in a variety of habitats, including gardens, meadows, woodland edges, and urban areas.


With a similar overall appearance to the hummingbird clearwing moth, there are some notable differences with the snowberry clearwing moth. Its body is slimmer and more streamlined, with a pale olive-green coloration and a slightly lighter abdomen compared to the hummingbird clearwing. The snowberry’s wings are also mostly transparent, but they have more extensive patches of reddish-brown, particularly along the leading edges and near the tips. Like its counterpart, it also has a wingspan of around 1.25 to 2 inches and it inhabits a similar habitat.


Photo Credit (L to R) Hummingbird Clearwing from Birds & Blooms, Snowberry Clearwing from Focus on Natives


Beyond their hummingbird-like appearance and hovering behavior, what makes these insects so incredible is their positive impact on your garden.


Both moths are effective pollinators. While feeding on nectar from flowers, they inadvertently transfer pollen from one flower to another, aiding in the reproduction of flowering plants. With a broad range of flower preferences, these moths feed on a variety of flowering plants which helps promote plant diversity in gardens, ensuring a healthy mix of plant species. This diversity, in turn, supports a wide array of other wildlife, including birds and insects.


Unlike bees and butterflies, which are primarily active during the day, clearwing moths pollinate flowers during the evening and nighttime hours. This nocturnal pollination strategy is essential for plants that bloom at night or have flowers that remain open after dusk.


Clearwing moths, like many other moth species, are often more resilient to pesticides compared to certain bee species. While pesticides harm many pollinators, clearwing moths may be less affected due to differences in physiology and behavior. Therefore, encouraging clearwing moth populations can contribute to overall pollination efforts in areas where pesticide use is unavoidable.


As larvae, clearwing moths are voracious feeders on the leaves of various plants, especially those in the honeysuckle family. While heavy infestations can damage plants, in natural settings, they typically don't cause significant harm and can even contribute to natural pruning. Additionally, their presence can attract predators like birds and parasitoid wasps, which can help keep other pest populations in check.


You can attract these clearwing moths to your garden by planting native plants. Some options include bee balm, virburnum, liatris novae-angliae, snowberry, hawthorns, and other nectar-bearing plants.


These moths provide an excellent opportunity for educational observation in gardens. Their unique appearance, behavior, and role as pollinators can be fascinating subjects for study, helping to foster an appreciation for biodiversity and the interconnectedness of ecosystems.


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