The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 13, 2002


Biodiversity Corner Hummingbird clearwing moth

Name: Hemaris thysbe, Hummingbird moth, Hummingbird clearwing, sometimes called a hawkmoth, member of the sphinx moth family (Sphingidae).

When and where seen: Reported by Nancy Weiss where she has seen it visiting the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) in her garden on Brook Street on many occasions throughout August, mostly in the afternoons.

Identification: The adult moth is a daytime feeder and is most easily identified by its feeding behavior. It hovers over flowers as it sips nectar with its long proboscis and from a distance you may think that it is a hummingbird. It may allow you to get very close and make a detailed observation. It has a wingspan of 1 to 2 inches. Each wing is transparent with a reddish brown border. When the moth first emerges from its cocoon, the central part of the wings are covered with loosely-attached scales which soon fall off to give the 'clearwing' appearance. Like many moths, the body is furry. The olive-green color of the thorax merges into a rusty-brown or reddish color on the abdomen. Sometimes the end of the abdomen appears spread like a lobster tail.

Lookalike: The Snowberry clearwing moth is a close relative of the Hummingbird clearwing but is smaller and looks more like a large bumblebee.

Life Stages: The caterpillars hatch from pale green eggs laid on the underside of leaves where they feed until they form thin-walled cocoons at the soil surface. The caterpillars are green and have a prominent horn on the tail like the tomato hornworm (also a member of the Sphinx moth family). In Canada, there is a single brood per year; in New England two broods; and in the south there may be up to six broods at 30-day intervals. The species overwinters in the cocoon stage. In New England it may hatch as early as May. The second brood can be seen as late as September.

Food: The caterpillars feed on honeysuckle, snowberry, hawthorns, cherry trees, plum trees and viburnum. The adults sip nectar from a wide variety of flowers including red clover, lilac, phlox, honeysuckle, beebalm and butterfly bush.

Habitat: Woodland edges, clearings, meadows, and flower gardens. You can attract it to your garden by planting both the caterpillar and adult food plants. In Nancy's garden, the adult shows a strong preference for the Buddleia. Its range covers most of the US (except the southwest quadrant), and extends up into Canada and Alaska.

References: Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Insects and Spiders; the web site for animal diversity at the U of Michigan at http://animaldiversity. (enter hemaris in the search window).

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Please feel free to write up a species that interests you. The only requirements are that it exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. If you have a mystery species and want help with identification, send a photo and some field notes to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito