Hummingbird Hawk-Moth Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Macroglossum stellatarum
Hummingbird Hawk-Moth Conservation Status
Hummingbird Hawk-Moth Facts
- Most Distinctive Feature
- Like hummingbirds, they can sustain flight for long periods of time and hover in one place as they eat.
- Distinctive Feature
- The hindwings are orange, one of the easiest ways to identify them among other animals with similar behavior.
- 1.6 – 1.8 inch
- Favorite Food
- Honeysuckle and red valerian
Hummingbird Hawk-Moth Physical Characteristics
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If you spot an odd-looking hummingbird, you may actually be looking at the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth!
These moths are named for their feeding habits, so similar to those of hummingbirds that it is easy to mistake one for the other at first glance. Like hummingbirds, these moths hover near flowers to feed on the nectar. Learn all about what makes Hummingbird Hawk Moths unique and how to recognize them in the wild.
Scientific Name and Species
There are only one species of Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, known in the scientific community as Macroglossum stellatarum. These moths belong to the Sphingidae family, also known as sphinx moths or hawk moths.
All moths, including the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, belong to the Lepidoptera order. This order includes both moths and butterflies. There are some key differences between moths, which tend to be drab and brown in color, and butterflies, often brightly colored. Moths also rest with their wings around their bodies, flat against the surface. Butterflies at rest extend their folded wings behind them. When you look at a moth, you are able to see the entire wingspan while it is resting.
The Hemaris genus of moths is sometimes known as Hummingbird moths. These are different genera and species from Hummingbird Hawk-Moths. They also have a much different appearance, with clear wings rather than the mottled brown of Hummingbird Hawk-Moths. They are both parts of the Sphingidae family, however.
Researchers study the behavior and characteristics of the Sphingidae family. They refer to the entire family as hawkmoths or hornworms when in the larvae stage. This family of moths is excellent flyers. Many can sustain flight in one place to eat, similar to hummingbirds.
It is easy to mistake a Hummingbird Hawk-moth for an actual hummingbird due to their size (they have a 1.6 – 1.8 inch wingspan), feeding habits, and flight patterns. They are from different phyla and are only related because they are both parts of the animal kingdom. The fact that both developed proboscis is called convergent evolution.
Butterflies and moths are thought to have coevolved with flowering plants and echolocating bats. The most recent common ancestor of all extant Lepidoptera dates to the late Carboniferous period, approximately 300 million years ago. The nectar-feeding proboscis appeared around 240 million years ago in the Middle Triassic period – along with the diversification period of flowering plants.
Appearance: How To Identify Hummingbird Hawk-Moths
One of the first things you will notice about Hummingbird Hawk-Moths is their feeding habit. They hover around flowers and eat nectar through a proboscis, an appendage from their mouth that allows them to eat. This is one reason that they are given the Hummingbird part of their name. Other members of the Sphingidae family exhibit similar behavior.
Adult Hummingbird Hawk-Moths are brown and orange. Their forewings are brown with waves on them. Because these are the larger set of wings, the brown color helps them blend in with their environment. The hindwings are orange, one of the easiest ways to identify them among other animals with similar behavior. The back edge of their hindwings is black. These brighter colors stand out but can help them blend in with the brightly colored flower beds where they eat.
Hummingbird Hawk-moth caterpillars are yellow when they first hatch and turn green as they grow and mature. They have two stripes along their bodies that are grey and cream. They have a small protrusion, or horn, on the back end of their bodies like others in their scientific family. When you see it turn blue with an orange tip, you know that the caterpillar is about to form a cocoon and turn into a moth.
Hummingbird Hawk-Moths favor flowers with plenty of nectar. Their favorite meals are often honeysuckle and red valerian. Anywhere these flowers grow, including most of North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia attracts Hummingbird Hawk-Moths.
As long as they have a food source, these moths can live just about anywhere. In the United States, they call almost all states home. Hummingbird Hawk-Moths can live in warm climates, such as Texas or Florida. They can also thrive in areas that experience cold, such as Alaska, although they are only present when their food sources are growing. They may be seasonal in some parts of the world.
These interesting moths are also popular in zoos and other educational animal habitats. Because of their fascinating feeding habits, many viewers like to watch them and marvel at their similarity to hummingbirds. Researchers also study their flight behavior, which is similar to hummingbirds. They can sustain flight for long periods of time and hover in one place as they eat.
The feeding habits of adult Hummingbird Hawk-Moths resemble those of hummingbirds more than other moths. They use a long proboscis-like straw to suck the nectar out of flowers. Many ornamental garden flowers make great food sources for Hummingbird Hawk-Moths. For this reason, they may be a frequent visitor to your garden when flowers are in bloom.
The proboscis of hummingbird hawk-moths is longer than many other animals that may compete with them for food. This helps them with access to nectar that other birds and insects can’t get to. It rolls back into their bodies when not in use.
Hummingbird Hawk-Moths often return to the same flower beds at the same time each day to eat. They lay their eggs on or near plants with leaves that the larvae can eat after they hatch. Honeysuckle can provide food for both larvae and adult hummingbird hawk moths. The larvae eat the leaves while the adults feed on the nectar.
Prevention: How To Get Rid Of Hummingbird Hawk-Moths
Because they do not pose a threat or problem, most people are happy enough to let Hummingbird Hawk-Moths be. Similar to bees, these moths can actually help spread pollen. Because they can get far into the flower’s structure, they often pick up a lot of pollen as they eat. When they fly off, the pollen spreads to other plants, fertilizes them, and results in continued growth. This is an essential part of our ecosystem.
If you don’t want Hummingbird Hawk-Moths in a certain area, the best thing to do is to avoid growing flowering plants. Without their food source, these moths will not be interested. Once they find a flower bed with their food, they tend to return to the same areas to eat each day. If you avoid these flowers, they will look elsewhere for a meal.
We don’t recommend treating your yard or other areas to keep these moths away. Not only is it harmful to the moths, which are valuable pollinators, but it can also be hazardous for other plants, animals, pets, and even your family.
The caterpillar form can feed on the leaves of garden plants, including tomatoes. If you see them feeding, simply relocate them to another area. They have a relatively short larvae period and will turn into moths in no time. Once they are pollinators, they are actually very beneficial for the garden.View all 104 animals that start with H
Hummingbird Hawk-Moth FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are Hummingbird Hawk-Moths dangerous?
No, these moths are not dangerous to plants or animals. They do eat leaves while in their larvae stage. Once they turn into moths, they drink nectar, similar to the hummingbirds for which they are named. They are safe for humans and pets during all stages of their life cycle.
Are Hummingbird Hawk-Moths rare?
These moths are found in almost all parts of the world. As long as they have access to their food source (flowering plants such as honeysuckle), they can survive. In some areas, they are seasonal and only come out during warmer months when these flowers are in bloom. They do tend to return to the same flower beds at the same time each day. If you see Hummingbird Hawk-Moths feeding in your garden, chances are you will see those same moths again.
Do Hummingbird Hawk-Moths sting?
No, these moths do not have stingers. They do have a proboscis, a straw-like appendage that allows them to access the nectar inside flowers. These roll up when not in use. They are not dangerous or act as stingers for animals or plants.
Do Hummingbird Hawk-Moths spread pollen?
Yes! These moths are wonderful pollinators. When they eat, they collect pollen from flowers on their bodies. As they fly around, the pollen falls down to pollinate other plants. This results in new plants and growth. It also helps create fruit on existing plants.
What is the difference between a Hawk Moth and a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth?
Hummingbird Hawk-Moths are a type of hawk moth. The term hawkmoth refers to multiple species of moths in the Sphingidae family. Because the Hummingbird Hawk-Moths are some of the most well-known, some people refer to them simply as hawk moths. They are also sometimes called simply Hummingbird moths.
Do hummingbird moths eat from hummingbird feeders?
These moths do sometimes eat from hummingbird feeders. They have the same food interests so nectar in hummingbird feeders are just as appealing for hummingbird hawk-moths. They generally won’t compete with hummingbirds for food, however. If a hummingbird is eating from the feeder, a hummingbird hawk-moth will likely go somewhere else to look for food.
What is the lifecycle of a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth?
Hummingbird Hawk-Moths hatch from eggs as larvae. In this stage, they eat plant leaves to allow them to grow and mature. When they are ready to pupate, they form a silken cocoon around their body. Inside, they turn into moths. They emerge as mature adult Hummingbird Hawk-Moths and proceed to lay eggs (if they are female).
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- Butterfly Conservation, Available here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/humming-bird-hawk-moth
- Wildlife Trusts, Available here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/moths/hummingbird-hawk-moth
- PBS, Available here: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/blog/featured-creature-hummingbird-hawk-moth/
- Forestry Service Fed, Available here: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hummingbird_moth.shtml