Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird hawk moth, photo credit Charles J Sharp (2017)

Anyone not convinced that moths are every bit as beautiful or amazing as butterflies has surely never seen a hummingbird moth. It is exactly what it sounds like – a moth that looks like a hummingbird both in appearance and action. If you spot one, a first glance will likely leave you thinking you’re watching a hummingbird. It moves quickly from flower to flower, hovering over each one, then zips on to the next. In addition to hovering, it can fly forward, backward, and to the side, moving like a helicopter. Its wings beat so fast (up to 70 beats per second) they are a blur, which also creates the hum associated with hummingbirds. It may be brightly colored, too.

But if you look closely, you may begin to think again. This pollinator is smaller than a hummingbird, only 1-2 inches in length; hummingbirds, on the other hand are generally 3-4 inches long. If you’re still not convinced, look for antennae. Hummingbird moths will have two long, forward-facing antennae. And of course, there are the legs. Birds only have two and most will tuck up their legs during flight, but this insect has 6 legs that dangle beneath it as it flies.

Another thing to note about hummingbird moths is that do not have a beak. Instead, what may look like a beak is actually a long, thin tongue-like probiscis. It works like a hummingbird’s beak and allows them to get nectar out of flowers. Hummingbird moths roll this out when they are feeding and curl it up when they are not. Finally, the body type differs between bird and moth. The hummingbird moths are stouter than their avian counterparts. And, while hummingbirds have a variety of tails, these moths have short, blunt, fuzzy-looking tails. Differences aside, both the moth and the bird are fun to watch, and both are essential, effective pollinators.