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What Kind of Moth Was That?

Jeffrey Hahn, Asst. Extension Entomologist

Terry Straub

Photo 1: Hummingbird moth (hummingbird clearwing)

There has been a variety of curiosity questions received recently about interesting moths. Several people have reported seeing hummingbird moths (also called hummingbird clearwing), Hemaris thysbe and/or bumble bee moths (also called snowberry clearwings), H. diffinis, in their gardens. These moths, a type of sphinx moth, are daytime flyers. They have relatively small, stout bodies and their wings are mostly clear, lacking scales on them. They fly like hummingbirds, deftly hovering and flying around flowers as they visit blossoms for nectar. 

You can distinguish between them as hummingbird moths are little larger with a wingspan of about two inches. They have a yellowish body and the borders and veins of the wings are reddish brown. Bumble bee moths are a little smaller with an average wingspan of about 1 ½ inches. They have a yellow and black body with black veins and a narrow black band on the edge of the wings.

Another sphinx moth that has been noticed lately is the whitelined sphinx moth. It is a large moth with a wingspan between 2 and 3 ½ inches. The first pair of wings are dark colored with a large white stripe running from the wingtip diagonally to the base of the wing and six smaller white lines crossing it. The second pair of wings is dark with a pinkish band. This moth is active at dusk as well as at night. It also flies around flowers like a hummingbird.

Terry Curtis

Photo 2: Whitelined sphinx moth

Later their larvae may be found in gardens feeding on evening primrose, grape, plants in the Rosaceae (rose family), and other herbs and woody plants. This caterpillar grows to be as large as three inches long with a distinctive horn on the end of its body. Most are green with black stripes and yellow and orange markings, although some are mostly black with some greenish yellow. 

Two giant silkworm moths may be seen now. Both species overwintered as cocoons and started to emerge during late spring. The cecropia moth is reddish brown with a wingspan of five to six inches. The polyphemus moth is a brown moth with a large blue and yellow eyespot on each hind wing. They will produce caterpillars that will become large and conspicuous by late summer and early fall as they feed on the leaves of a variety of hardwood trees.

The cecropia caterpillar grows up to 4 inches long. It is light green with a double row of reddish orange knobs (turbercles) on the thorax behind its head. There are also series of smaller yellow and blue knobs (turbercles) on the abdomen. The

Jeff Hahn

Photo 3: Cecropia moth

polyphemus caterpillar grows to be about 3 1/2 inches long when fully grown. It is a pale green with sparse long hairs along the top and sides of the abdomen. 

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