Snowberry Clearwing Moth – Hemaris diffinis

Snowberry Clearwing Moth – Hemaris diffinis
Family Sphingidae — hawk moths, hornworms, sphinx moths
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Live adult moths photographed in the wild at Winfield, Illinois, USA.

I love these moths – they are as much fun to watch as hummingbirds, and more plentiful to boot. They don't sting or bite or crawl around on poop or carrion – thoroughly engaging!

I was in great luck to find this mated pair, these moths do not normally hold still for anything. Wing detail photo shows the completely clear discal cell at the leading edge of the forewing – one indicator for this species. These large hawk moths are diurnal, that is, active during the day; they are most often seen nectaring at flowers. They hover and dart about, flying both backward and forward just like hummingbirds, but I'm convinced they are really mimicking bumblebees. Any time you see these moths nectaring, they are invariably in company of (and usually vastly outnumbered by) hoards of bumblebees.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Snowberry Clearwing takes nectar at Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa.
These moths hover at flowers and locate and stabilize their flight by resting their front legs on the flower blossom.
Hummingbird Clearwing
See also Hummingbird Clearwing

Snowberry clearwing moth
Male Snowberry Clearwing Moth holds his front legs folded alongside his head, much as brushfoot butterflies and other insects

Adult sphinx moths are medium to large moths with wingspans ranging from about 1.25 inches to 4.75 inches. The snowberry clearwing is one of the smallest moths in this group, while the five-spotted hawk moth is one of the largest. Its larva is the familiar tomato hornworm. The Carolina sphinx, whose larva is known as the tobacco hornworm, weighs only one to two grams, but it flaps its wings an astonishing 25 to 30 beats per second. Some sphinx moths have been clocked at speeds as high as 30 mph.

Sphinx moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds and bumblebees because of their similarities in size, foraging behavior and feeding structures. Many sphinx moths are nocturnal, but several species are diurnal, meaning they are active during the daytime when hummingbirds and bumblebees are also foraging. Adult sphinx moths have a long, straw-like "tongue," called the proboscis, which they keep curled under the head. They use it to suck nectar from the flower. The nectar is rich in sugar, which fuels the energy required for hovering. Hummingbirds also have a long tongue to lap up nectar.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth wings
Clear discal cell of forewing is one diagnostic of Hemaris diffinis.

Moths, including sphinx moths, pollinate many species of plants. Moth-pollinated flowers tend to have a strong, sweet scent and are white or pale in color. Gardens planted with these flowers may attract several kinds of sphinx moths, including the hummingbird and bumblebee mimics. While eating the nectar of a flower, moths receive a dusting of pollen by brushing against anthers, which produce pollen. Their fuzzy bodies are excellent pollen carriers. As a moth sips nectar from another flower of the same species, it transfers pollen from the previous plant. This cross-pollination is necessary for many species of plants to produce seeds.

I find these engaging creatures extremely interesting and fun to watch. They are wary and difficult to approach. A good digital point-and-shoot camera with an external flash synch is invaluable in photographing these fast-moving insects. I've taken many hundreds of failed photos to get these few good shots! The large picture of the moth hovering was taken with a Canon Digital Rebel XS DSLR.

Order Lepidoptera: Moths. Unlike the butterflies, moths are usually nocturnal. Many moths and their caterpillars are major agricultural pests in large parts of the world. Moths in the family Tineidae are commonly regarded as pests because their larvae eat fabrics, clothes and blankets made from natural fibers such as wool or silk. Moths in the genus Farinalis feed on stored grain, flour, corn meal and other milled grain products.
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