Tuesday, September 7, 2010


An email from a Museum friend recently stated, “I was talking with a neighbor/friend of mine tonight about this weird bird/bug I saw in my hanging flower baskets last night. Further research proved it to be a white-lined sphinx moth! It looked so much like a hummingbird, but yet not...I just had to find out what it was.” Late summer often brings this sphinx moth around our flowers, and it can often be mistaken for a hummingbird. Another species that has similar characteristics is the hummingbird moth. Both are beautiful insects to be enjoyed this time of year as they flutter furiously about our flower gardens.

The white-lined sphinx moth has white streaks along its upper forewing and body, from which it gets its name. Adults fly mostly at dusk and dawn, but also sometimes during the day. Their wingspan can be as much as five inches, and with their rapidly beating wings, on a quick glance can be confused with hummingbirds. They feed on a large variety of flower nectar including fuchsia, bouncing bet, evening primrose, petunias and thistles.

The second hummingbird mimic is the hummingbird moth. It is much smaller than the white-lined sphinx moth, with an olive to yellow body coloring, red bands across the abdomen, and mostly clear wings. Their body really seems to mimic similar coloring as the hummingbird. These moths fly during the day, hovering at flowers as they sip nectar. Adults prefer a wide variety of flower nectar including bee balm, phlox, vetch, and thistles.

Both of these “hummingbird moths” are to be thanked for their contributions as pollinators. The caterpillars of both species are also very interesting to find and observe. It is worth some time waiting and watching for these two moth species as they travel into your own back yards.

For over 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and new exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Post your own stories on the Nature Watch blog at cablemuseumnaturewatch.blogspot.com.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your recent article on the sphinx moth. Coincidentally, my sister recently sent me a story which I would like to share. She has 2 young kids, ages 6 and 8.

    Emma and I were outside at dusk putting away chickens, and a sphinx moth was visiting the petunias. I yelled for Emma to come, and we watched it for at least 3 minutes with it’s super long tongue probing every single flower. First time Emma had ever seen one.

    She ran into the house “DYLAN! DYLAN! I JUST SAW A (pause) SSHH FFFF SHHH FFFF (pause) really big moth!” ;)