Snowberry Clearwing moths

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Because of its coloring, the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) is often mistaken for a bumblebee, but it is actually a sphinx moth. The color pattern (and mistaken identity) is no accident; many of nature’s harmless insects imitate more dangerous ones, hoping to trick predators into leaving them alone. But Snowberry Clearwings do not and cannot sting.

Snowberry Clearwing moths are often mistaken for bumblebees because of their coloring. 

I was in the yard this afternoon and noticed several of these moths feeding on my Monarda fistulosa and agastache. They seem to prefer the same tubular flowers that hummingbirds love, so I often see them on my beebalm, four o’clocks, autumn sage, garden phlox, and even petunias. Other potential food sources include thistle, orange hawkweed, and lilacs.

It is not unusual to see them during the day, but I’ve rarely seen so many at once. They are very fun to watch flitting from flower to flower, hovering as they feed like miniature hummingbirds. Their proboscises are impossibly long. I was even able to get good pictures of them, a first for me!

Look at that proboscis! Also, you can see where the “clear-wing” part of their name originates.

You’re likely to find Snowberry Clearwings in gardens east of the continental divide in the U.S., although they becomes less common as you go west. They can be found in Canada, as well, but I’m unsure of their range there.

Snowberry Clearwings are sometimes called a hummingbird moth because they feed while flying, like a hummingbird.

In the south, it’s not unusual to get two broods a year, while up north there is typically only one. There were so many in my yard today, I wonder if I had a recent hatching.

The larvae feed on snowberry (Symphoricarpos, from which it gets its name), dogbane (Apocynum), honeysuckle (Lonicera), and dwarf bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera). Caterpillars pupate in cocoons nested in leaf litter. Caterpillars are green with a single horn on the end.

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