8-14 August 2000

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In nature, things are not always what they appear to be, and here at Hilton Pond Center we frequently get phone calls in late summer from folks who swear they've been watching miniature hummingbirds feeding on backyard flowers. At first, most callers sound incredulous with our response, but we're usually able to convince them what they actually saw were insects--not hummingbirds!

Although it might indeed seem hard to believe, there are several species of sphinx moths (Sphingidae) that look and behave very much like hummingbirds. These moths, called "clearwings" or "hummingbird moths," are unusual in that their wings lack scales and are mostly transparent. Hummingbird moths flap their wings rapidly and can hover just like a hummingbird, sipping nectar from a wide variety of native and exotic plants. These moths are also unusual in that they are diurnal, so we humans can observe them feeding on flowering plants during daylight hours.

Illustrated above and below is the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), which has small structures on the sides of its abdomen that resemble a hummingbird's flared tail. To make the masquerade even more complete, when the moth uncoils its proboscis to feed on nectar, it looks very much like the long straight bill of the hummingbird. It's no wonder observers sometimes confuse hummingbird moths with their namesakes, the hummingbirds.

All photos © Hilton Pond Center

Plus the following species not pictured
(or pictured on other weekly pages):

Ruby-throated Hummingbird*
Eastern Phoebe*
Red-eyed Vireo*
House Finch*
Tufted Titmouse*

*including at least one recent fledgling

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.