What is the significance of a hummingbird clear-wing moth?

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pacorz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hemaris thysbe, the Hummingbird Clearwing moth, is a fascinating species of moth that can be found across Canada and much of the US. Other Hemaris clearwing species also exist in various parts of North America. Hummingbird moths are large moths which employ exceptionally rapid wingbeats, so they can hover like a hummingbird; like the birds, they feed on nectar from flowers. This is an example of convergent evolution; hummingbirds and hummingbird moths are not related, but they both have evolved similar diets and flight mechanisms in order to feed on the same resource.

Clearwing moths do not have clear wings when they first emerge from the cocoon. Their wings are covered in tiny scales, just like other moths. However soon after they take flight the scales begin to fall off, leaving behind only the clear proteins that form the basic structure of the wings. This makes the moth's wings nearly impossible to see in flight, and is probably a predator avoidance mechanism.

While this moth is interesting to watch, the caterpillars, commonly known as hornworms, can be a problem to gardeners. Hornworms are very large caterpillars, and they have enormous appetites. They like to consume plants in the nightshade family, including tomato and potato plants,which most insects won't touch. A few hornworms can strip the leaves off a whole garden full of potato or tomato plants in just a few days.

The links below will give you more information and also some excellent photographs of all the life stages of this moth and its near relatives.


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