Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


June 2010 cover image 12 Out on the Pier

Wild Thing: The Enigma of the Clearwing Moth

Clearwing moths can act like hummingbirds or bumblebees.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Two summers ago, a strange little UFO whirred around a bushy Texas lantana in our yard. Perplexed, I watched as the winged enigma darted from flower to flower, pausing to unfurl its long tongue into each cluster of orange-and-yellow petals. Acts like a hummingbird, looks like a bumblebee, I mused to myself.

Further investigation solved the mystery. Turns out, the snowberry clearwing moth confuses many observers like me. Fittingly, Hemaris diffinis belongs to the Sphingidae family, commonly called hummingbird, sphinx or hawk moths. Of the four North American clearwing species, two live in Texas. Our visitor — the snowberry clearwing, golden colored with a black-banded abdomen and black legs — mimics a bumblebee.

Photo by Bill Beatty

Slightly larger, a hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) is distinguished by a burgundy abdomen and yellowish legs.

From spring through summer, both species feed by day on the nectar of lantanas, honeysuckle, thistles and other flowers. After mating, females deposit green eggs on the underside of host plant leaves. Like many butterflies and moths, snowberry clearwings are named for their primary host plant — snowberry, a shrub in the honeysuckle family.

The tiny horn caterpillars — bright green with a harmless spike on their rear end — chow down until they’re grown, then drop to the ground, where they spin a cocoon and pupate over winter.

Come spring, adult moths emerge, their wings fully dressed with scales. Soon after taking flight, however, their rapid wing beats fling many of those scales off, leaving cool transparent patches or “clearwings,” the other common name for the moths.

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