The Hummingbird moth earns its name from its ability to feed from flowers like a hummingbird. They also resemble a cross between a small bird, complete with the fur and colorings of a common bumblebee when mature. Their wings are an incredible, intricate display of beauty and power, and can hold them in flight for as long as is required to feed. When they are born, they are the largest caterpillar found in Colorado, and they are generally a very large creature relative to their adulthood size.
There are currently seventeen known species of hummingbird moths, most of which frequent America, with one separate species known to be native Britain. They are commonly mistaken for hummingbirds, despite their distinct golden yellow and black colors. They also take the common names hawk moth and sphinx moth, and for the most part, they are harmless. As with any flying insect, the Hummingbird moth can become a pest when they overpopulate, or when larvae eat plants or wildlife. They reproduce and can populate entire gardens with large caterpillars, particularly in Colorado.
Hummingbird Moth Identification
The hummingbird moth is not readily identifiable due to its likeness to so many other creatures, including several other types within its own genus and other common flying animals. Hummingbird moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds, over-sized bees, and even birds due to their long wingspan and ability to hover and fly with grace. They are sometimes found in the garden, near trees or flowers and can be sighted most frequently during feeding when they hover by their food source in mid air. However, they are not usually seen during the day.
The caterpillars, from which hummingbird moths start their lives, may be easier to identify than their adult counterparts. They come in two unique colors which share the same size and body shape. They are a thick, short caterpillar and grow up to two inches long. These are largely known as tobacco hornworms, which are usually a dark, muddy brown color. Tomato hornworms however, are a bright, tomato green and have a dark green “horn”.
If you are unsure if you have seen a hummingbird moth, and have no signs of caterpillars, it is advised to try and take photographs during feeding and seek professional assistance, as they are a specific creature, difficult to identify.
Hummingbird Moth Habitat
The tobacco hornworms are much more common in gardens, but both the tobacco and tomato hornworms will grow to mature as a hummingbird moth. There are over two dozen known species of hummingbird moths in Colorado, and they are a common pest to those who live in the area. They may also extend their reach to neighboring states by way of flight, and are found less frequently throughout the rest of America.
Hummingbird moths require a water source, flowers to feed from and prefer warm climates, but can survive a variety of environments. They seek out areas of quiet solitude to help protect their young, who are defenseless for the first few months of their lives. They are active at night and are rarely ever seen by humans (unless you know where to look). Most daylight sightings are on cloudy or overcast afternoons, and the Hummingbird moth is commonly misidentified as a hummingbird; not a hummingbird moth.
Life Cycle of Hummingbird Moth
The hummingbird moth is, in fact, a moth, despite its name suggesting otherwise. Females produce an egg, which hatches into a larvae, much like any other moth. The eggs can take up to thirty days to complete development, and once the larvae is born, they may become a pest due to their frequent need for food.
Much like other moths, the hummingbird moth larvae undergo several insar periods in which they feed, shed their skin, and grow rapidly towards maturity. This is an important phase, but one which can cause problems in the garden. Mothers do not typically stay with their young and will place the responsibility of reaching maturity on their larvae.
Once a hummingbird moth matures, they have fully-formed wings and the ability to fly and to hover. It is only at this point that the insects gain their unique adult appearance and become sexually active. Common to most insects, male moths are usually slightly larger than the females. They will live for up to two years once they have reached maturity.
Hummingbird Moth and Humans
Many people are not aware of these creatures; they are hard to spot and very rarely willingly come into contact with people. They have a relatively small geographical location, and are most significant to Colorado. Many residents may not see these flying pests unless they are out at night, or after dusk. The white-lined sphinx is the most common hummingbird moth sighted but is usually mistaken for a hummingbird.
Hummingbird moths do not pose any real threat but may become a problem in the garden, where large numbers can become undesirable to plant life. In the adult stages, they do not cause problems directly to plants or flowers. They receive their pest status from their larvae stages, when they require vast amounts of regular food and can damage yard and garden plant life at these times.
By encouraging their existence, you may create a cycle of reproduction which will incur repeated damage to your garden and unmanageable population levels which may cause other problems in or around your home. They are an unusual creature and many people do not mind one or two sightings on occasion. Hummingbird moths have no known bite, sting or other undesirable effects to humans.
Hummingbird Moth Control
It is advised to treat during the early stages of a hummingbird moth’s life-cycle, when they are in their caterpillar stages and are unable to fly. This increases your chances of them coming into contact with any control treatments applied. It is noted, however, that the caterpillars are highly difficult to spot due to their camouflage; a keen eye is required.
Typically, insecticides are recommend and will be labeled for general use on caterpillars or broad range larvae. You should monitor the areas in your garden for areas that have higher populations. It is also important to ensure that the products used will not destroy plant life or flowers. You may also want to consider treating your garden each springtime as a preventative measure.
Adult Hummingbird moth populations may be controlled using a zapper light, which lures the moths with a bright light and zaps them with electricity. This can be sufficient for low, or occasional sightings, established by spending a few hours in your yard after dusk to monitor the levels of adult populations.
Hummingbird moths are generally considered an easily managed pest and very rarely require professional assistance.
Hummingbird Moth Entomology
Hummingbird moths belong to the animalia kingdom and are arthropoda. They are classed as insecta, or insect, and belong to the lepidoptera order. They are apart of the Sphingidae family which shares the macrogossum genus specific to the M. stellatarum species.
They are significant to Colorado, where more than two dozen variations exist and are also native to America, with one further species sighted in Britain. They have a traditional life-cycle of a moth but in adulthood, may resemble a hummingbird due to its ability to flutter and feed from flowers.