Hum­ming along: The most beautiful moth

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Sharon Mof­fat

Spend­ing time in the gar­den is al­ways a won­der­ful way to en­joy na­ture and very oc­ca­sion­ally one may be for­tu­nate enough to spot one of our more dra­matic and beautiful moths, the hum­ming­bird moth. Sim­i­lar in size to their name­sake birds they can also be found hov­er­ing at flow­ers when feed­ing on the nec­tar with their ex­tended pro­boscis. Un­like most moths, their wings are quite nar­row and they are some of the fastest fly­ing in­sects around. While the ma­jor­ity of moths fly about dur­ing the night­time, hum­ming­bird moths are day­time fliers. Also like hum­ming­birds, they beat their wings very rapidly which adds to the like­li­hood of mis­tak­ing them for the birds they are so aptly named af­ter.

Hum­ming­bird moths are in the Sph­ingi­dae fam­ily of moths which in­cludes var­i­ous species of sphinx and hawk moths. These very large moth species are al­ways a treat to en­counter, un­less of course you’re not a fan of moths.

The cater­pil­lars of hum­ming­bird moths are also very large and find­ing one in the gar­den can be startling. Typ­i­cally, the cater­pil­lars are a bright green, thick-bod­ied and a few inches in size; about the size of an adult’s finger. Smooth with only a few scat­tered hairs, they can be fur­ther dis­tin­guished by what’s re­ferred to as a horn at the top end of their body, re­sult­ing in the cater­pil­lars be­ing called horn­worms. While this horn can ap­pear dan­ger­ous, it is not and is usu­ally softer than it looks. Most of­ten the cater­pil­lars are first no­ticed when they are look­ing for a place to pu­pate in the fall. At that time they typ­i­cally fall to the ground and crawl to a suit­able spot which is usu­ally un­der leaf lit­ter or just be­low the sur­face of the soil. In Canada, there is most of­ten only one gen­er­a­tion per year. It is the pu­pal stage that over-

Hum­ming­bird moths, so named be­cause they share the abil­ity to hover in the air like hum­ming­birds.

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