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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hover and Hum of the Hummingbird Moth

For children, a love for their natural world all begins with those moments of wonder that spark their interest for more. Those memories of receiving a hands-on education of the environment that stirs and intrigues their curiosity. Wonderful for any child is to feel one with this miraculous web of life we are privileged to be a part of.  To visually study the colors and patterns, t
o smell the aromatics of the flowers, to taste the bitter grass, to hear the rustling wind and touch anything they can. 

Such moments to cherish are the first sightings of the sphinx or hummingbird moth. First, you may hear the humming of the sings as they whirl past you at speeds that can go up to 30 mph. With a laugh you and your child may play the guessing game of, Was it a bee? Was it a dragonfly? Was it a bird? Was it a hummingbird?

The hummingbird clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe, also called sphinx or hawk moth, has several similarities to the hummingbird, but they are not related. They have the same wingspan, both pollinate flowers and sip nectar, and both can fly forwards, backwards and hover in place. However, the hummingbird moth doesn't have a beak and tongue, but uses a proboscis, and is not a bird, but a six legged insect. These moths feed by hovering in front of a flower to sip nectar through the extended proboscis, which then rolls up like a party noisemaker when not in use

Common in the eastern U.S. and Canada, these moths are members of the sphinx moth family. It gets its family name from the way the caterpillars pull up their front ends like a sphinx pose when disturbed. Most sphinx moths are out at night to feed, the hummingbird moths are often seen in broad daylight. Gardeners don't have to plant special flowers to attract the adults, but the larvae do require specific host plants for food. The honeysuckle vine, hawthorns, and shrubs in the viburnum family are preferred plants, so provide these host plants for the caterpillars if you want to see the adults..

Rather than spinning a cocoon to go through metamorphasis, they dig into the soil and blend in with the fallen leaves.  Some pupae spend the winter there, transforming into flying adults the following spring. In the southern climates, a brood is produced in the spring as well as in the fall.

Morning Glory
Deep-throated flowers such as petunias, morning glories, nicotiana, moonflowers, and 4 o'clocks are favorite food sources by all the types of sphinx moths. Plant plenty of these and you'll be treated with sightings from all types: some day-flying, some at dusk, and others during the night hours.

4 o'clocks
Children will be the caretakers of the earth in their Future. Help them to appreciate their earth in the Now.