Snowberry Clearwing Moth

In the orange and yellow flowers of a big lantana bush, a fuzzy black and yellow insect flew on humming wings from one orange bloom to another. It looked like a long bumblebee – but hovered and whirred like a hummingbird.  

It was a kind of hummingbird moth – a Snowberry Clearwing – that I found today in a neighbor’s lantana, along with four floaty Tiger Swallowtails, lots of smaller Fiery Skippers, a few dark Common Sootywings, one burning-orange Gulf Fritillary, and one Long-tailed Skipper. 

It was a very hot, sunny morning with a denim-blue sky and almost no clouds at all, only smudges and streaks here and there. The forecast was a high in the mid 90s, with a heat index well over 100. Cicadas already sang loudly, and Mourning Doves cooed. Three Mississippi Kites were circling overhead, long gray wings and white heads glinting in the sun. Their high pee-too calls drifted down. 

The Snowberry Clearwing made its way from bloom to bloom, wings whirring. It did not seem to linger long at most of the flowers, but went from one to another, steadily moving through the large bush. It’s a fascinating creature, unusual and fun to watch, with its long black and yellow body and face, a tawny-gold upper back and head, the face with bright white patterns, and transparent wings that whir too fast to see as it moves. One of its common names is “flying lobster,” and it’s easy to see why. The black and yellow body looks furry or fuzzy, like a bumblebee – but is long in shape like a lobster, with a tip of the tail that fans out. 

It surprised me by settling on a green leaf, folding its transparent wings and becoming very still. Now it looked like a moth – a moth with clear wings traced with dark patterns. For several minutes more I stayed, watching the butterflies and waiting to see if it would fly again. The moth remained very still on the leaf, and after a while I walked on, leaving it to bask in the sun. 

Several different species of moths are commonly called “hummingbird moths” because of their large size and because they look so much like hummingbirds as they hover in the air to sip nectar from flowers. While most moths are active at night, a few species are active during the day, including the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), which gets its somewhat-misleading name from one of its main host plants. The other most common species is a Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), which is more red in color, instead of yellow and black.  

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