Larry Hendrix sent me some nice photos he took in his yard of a mysterious flying thing. Although it flew like a small hummingbird it more closely resembled a large bumblebee.
Larry had been watching the insect in his yard he had never seen before. It bewildered him, so he grabbed his camera.
“It hovered at the blossoms of my lantana bush and drank eagerly,” he e-mailed. “It has repeated these visits three or four times. I am attaching several pictures. Can you tell what it is?”
Larry’s insect was a hummingbird in name only. There are roughly 17 species of hummingbird moths found around the world, but only four in the Americas. Larry’s is known as a snowberry clearwing, a pretty name for a very unusual creature. As Alice in Wonderland cried, it’s “curiouser and curiouser!”
Unlike most moths, the curiouser clearwings are active during the day but may also continue to fly into the evening, particularly if there’s a good source of nectar.
But like all moths, clearwings go through metamorphosis: egg to caterpillar to cocoon to adult. The caterpillars feed on plants that include honeysuckle, viburnum, hawthorn, snowberry (hence the name), cherry and plums. The adult, small chunky moths resemble bumblebees but are often mistaken for hummingbirds because of their erratic flight patterns.
Straight out of the cocoon, their forewings are covered with scales, but these are shed during their first flight, making the wings appear transparent. The moth’s antennae are strongly clubbed, with small, re-curved hooks at the end, and their abdomens have yellow and black segments much like those of a bumblebee, while their bristly caboose ends resemble lobsters’ tails. Yes, curiouser and curiouser!
Larry was correct to be bewildered. We are talking about one very odd, higgledy-piggledy little creature that seems to be straight out of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy wonderland.