Friday, July 28, 2017

clearwing thingamabob

Hummingbird clearwing. Photo by Lynne Davis

"Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun 
The frumious Bandersnatch! Wrote the master of Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.

OK. Don't look them up in your field guides. Such wonderous creatures are probably not there. Carroll loved to cobble together curiosities out of various other creatures.  

But this frumious creature was real. It wasn't a jubjub bird, but it did hover over the blossoms of Lynne Davis' lantana and drank eagerly. She emailed a photo. Oddly, it favored the yellow flowers to the pink or orange.

Birds and insects have more types of color-sensitive cones at the backs of their eyes. (We have three. They have five.) They see a wider range of colors than we do. The colorful world we see, must be a true wonderland to them. But why did it favor yellow?

The wings of the mystery hovercraft moved so fast, they were hard to see, and its behavior was much like a hummingbird, bobbing and weaving from flower to flower, but it was much too small to be a nectar-sipping bird.

The Jabberwocky thingamabob is a hummingbird in name only. It's a mimic, a hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe). A moth!
Yet, unlike most moths, the curious 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, cherry and plums. The adult, small chunky moths resemble bumblebees but are often mistaken for hummingbirds because of their erratic flight patterns and nectar-sipping behavior.

Straight out of the cocoon, their forewings are covered with scales, but these are shed during their first flight, making the wings appear transparent. Why? 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. 

"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” She chortled in her joy! 

A very odd, higgledy-piggledy little chimera straight out of Carroll’s fantasy wonderland had visited Lynne's lantana. Oh, joy!

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