If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then there is an insect that holds great admiration for birds: the hummingbird moth. A small subset of the family of Sphinx moths actually mimics hummingbirds in their appearance and behavior. Their broad bodies, fast-beating wings, and hover-feeding during daylight hours cause many to think that they are in fact tiny hummingbirds, visiting flowers across the continent.
To the contrary, these moths start their lives like any other moths: as eggs affixed to leaves of a host plant (which can include honeysuckles, heaths, roses, blueberries, thistles, and others). Caterpillars look much like others of the Sphinx moth family: large, mostly green, and bearing a pointed “horn” on the posterior end. It is not until adulthood that their bird-like tendencies become apparent. Before emerging from their silky cocoons, they are just moths, but after their metamorphosis they become the birds of the lepidopteron world.
For the past month, hummingbird moths have been flying in Vermont. Look for them near gardens, meadows, and other open areas where flowers flourish. Their rapid movements make them difficult to photograph, but they are seemingly oblivious to human presence and allow for a close-approach. Watch for their long proboscis (hollow, straw-like tongue), which they keep furled in a tight spiral when not in use. When they approach a blossom, the proboscis unravels, stretching nearly the length of their bodies to extract nectar. They are a thrill to see, a delight to observe, and a highlight of any warm summer day.