Hummingbird Moths

The Imposter

Is it a Hummingbird?

It's easy to mistake a hummingbird moth for a hummingbird! In fact, that's how the Whitelined Sphinx (Hyles lineata) moth got it's popular name. It's wings beat rapidly as it darts from flower to flower, hovering just long enough to drink the sweet nectar. At first glance, you just might think it's a hummingbird.

Here's how you can tell the difference:

  • The moths are smaller than hummingbirds. Their bodies are usually between 2-3 inches long. Hummingbirds are between 3-4 inches long.
  • Hummingbird moths are insects and have long antennae, six legs, and three body parts--head, thorax, and abdomen.
  • The moths drink nectar through their proboscis (their tongues) that is rolled up when they're not using it. A hummingbird drinks nectar using it's beak.
  • Hummingbird moths have striking patterns on their wings. Typically, hummingbirds do not.
  • Moths rest with their wings spread. Hummingbirds fold their wings while perched.

Although you may think it's a hummingbird, if you look closely, it is quite easy to tell the moth from the bird.

How does a Hummingbird Moth grow?

The natural Habitat at CRE supports the life cycles of many plants, animals, and insects. One of the insects found there is the Hummingbird Moth. The Hummingbird moth's life cycle begins as an egg. The female moth lays her eggs on the underside of specific plants. These plants include honeysuckle, hawthorne, apple, four o'clocks, and wild grape. The larvae hatch from the eggs and feed on the leaves of these plants. The larvae of the Hummingbird Moth is called a hornworm, because it has a flexible spine (the horn) on their back end. These are the largest caterpillars found in Colorado. They grow and molt (shed it's skin) until they are 2 to 3 inches long. The most familiar of the hornworms to suburban gardeners is the tomato hornworm--a relative of the Hummingbird moth larvae. When the larvae is ready to pupate, it drops to the ground in search of soft soil to make a cozy place to spin its cocoon. It stays buried in the soil all winter long. When spring finally arrives, the metamorphosis is complete and an adult Hummingbird moth emerges from the cocoon.

Where are Hummingbird Moths found?

There are more than 1,200 species of Hummingbird moth, and they only live in the Western Hemisphere. Out of the 125 or so species that can be found in North America, the Whitelined Sphinx (Hyles lineata) is the one most commonly found in Colorado. They are most often spotted darting about gardens in the suburbs and open meadows rather than the wild. They have even be seen zipping about the Habitat at Castle Rock Elementary!

Any plant that attracts hummingbirds also attracts the Hummingbird moth. They feed on the nectar of deep lobed flowers.