Hummingbird Moths in the Garden

Hummingbird moth at flower

One summer afternoon, I was doing what I do best – enjoying some down time – when I heard the telltale buzzing of a hummingbird around my butterfly bush. Or was it? On closer inspection, I discovered that it wasn’t a hummingbird at all, but it sure looked like one!

Meet the hummingbird moth, a moth so convincing that it’s named for the bird it mimics. It hovers and darts, it shimmers, it sips, it even hums! And its long, amazing proboscis unfurls like a garden hose to draw nectar from garden flowers.

What a treat to get a visit from such an impressive moth! It’s very satisfying when birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to my garden plants and feeders, and it’s even more special when a whole new species comes to say hello. I suppose I’m easily entertained, but a simple visit from a hummingbird moth or a rare bird can make my day!

Hummingbird moth on flowerHummingbird moths are members of the Sphinx moth family, a rather robust group of colorful (and huge!) moths. They grow up to 2 inches long and can easily be mistaken for hummingbirds, with their green and red markings and tufts of hairs that look an awful lot like feathers. Unlike many other species of moths that mostly fly at dusk, hummingbird moths are frequently seen feeding during the day, and they’re drawn to the same types of flowers as hummingbirds.

Sphinx moths begin their larvae cycle as hornworms, which are large caterpillars with a hornlike part at their rear end. The bright-green hummingbird moth hornworm hatches from eggs attached to plants like honeysuckle, hawthorns, viburnum, and cherry. Then they munch around and make their way down toward the earth, where they form brown cocoons hidden underground and in piles of leaf litter.

The adult moths emerge in spring and summer. In colder areas, there is only one generation per year, but warmer areas can support multiple life cycles in a year.

Hummingbird moth on flower

Hummingbird moth hornworms are generally pretty harmless to garden plants, unlike their cousins – tomato and tobacco hornworms – that can wreak havoc on crops. And the adults make great garden pollinators! All in all, if you have hummingbird moths in your garden, consider yourself lucky.

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5 Comments on “Hummingbird Moths in the Garden”

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  • Melanie Says:
    November 5th, 2018 at 6:17 pm
    I have the Sphinx hummingbird moth in my flowers. They seem to be sucking the flowers dry and killing them. They are pretty and interesting to watch but I have been fighting aphids and fire ants attacking my flowers and it’s getting a little frustrating. How do I get them to go away so I can enjoy my flowers again? I live in Arizona. Thank you

  • Eddie Materia Says:
    August 1st, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I have hundreds of them, they have the yellow stripes on the lower abdomen. Could that many be harmful?

  • ley ah Says:
    October 25th, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Just filmed one of these while at a park here in Arizona. I thought it was the usual hummingbirds that we see frequently on a daily basis. What a great plethora of knowledge and info you posted hear. Thank you

  • wingedshadowwolf Says:
    October 24th, 2014 at 12:17 am

    I live too far north for hummingbirds, so I was delighted to find one of these moths in my garden! Even more so now that I know mine aren’t the variety to bother tomatoes.
    @ Vera: Nope! The are harmless and beneficial. If you have them it would be a good idea to check what kind you have. Also I’m not sure if the caterpillars will bite, or not.

  • vera taylor Says:
    August 20th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    are they poison? do they bite are sting? I don’t like them. I like the humming birds just not the moth!

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Hummingbird Moths in the Garden