A Tiny Hummer?

Did you see what appeared to be a tiny hummingbird at one of your flowers?

Did it appear to be smaller than any hummingbird you've ever seen?

If you are not living in the New World, e.g. in the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Greece, or elsewhere, were you surprised to have seen a hummingbird of any size?

The explanation for such sightings is that what you have seen is a hummingbird moth (family Sphingidae). Below are two species often encountered in the U.S.

Clearwing Hawkimoth (Hemaris thysbe) at Buddleia. Photo Courtesy of Ross Hawkins.
White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) at Basket Flower [American Star Thistle], Centaurea americana. Photo Coutresy of Ross Hawkins

There are many species of these moths around the world, and they are commonly mistaken for hummingbirds. The reasons for this misperception are several: they are active in the daylight hours (most moths are not); they hover in front of flowers to feed; the probe the flowers for their nectar (although using a proboscis, not a beak); and they favor some of the same nectar-rich blossoms that are liked by hummingbirds.

The smallest hummingbird species in the world is the Cuban Bee Hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae, and it measures 5-6 cm in length (2.0-2.4 inches) and weighs a mere 1.6-1.9 grams (roughly 1/14 of an ounce). Most species, however, are larger: in the U.S., most species are 3.0 - 3.5 inches in length. Hummingbird moths are considerably smaller than the smallest hummingbird.

This recognition problem is perhaps the single most common query presented to the Hummingbird Society, often with a photo attached. Some are not convinced, despite the scientific evidence. When in doubt, one can always get closer and count the legs...it is a sure way to distinguish between an insect and a bird!

Additional resources:

CLICK HERE for general information, including pictures and distribution maps.

The Hummingbird Moth Page includes a list of species found worldwide.

 

link to view The Hummingbird Connection, member magazine of the Hummingbird Society











Photo: Wally Nussbaumer

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