other pollinators

And I thought bumbles were big

What looks like a combination of a bumble bee and a hummingbird and a skipper? I certainly didn’t know as I began taking photos of this creature in the ligustrum bush.

At first I thought it was an oversized bumble. But I soon realized that it never held still. Rather than folding its wings while nectaring, it hovered like a hummingbird. Then I saw its tongue, which unwrapped like a roll of toilet paper and reminded me of a skipper. Then I saw the antennae, which were straight and looked nothing like those on a bee.

A name came to me before I looked it up: hawk moth. I had seen pictures of these before, but never saw one in person. So I looked up hawk moth and there is was! And no wonder I was confused, these behemoths are often called “bumble bee moths” because they look like what?

The hawk moths are in the Sphingidae family and are listed as important pollinators. The one I photographed was probably Hemaris diffinis—common throughout our region according to Insects of the Pacific Northwest by Haggard and Haggard (2006).

The honey bees working the ligustrum had been chasing off other pollinators, but not this one. They give it first dibs on everything it touched. Sort of like a bank, this moth is just too big to fail.


Hawk moth hovering while drinking nectar.

Uncoiling its very long tongue.

The little bee on the right is about honey bee size.


  • I JUST saw one of these in my garden yesterday, and thought “What the heck is that??” What a timely post! And beautiful pictures.

  • Rusty – we won’t see them around here for another month, but they really seem to like chicory blossoms. I found them as “clearwing moths” but only by accident: I had been looking under hornets etc. Once you notice the curled proboscis, the lack of a “wasp waist,” and the stumpy tail, it seems obvious. Only in hindsight, of course 😉

  • Saw one of these in my yard yesterday around twilight (moth time, I guess? yours appar to be in full sunlight), but it was too dark to get a picture. First one I’d ever noticed, and it was visiting my creeping charlie.

    • It’s weird. Everyone says they come out in the evening, but this one happened by about noontime. Lucky, it was good for pictures.

  • So very glad for your post here! I now know what I have been photographing on my butterfly bush. I thought it was a baby hummingbird, but when I got a closer look it had antennas and a strange body. It is a really neat creature. Thanks again.

  • Ann,

    Sorry to contradict, but

    >> larva of the hummingbird moth is actually the tomato hornworm.

    That is not correct. The tomato hornworm is the larva of the tomato hornworm moth.


    The hummingbird moth’s larva is the sidelined caterpillar, smaller and not banded, whose hosts are honeysuckle, hawthorne and viburnum.

    Unless you grow lots of these, I hate to think of anyone killing a lovely, fascinating clearwing moth as a threat to their tomatoes.

    Anyway the tomato (and closely related tobacco) hornworms are usually parasitized by braconid wasps before they do much damage.


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