August 22, 2010

It's not a hummingbird.

At the botanical garden today, 2 women were staring at a little beastie that was going at the butterfly bush. It was not a butterfly.


"Do you think that's a hummingbird or an insect?" asked one of the women, who seemed quite involved in the identification process. It wasn't easy, because it was small and darted around. The wings were nearly invisible.

I said: "To me, it looks like a miniature flying lobster, so I'm going to guess insect."

She said, "Yes, I think you're probably right, because it keeps hanging around, and hummingbirds are shy."

Instinctively recoiling at sentimentality and remembering this, I said, "Oh? I've seen some very aggressive hummingbirds. I've seen some hummingbirds who were real jerks."


Hey! Look at the tongue. Maybe it is some kind of crazy butterfly.

IN THE COMMENTS: Irene says it's a hummingbird clearwing moth.

AND: Peter Hoh thinks it's a snowberry clearwing, and that looks right to me.

AND: Rick Lee said:
I just posted one of those also... I asked my friend the entomologist if it was a hummingbird moth and she said it was a close relative, the bumblebee moth.
Hey, he got his to hold still... plus he's a professional photographer. No fair!


c3 said...

Do you think that's a hummingbird or an insect?

Please reassure me that people aren't that stupid.

Tell it was a problem with her contacts.

(How the hell do you confuse a hummingbird with an insect!!!)

Ann Althouse said...

"Please reassure me that people aren't that stupid."

Well, you are looking at the photograph which stops the action. I felt I couldn't look at it until I got home and saw the photo. A hummingbird can be as small as 2 inches.

And they were talking about whether a hummingbird could be that small. I suggested looking at the feet, but I myself was incapable of seeing the feet.

Irene said...

"Hummingbird Clearwing Moth."

We have many in the yard.

Ann Althouse said...


So mistaking them for hummingbirds is pretty common, apparently.

mesquito said...

Anyone who's spent any time watching hummingbirds knows that they are vicious, froward little bastards.

Irene said...

"So mistaking them for hummingbirds is pretty common, apparently."

I think so.

Comment 11 at this blog said, "I totally thought it was a flying mutant lobster hummingbird thing! I said it was a hummingbird."

The first time I saw one, I thought it would bite me.

I see it also is called Sphinx Moth.

Irene said...

Chicago Wilderness Magazine.


mc said...

Very cool and funny. Sugar sucking bullies.

My brother was once at a Grateful Dead show and (more than possibly altered of mind) felt something on the back of his neck.

He reflexively grabbed at it and looked in his hand, it was a ruby throated hummingbird and he sort of panicked and instantly threw it forward.

It went down the stadium seating a few rows and hit some poor girl in the back of the head with dire consequences for the li'l flyer. When she looked back to see where it had come from my brother did the same and glanced behind himself for the culprit.

That was an awkward moment.

Unconvincing and unethical.

They are pretty those iridescent goons. (the hummingbirds, not the hippies.)

HT said...

But does it pollinate? Or is it just a pest?

deborah said...

Are you going to remove the 'assholes' tag?

My best guess from the first pic was a moth, because of the fringed antennae. The second pic confirmed with the tongue. But the rapid wing beats threw me.

peter hoh said...

I get these (or a similar species of sphinx moth) from time to time. And I concur that it is quite reasonable to mistake them for hummingbirds.

Saw one at the Twins game on Friday night.

peter hoh said...

I wonder if it might be the snowberry clearwing.

prairie wind said...

Being shy does not prevent one from being a real jerk.

George Grady said...

Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story ("The Sphinx") about a relative of this kind of moth.

Ann Althouse said...

"Are you going to remove the 'assholes' tag?"

Why? It refers to the hummingbirds? How PC do we need to be?

Ann Althouse said...

@Peter That looks right!

markwark said...

There's a song about this. I mean, literally, a song about a hummingbird moth.

David said...

That must be one hell of a camera.

David said...

deborah said...
"Are you going to remove the 'assholes' tag?"

Not after that comment.

Rick Lee said...

I just posted one of those also... I asked my friend the entomologist if it was a hummingbird moth and she said it was a close relative, the bumblebee moth.

traditionalguy said...

Butterfly Bushes are another plant we give a 60% fall cut back so that they flourish again in the spring.

michaele said...

I see these quite frequently in my garden and I have always wondered what they were called. Never know what I'm going to learn thanks to the eclectic subject matter on the Althouse blog. The picture was wonderful in showing so much detail.

peter hoh said...

Rick, I'm not an entomologist, but this much I know from my study of plants: even experts will give the same plant different common names. Regional differences play a part in this, but there are many reasons that common names vary -- even among experts. I assume that it is the same way with insect names.

As best I can tell, the scientific name for this one is Hemaris diffinis. It is sometimes called the bumblebee moth.

Foobarista said...

If I saw one of those from a distance, I'd think I was seeing one of these evil beasties, which I saw in Japan a few times:

deborah said...

>>>Why? It refers to the hummingbirds? How PC do we need to be?

lol, I misinterpreted when you said you 'recoiled at sentimentality.' My profuse apologies, Professor. A thousand pardons.

deborah said...

>>>deborah said...
"Are you going to remove the 'assholes' tag?"

Not after that comment.<<<

So true.

AST said...

I thought it was some kind of sphinx moth, which resemble hummingbirds, but I had no idea there were so many different ones. They are able to hover and move forward and backward like hummingbirds, and their wings beat too fast to see them without a a fast camera.

I think Peter nailed it.

What a beautiful insect!

AST said...

Why isn't this at the Butterfly Cafe?

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

There is a hummingbird, called the Bee Hummingbird, and it's tiny. In fact it is the smallest of all birds, at something under 2 grams.

Common in Cuba, I met them all over eastern Jamaica about 20 years ago when helping coffee growers in the Blue Mountain region design terraces and replant their coffee in the wake of Hurricane Gilbert a few years previously.

At first I thought the hummer was just another moth, until I saw the bill. After that I was completely entranced watching the little guys.

c3 said...

OK I get the size as confusion issue. And I can understand if one couldn't see the legs (generally you don't see hummingbird legs when they fly)

But the antennae!!!!

PS I have seen this moth. First time I admit I was startled because it looked so different. But I wasn't confused about the phylum.

Triangle Man said...

Hey, he got his to hold still... plus he's a professional photographer. No fair!


With all due respect to Mr. Lee, I like your photo better.

I prefer the image of the moth in flight and the nice bokeh.

Knucklehead said...

I spotted one of these beautiful moths for the first time just recently also.

Post about here if anyone is interested:

My first inclination, didn't see it clearly, was that it was a wasp and a large one. Figured if for a cicada killer. When I called attention to it the first pass guessing was that it was a hummingbird. Then came "too small" and "antenna" and we knew we had an insect of some sort.

Glad to know such a lovely thing exists - fabulous and fascinating.

Warren said...

Thank goodness I found this picture. I was going crazy when I saw it around my hanging basket. I couldn't figure out what that was. Looks like a bee and also a hummingbird. I took video and showed to my husband. He said it must be a hummingbird. But it was clearly different. Since I identified what it was I feel better now.