by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden
The water streamed out the end of the hose I held to water the impatiens beneath my birch tree. It was then I heard the familiar buzz of a hummingbird zoom by. Despite being among the most fascinating birds of summer, as the days roll by their presence is more familiar and I become accustomed to their antics. But something was different this time. Though it hovered and darted from blossom to blossom with the same agility and precision as a hummingbird, the flying creature was slightly smaller than usual. It was then I realized it was no bird at all, but a moth earning a similar nickname, the hummingbird moth. It’s more common name is a White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata).
I dropped the hose and ran to get my camera. When thinking of moths, many may envision images of drab, brown winged creatures most commonly seen hovering around illuminated porch lights. The Sphinx Moth, however, is a colorful insect with nearly a 4” wingspan which is most often seen in early evening sipping nectar with a long proboscis from a wide range of flowers, much like hummingbirds. In my garden, they seem to enjoy zinnias, petunias, salvia, coral bells and impatiens.
If you’d like to attract this beauty to your yard, consider adding some of the host plants for the caterpillars, including apple, evening primrose, elm, grape, tomato, purslane, four o’clock and Fuschia. The caterpillars in our area are generally a bright green with spots lining its body and a small horn, resembling a tomato hornworm. While they seem like an exotic species, they are really quite common throughout the United States and southern Canada. They also occur in South and Central America north through Mexico and the West Indies as well as Eurasia and Africa.
Keep a watchful eye on your garden this summer, especially when that familiar hummingbird flies by. It may not be a bird at all. Instead, you might just be witnessing one of these fascinating moths.