It’s a bee! It’s a Hummingbird! No, it’s a Snowberry Clearwing! Daniel Kier and Nebiyat Tadesse

Think back to a time when you were enjoying the sun at your favorite greenspace. Now, did you happen to see bees, with their iconic coloring, and hummingbirds, with the brisk wing speed and elongated beak? To the untrained eye, it’s quite possible that what you or those around you observed was not even a bee or a hummingbird- but a moth!

Hummingbird CCO Public domain Bumble bee CC: alvesgaspar

The Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis Biosduval), is a common moth placed in the same group of insects as butterflies. These moths are named after a North American native shrub which produces berries that when opened look like fresh powdered snow. Some readers may be thinking of another name for these moths- “flying lobster”. This nickname is commonly given to the Snowberry Clearwing because its body and tail are shaped similarly to genetically unrelated animals such as the lobster.

Snowberry Clearwing CCL Lisa Brown
Snowberry Clearwing CC; Lisa Brown

Snowberry clearwings are commonly found in the eastern portion of the United States, and can thus be spotted all over the Lehigh Valley. However, this moth has also been spotted in southern parts of the West Coast. Open spaces, fields, stream sides, gardens, and suburban areas are the main locations one will come across these moths. One of the greatest things about living in a habitat like those just mentioned is the abundancy of flowers. Like a real hummingbird, the moth prefers to feed on nectar. As this moth goes on its quest for food, darting from one plant to the next in hopes of a reward, it is also pollinating many native plants. Mass Audubon claims the moths are primarily active during the day, but if a superb food source is found the moth will continue to be active during the night. Another reason for incorrectly identifying the moth as a hummingbird is because the moth beats its wings incredibly fast making them somewhat invisible. In fact, the moth’s flight sounds almost identical to a hummingbird’s.

Like most insects, each season brings about new stages in life. Ellen Rathbone is a forester who writes about the life cycle of the Snowberry Clearwing. One of the most interesting topics that Rathbone is exploring and researching is the development of clear wings on this moth. In spring, adult moths surface from the ground with wings that are one color. Once they are ready to take flight these moths rapidly begin to move their wings, which results in a large number of wing scales to shed off. The aftermath produces the an almost clear wing appearance, however, there are still a few scales along the outermost parts of the wings.  Soon after emergence, female moths emit a pheromone that attracts males. Once they mate, the females lay eggs on the food that the caterpillars like best such as dogbane, honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle, and snowberry. During summer, the eggs hatch and produce a beautiful caterpillar that is a non-stop eater with 5 growth stages of its own

Snowberry Clearwing Caterpillar  CC: Richard Crook

When it is ready, the caterpillar will make a silk cocoon and pupate in leaf litter to wait out the winter and change into an adult.   The Snowberry Clearwing moth is a evolutionary powerhouse. It has the flying ability of a hummingbird with the coloration safety of a bumble bee!




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