At Saturday’s Pet/Butterfly Day at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, my favorite finds were two moths which can be seen during the day. The clearwing moth flies and moves just like hummingbirds. Like them, they can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongues and insert them in flowers to sip their nectar. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds. I’ve seen them called both hummingbird and bumble bee moths, since they mimic those two fliers.
Hummingbird moths are rather plump; the tip of their tail opens into a fan. They are usually of a rich reddish brown color, at least in part. Like all Lepidoptera their wings are covered by scales; some species lose many of the scales from patches on their wings, so they are called clearwing hummingbird moths. Like most moths they have a very long tongue which they carry rolled under their chins and that they use to reach the nectar of long-necked flowers. Such nectar is inaccessible to many other flower visitors, so it seems that these flowers prefer long tongued pollinators and try to keep the others away.
The adult Bumblebee Moth will feed on their larval food plants, honeysuckle and snowberry, for nectar. They also will get nectar from milkweed, Monardella, and some thistles. Monardella is an excellent garden plant for butterflies as well as Moths. It has perennial and annual forms from white to purple flowers. It also has a fresh minty scent. The one I saw was feeding on a butterfly bush.
This Luna moth was found on the side of the Field House, near the big security light that shines all night. Although rarely seen due to their very brief adult lives, Luna Moths are considered common in some areas, but uncommon in others. As with all Saturniidae, the adults do not eat or have mouths. They emerge as adults solely to mate, and as such, only live approximately one week. They are more commonly seen at night.
They have huge wingspans of 3 – 4 inches. The males are distinguished from the females by their larger and wider antennae, all the better to detect the pheromones of the female. Luna Moth caterpillars are lime green with orange spots running down both sides. The caterpillars feed on several types of trees, including, alder, beeches, cherries, hazelnut, hickories, pecan, persimmon, sweet gum, and willows. The caterpillar molts five times before settling on a host plant where they spin their cocoon.Luna Moths release a chemical at night which attracts males. Adults die shortly after mating or laying eggs.