Sunday, July 14, 2013

HUMMINGBIRD MOTH

So, there we were (Shade, Happy, Chestnut and me) pulling weeds from around the roses out in the yard when a hummingbird shot past.  I turned to watch it flit from flower to flower and finally linger for long periods on the butterfly bushes.   The more I looked, the more this thing didn't look like a hummingbird.  I got up and walked over for a closer inspection.  Wow - what is this bird bug?
I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  It looked part bird and part bug.  The antennae were very prominent, so it's a bug.  The wings looked just like a miniature humming bird.
It sure liked the butterfly bushes.  I had my small camera on me and ran to the house to get the big one.  I couldn't get close with the little camera.  The 500 mm lens would negate the necessity of sneaking around.
You'd think that in as many years as I've spent tramping around the mountains, fields, prairies, forests, streams and lakes that I'd have come across one of these critters at some earlier point in my life.  I sent a picture of this bug bird to a friend in Pennsylvania who spends a lot of time outdoors and she said, "its a hummingbird moth.  I was watching one this morning"- as if there are millions of them in every yard across the country at any day of the year.  Where have I been?
So, how bout that.  I didn't discover anything.  It's been here all along.
One would think a moth would avoid daylight flight, but this guy is wired to find flowers and pollen and I guess he needs light to do it.  I did a little research on this bird bug and they are capable of learning colors.  Tests indicate they really can't resist dark colored blooms and blooms with deep and long stamens.  The bug has a very long proboscis and it can reach deep into the flower where even humming birds can't reach.  This gives him an edge on getting the pollen first.
He acted just like a hummingbird.  This guy could hover, move backwards and side to side in a lightning second.  Notice the tail appears to be fur.  The males have that fur tail while the females do not.  It's hard to believe this is an insect.
I would judge him to be exactly one half the size of a hummingbird.
I can't believe I've not come across one of these things over the course of my lifetime.
So, we know that it flies during the day and the wing beats sound just like a hummingbirds.  It favors dark colored flowers.
Up to 200 eggs can be laid by one female and they take 6 to 8 days to hatch.  The pupae have two sharp horns on their rumps or cremaster.  Eventually they enshroud themselves in a cocoon which will lay on the ground covered with leaf litter from the host plant.  Plants like Phlox, Stachys, Buddleia and more, especially butterfly bushes are good plants to check for the presence of cocoons.
    I'm really happy I saw this guy.  I plan to plant 20 more butterfly bushes next Spring along the lane to create a huge purple hedge and I bet I can attract bird bugs by the hundreds.  The butterfly bushes grow extremely fast and make excellent property separations and privacy fences.  I planted two this Spring that were about ten inches tall.  They are over 4 feet tall now and growing like weeds.  They can get as big as they want.  I don't care.  The plants flower continually all summer long too, it seems.  They are never without blooms.  
Amazing I haven't seen one of these.  Guess I've been chasing eagles too long.