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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.



Hummingbird moths 01

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

A friend, Jennifer Mack, was at my house the other evening and she was out front when I heard her yell, “John, come here! You’ve got to see this!”

I went to my front door and she was looking kind of scared at some things flying around close to the ground where there are these low-growing purple flowers.

“What are those?” she asked in a tone that conveyed more fear than curiosity.

The sun had already set but there was still enough light to see them and I got closer (in the meantime, she got further away because they were scaring her) and they looked like…like little brown hummingbirds, but smaller than any hummingbirds I’ve ever seen, only about an inch and a half long with maybe a two to three-inch wingspread. And, though they darted and hovered like hummingbirds, there was no hummingbird “hum” from any of them.

“They look like tiny hummingbirds,” I said, not quite convinced I was right.

“They look like some king of moth,” she countered.

“Aiyee!” I heard her yell.

I looked back and she exclaimed, “One of them is diving bombing me!”

She yelled again and jumped about three feet away from where she’d been standing.

“Hold on,” I said. I ran in the house to get my Canon 5D Mark III camera with the EF 70-200 Lens, which I’d been using earlier in the day, still attached to it. It’s a lens that will open to an f-stop of 2.8, so it lets in a lot of light.

I returned and took a few shots, but it was immediately evident that, despite the camera’s terrific low-light capabilities, and the lens’s ability to let in light, and even though there was enough light to get an autofocus, there wasn’t enough to get any good photos.

“Hold on,” I said again and I went back into the house and returned with my flash (a Canon 430 EX II Speedlite).

Now, I was suitably armed and I took several photos, all at either 1/160th or 1/200th of a second, and these are the shots I got.

This is what it looks like from behind.

This is what it looks like from behind.

And here one is with its rear legs just barely touching the flowers.

And here one is with its rear legs just barely touching the flowers.

This is another angle and probably a different individual. There were at least a dozen there.

This is another angle and probably a different individual. There were at least a dozen there.

Notice the “tongue” extending from the insect’s face to feed on something (nectar?) in the flower.

Notice the “tongue” extending from the insect’s face to feed on nectar in the flower.

This is a zoomed photo of one of these moths as it hovered over the flowers.

This is a zoomed photo of one of these moths as it hovered over the flowers.

 

I include the original shot here so you can get a perspective on their size.

I include the original shot of the photo above here so you can get a perspective on their size.

They were clearly not birds, and Jennifer was right, they’re some kind of moth. I don’t recall ever having seen anything like them. But Heather Adams, a member of the staff here at BHM, googled them an found out they’re common name is the hummingbird moth. There are about five species and some have wingspans of five inches. The ones in my yard are about half that size and they’re more specifically called White-lined Sphinxes.

Although I find them beautiful, their larvae can be extremely destructive to crops and ornamental plants.

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