Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hummingbird Moths like Amsonia

Hemaris diffinis, Snowberry Clearwing (I think). Last week several dozen of these suddenly showed up taking nectar from assorted honeysuckles and ironweeds currently in bloom. Host Plants include: Dwarf Honeysuckle, Honeysuckle, Snowberry, Amsonia, and Dogbane. Preference for native species is likely as there are a number of imported honeysuckles. I've yet to see any caterpillars on anything, so maybe this species might occur in an annual cycle. Meaning you'll never see the developing stages and the adult side by side.  

The real news here is reading that something uses Amsonia as a host plant! It's a somewhat under used perennial but is occasionally used by landscapers. I've only recently planted two species and have no pictures of yet. They are Eastern Blue Star, Amsonia tabernaemontana, and what's called Spring Sky Blue Star, Amsonia ciliata.  


The most common species used in landscaping seems to be Amsonia hubrichtii, which has wonderful narrow leaves. They flower in the springtime and have an excellent yellow color come fall. What I don't like about this species is how small the blooms are. The flower petals are really narrow and not very showy. This is why I went with Amsonia ciliata who's flowers are much showier but still has the great narrow leaves and fall color. Amsonia tabernaemontana is probably the safest choice as far as cold hardness goes, however the leaves are larger and the light and airy effect is somewhat lost. Plus you're stuck with the narrow looking flowers as in A. hubrichtii. I would suspect A. tabernaemontana would make the best host plant though because of it's broader leaves. Milkweeds with narrow pine-like leaves are often the last to be nibbled by Monarch Caterpillars for example. They go for Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, and Common Milkweed which have more "normal" looking leaves first.   

5 comments:

  1. They should be called bumblebee moths.

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  2. They do mimic bumblebees but when in flight they hover as a hummingbird would. I believe they don't land on the flower either to feed as other moths and butterflies do, but rather feed entirely while in flight. I was shocked I found one standing still for a minute; as with hummingbirds they tend to go from flower to flower and quickly fly off.

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  3. That's awesome! I'd love to see that, but I don't know if they live in the New Orleans area.

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  4. Any idea how to tell male hummingbird clearwings from the females? I love these little critters.

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  5. I'm not sure how to tell genders apart in this species.

    http://bugguide.net/node/view/530195/bgimage
    BugGuide images show that they at least vary in size but I'm unsure which is the male and which is the female. I imagine the female might be slightly fatter but I'd want to test that first.

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