Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hummingbird Moths. Where do They go in Winter?

Not all moths fly at night; some choose to do it during the day. One of them is the hummingbird moth, so called because it looks and flies and even hums like a diminutive version of a hummingbird when hovering in front of flowers. Just like their feathered namesakes hummingbird moths love long throated flowers, such as bee balm or horse mint. But unlike them, they don’t migrate south when the cold weather arrives. They resort to a different strategy to survive the harsh weather and lack of food.

Like all moths and butterflies they have a complex life cycle with dramatic transformations, called metamorphosis. The distinctive stages are called egg, larva or caterpillar, pupa and adult or imago. The one you are most familiar with is the adult, that colorful flying marvel; the other stages are wingless and prefer to remain out of sight and out of danger. The larva’s job is to eat almost non-stop and to grow; the pupa goes through a resting period and later through a tremendous remodeling job where all the parts are transformed to turn into the active, winged creature which we see during the summer. The flying adult’s whole purpose is to find a mate and to start the next generation; for that they need nourishment, nectar, which they find in flowers.

It is in the resting state of pupa that they choose to spend the winter. After the caterpillar reaches full size feeding on any of its favorite plants, such as hawthorn, black cherry or wild rose, it drops to the ground. There it spins a loose cocoon that lies partially buried under the leaf litter. Leaf litter is very important to this species; it provides some protection against the winter weather and against predators. When birds or squirrels go through leaf litter, scattering it here and there, they may very well be looking for one of these nutritious morsels.

If the pupa survives these attacks, it will complete its metamorphosis and emerge as a winged adult next spring, when nectar-laden flowers are blooming again.

Moths as Pollinators
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© Beatriz Moisset. 2010


  1. I often see these moths in our garden. Love them! They are really fun to watch.

    1. I also have many hummingbird moths in my flower garden in the summer. I did not realize that it is rare to see them. I am very lucky to have so many. They love the butterfly bushes I have.

    2. Glad you have many hummingbird moths and enjoy them. Too bad that butterfly bush is such an invasive plant. Of course it attracts many flower visitors, but it also has some serious disadvantages. I hope you can start phasing out yours. 3 Reasons To Never Plant Butterfly Bush Again. Rodale Organic Life.

  2. I imagine the biggest threat is suburban homeowners who blow all leaves into a pile to be carted off leaving no leaf litter ��

  3. Saw one today totally amazing!