Either that, or they're tiny alien birds with antennae
February 27, 2013 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Macroglossum stellatarum, known as the Hummingbird Hawk-moth or sometimes the Hummingmoth, is a species of Sphingidae (the family of moths that includes hawk moths, sphinx moths, and hornworms), and a beautiful example of convergent evolution.
posted by ocherdraco (38 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess the "rolling shutter" effect is in full force in this video, because it utterly fails to convey the rapidity with which their wings beat and the wub wub wub sound that emanates from them.
posted by Nomyte at 8:32 PM on February 27, 2013


Where I grew up, we had a trumpet vine on a trellis at the end of our driveway. One of these showed up on a midsummer evening and fed only inches away from me. It was so cool.
posted by y2karl at 8:34 PM on February 27, 2013


This video is a better example of the way the wings look in flight.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:35 PM on February 27, 2013


Oh, oh, oh. I love hummingbird moths. Magical moonlight moths. The ones I've seen (in the garden of a casita in Santa Fe,, during a particularly wet summer) come out at twilight and feed on flower nectar, like their butterfly cousins. And yes, at first you think you're looking at (and hearing) a strange little hummingbird with antennae.
posted by tully_monster at 8:37 PM on February 27, 2013


A man with a British accent is quietly excited by his recently hatched death's head hawkmoth.
posted by Nomyte at 8:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


That is a delightful video, Nomyte.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:44 PM on February 27, 2013


Thank you.
posted by Nomyte at 8:58 PM on February 27, 2013


Interestingly, moths are nocturnal, but these moths are diurnal. They look and behave just like hummingbirds, too closely for coincidence, but rather through the forces of natural selection. And they make me happy.
posted by jabah at 9:11 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember finding one of these flying around in my yard as a teenager and not understanding how a hummingbird would have antennae like an insect. I don't remember how I figured out it was a Hawk Moth but I did manage to look it up in the encyclopedia.
posted by smoothvirus at 10:25 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I want to hang out with that British guy and his pet death's head hawkmoth! I had no idea moths could vocalize like that, it was really fascinating to hear.
posted by sarcasticah at 11:08 PM on February 27, 2013


I was just watching British guy's video on my iPhone when its alarm on it went off. Just after he talked about the Silence of The Lambs link. I jumped right across the room.
posted by rongorongo at 11:25 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


As is true of a surprising number of situations, They Might Be Giants has written a song about them. (Warning: earworm. Lyrics.)
posted by JHarris at 1:39 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I spent a good thirty minutes running from bush to bush trying to get a decent photograph of a hummingbird hawk-moth a few years ago.

Got a few strange looks from the other wedding guests.
posted by pipeski at 1:55 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some sphingidae are diurnal, jabah.
posted by snofoam at 2:52 AM on February 28, 2013


A lot of Arctiinae are diurnal, too.
posted by snofoam at 2:53 AM on February 28, 2013


A hummingbird moth is one of those creatures that, even though you live someplace where they are indiginous, you may never see one. It's always fun to discover one while you're with someone that has never seen a hummingbird moth (or has seen one but just wrote it off as a hummingbird), just trying to convince them it isn't a hummingbird can take quite an effort.
posted by HuronBob at 3:00 AM on February 28, 2013


Wow. I was thinking "this has got to be a hoax," but there's enough credible sources and consistency in the footage, and you all are playing it deadpan enough, that I am convinced and/or fooled.
posted by NMcCoy at 3:03 AM on February 28, 2013


They're definitely real. Maybe these guys would lie to you, but would wikipedia? Too many super serious editors there.

Hawk moths in general are just amazing, and I am really looking forward to adding one to my nascent entomology collection.

Here is an excellent story about the night star orchid that Darwin had found and predicted must be pollinated by some awesome moth with an eight inch long proboscis. Xanthopan morganii praedicta was found in 1903 but not seen feeding on the orchid til 1992. She's a beaut.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:41 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, we see both hummingbirds and hummingbird moths at the same planters all the time at my in-laws' house. It really blew my mind at first. I had that same first reaction: "why do some of the hummingbirds have antennae?" Spooky.

Also, my husband has a kind of moth phobia, so the idea that moths might disguise themselves....
posted by Malla at 5:15 AM on February 28, 2013


I first saw one of these six or so years ago...I still regularly tell people about my experience.
posted by Atreides at 5:58 AM on February 28, 2013


We get hummingbird clearwing moths in our garden and they are by far my very favorite insect. They are adorable, elegantly-colored fuzzy flying shrimp. First time I saw one I thought I was hallucinating.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:05 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the coloration of the hummingbird moths, but the clearwings are pretty excellent. The snowberry variety (scroll down here) looks outstandingly like bumble bee.
posted by plinth at 6:18 AM on February 28, 2013


My dad and I saw one of these on a camping trip once and it freaked us both right the hell out. We had no idea if it was a bee, a hummingbird, or what until years later when I happened to see something about them online.
posted by Foosnark at 6:36 AM on February 28, 2013


Where are good places in N. America to see these? (I'm more likely to be travelling in western parts I guess...)
posted by sneebler at 7:02 AM on February 28, 2013


Where are good places in N. America to see these?
I used to see them all the time on the Duke University campus. In other words, places with flowers have them. They are actually pretty common--people just don't usually notice them, or they just assume they're hummingbirds. I would try a botanical garden in the spring. Look for bigger, trumpet-shaped flowers.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:15 AM on February 28, 2013


They aren't native to North America.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:15 AM on February 28, 2013


Sorry, yes, you will not find Macroglossum stellatarum in North America. Since the conversation had moved on to other species of Sphingidae, I assumed that sneebler was speaking more generally of seeing hummingbird moths/hawkmoths. If not, I apologize for the misinformation.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:21 AM on February 28, 2013


Oh, I love these so much! I saw a Nessus Sphinx Moth (Amphion floridensis) at Disneyworld in 2009, while waiting for my nephew to ride the Cinderella carousel. I was completely mystified at the time, having had no idea that these types of hummingbird moths even existed. I got a great photo of it, though, and later had some interaction with Bill Oehlke (who has a website all about moths) who set me straight about the species.

It's one of my favorite "What the flying eff is that!" types of moments.
posted by gemmy at 7:22 AM on February 28, 2013


If you want to see these guys, sneebler, I recommend hanging around an area frequented by hummingbirds (large banks of purple, pink, orange or red flowers such as bee balm, jewelweed and crocosmia) late in the day. My sightings have invariably been just before sunset. Also, it's helpful to be away from people, and to be as still and quiet as possible. I've found that although they'll pose willingly enough for a photo or two, once you start going for the close-up they tend to move on.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:12 AM on February 28, 2013


Oh, and I've seen Hummingbird Clearwings in most of New York State, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Cannot speak for the west.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:14 AM on February 28, 2013


Evocations, invocations:

Sunset at 7000 feet, Mono Hot Springs, natural hot-pools across the river from the campground. Hooker's primrose, pale yellow, and wild roses, a blue that still seeks the proper word, form a perimeter around the old tubs. Water seeps into the tubs from somewhere in the Earth's marrow, and evaporates gently or else trickles via a small runnel down toward the river, feeding mulleins, bear cabbage. Acres of gabbro guard the flats above the river. Cedars, firs, and pines decorate the flanks of the canyon: copses, stands, and the solitary treeling that runs an impossibly long root along the rock's exfoliative flaw. A flight of sphinx moths announce their careful, graceful approach with low-pitch thrumming andblurred wings, sip at the flowers with delicate, precise taps--birdlike, unearthly, stately, seeming to be even sentient, they are methodical and leave no flower untested. Red rays fade to blue. Sharp-wing birds dart at invisible insects along the river bank, only for a short few moments, then disappear into the rapidly encroaching darkness. Then come the bats. After that it's only the sound of the river below: a womans voice--soft laughter from another room.
posted by mule98J at 8:52 AM on February 28, 2013


A man with a British accent is quietly excited yt by his recently hatched death's head hawkmoth.

Oh, that was adorable on multiple levels!
posted by byanyothername at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2013


When I think about pairs like the hummingbird moth/hummingbird, bats/birds, ichthyosaur/dolphin, thylacine/dog, I'm cautiously optimistic that extraterrestrial life-forms might actually be surprisingly cute.
posted by General Tonic at 11:01 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I never saw any in Charlottesville area of Virginia, but spotted my first down at Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County (an hour north of Danville or hour south of Roanoke).
posted by Atreides at 11:52 AM on February 28, 2013


Made of Star Stuff: Here is an excellent story about the night star orchid that Darwin had found and predicted must be pollinated by some awesome moth with an eight inch long proboscis. Xanthopan morganii praedicta was found in 1903 but not seen feeding on the orchid til 1992. She's a beaut.
One mustn't posit "She's a beaut." without accompanying photographic evidence.

Evidence.

Quite.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:38 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is a little-known fun fact about hawkmoths. It requires some background.

I took a tropical botany course a few years ago, and one of the stations we stayed at had a night-blooming cactus growing right next to the porch of the dining hall. Each flower opened only for one night, and would wilt by the morning. So when we saw a couple buds that looked ready to open, we camped out on the porch of the dining hall and waited for nightfall - both to see the flowers open, and to watch for the hawkmoths that would come to pollinate it.

It was a long wait in the dark. We kept the lights to a minimum, so we could see the flower, but wouldn't scare any moths away. Eventually they came. We tried to take pictures as best we could - the hawkmoths move quick and we lost track of them as soon as they flew away from the flower.

Once we hadn't seen any moths for a good while, we figured they were done and decided to call it a night. But when we turned away from the cactus, we saw this on the table.

Little-known fun fact: Apparently hawkmoths like a good Rum and Coke.
posted by pemberkins at 6:19 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of confused about why they keep saying hummingbirds are confined to the Neotropics. Confined to the *New World*, sure, but some species range as far as Alaska. I have a very territorial hummingbird currently guarding his mighty stock of inexhaustible plastic flowers right outside my window, and I most certainly am not in the Neotropics.
posted by tavella at 10:37 PM on February 28, 2013


Maybe they mean the majority of the different types of hummingbirds live in the neotropic zone?
posted by Atreides at 9:10 AM on March 1, 2013


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