A ‘Dear Mom’ letter

Dear Mom –

I know you’ve been trying desperately to capture a few images of the giant hummingbird-like moth visiting your flowers.  As it happens, the same flowers that bring you all the hummingbirds also bring you these massive insects.

I’m sorry to report I couldn’t find the same species you’re seeing, at least not in my neck of the woods.  Nevertheless, I did happen to stumble upon another of these marvelous creatures while taking a walk yesterday morning.

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) hovering over flowers as it feeds (2009_07_18_026904)

I spied what I thought was a hummingbird flitting about someone’s flower garden.  After looking both ways just as you taught me, I crossed the street and played stalker on the sidewalk while aiming a camera into their flowerbed.

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) hovering over flowers as it feeds (2009_07_18_026911)

Sure, I got some strange looks by passersby, yet I’m never one to let that stop me from snapping photos of cool things.  Well, at least until they call the cops…  Then I run!

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) hovering over flowers as it feeds (2009_07_18_026914)

Nothing could have chased me away, however, for this beauty was as large as a female ruby-throated hummingbird and deserved my attention.  (I say ‘as large as’ for a ruby-throated hummingbird showed up to defend her food, and that provided an opportunity to see them side by side before the moth flew away.  Amazing thing to see an insect and bird in the same space where both are equal in size and magic…)

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) hovering over flowers as it feeds (2009_07_18_026933)

This critter is a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata).  Like your sphinx, it feeds like a hummingbird: flitting from flower to flower, wings always going at high speed, never sitting still for more than a second.  Unlike hummingbirds, though, these moths never land while eating.

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) hovering over flowers as it feeds (2009_07_18_026955)

There are plenty of moths who do this: only a fraction of all moths, sure, but still quite a few species.  You’d be amazed at how difficult it’s been trying to figure out which one is haunting the family farm and vexing you so.

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) hovering over flowers as it feeds (2009_07_18_026958)

All we need is a good look: a few good photos to solve the mystery.

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) hovering over flowers as it feeds (2009_07_18_026950)

Meanwhile, I hope these satiate your want for spying one with a bit more clarity, a bit more color.  I can’t tell you how marvelous it was to be so close to one while it tended to the business at hand without worrying about me.

And when I’m out there next, we’ll see what we can do about identifying your visitor.

All my love!

– On

6 thoughts on “A ‘Dear Mom’ letter”

  1. Ahhh the beauty of it. Great shots! When I told you I was spending time with my head stuck in a bunch of 4 o’clocks chasing a moth, you really didn’t understand did you? NOW you do. They are awesome creatures to watch. Thanks for sharing and see you soon.

  2. Gorgeous pictures! We have a few of these up here in Oregon, as well as some other sphinx and hawk moths. We frequently find pupae while working in the garden, because they bury themselves in soil to make their brown, shiny, segmented, pointy-tailed chrysalides. The pupae can actually wiggle!

    I have school-age kids, so once in a while we bring one in to hatch in a jar. If you find one of these pupae in your garden and put it in a jar in acoolish, dim place next to a damp piece of paper towel (keep it damp!) you will soon have a live moth to release! This is your best chance to see what species you have.

    Best to do it in spring and summer, when they will hatch naturally anyway. If you bring one in during the cold season when it’s overwintering, your warm house will stimulate it to hatch and your moth is doomed once you let it out.

  3. What an awesome beauty. Great shots Jason, I esp like 4, 6 and 7. I’ll bring my camera and stake it out near the plant tomorrow where i saw the hummingbird moth today 🙂

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