This story was originally published in July 2021.
Look close, that hummingbird you thought you just saw flitting around your flowers or plants may not be a hummingbird. In fact, it may not be a bird at all. You may be looking at one of the state’s largest moths — the hummingbird moth.
As its name implies, the hummingbird moth flies and moves just like hummingbirds. The moths can remain suspended in place in the air and their rapidly beating wings even make them sound like hummingbirds. Like a hummingbird, the moth has a long tongue it uses to sip nectar from inside flowers.
According to Jim Dill, pest management specialist at University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the hummingbird moth is fairly common in Maine, but is unique as it is active and flying during the day.
“People will often see them and say, ‘Oh look, a hummingbird,’” Dill said. “Then they look closer and say, ‘That’s a strange looking hummingbird.’”
The hummingbird moths are plumpish and reddish brown in color. The tips of their tails open up into a fan and their wings are translucent. While not a true pollinator, they do spread a bit of whatever pollen gets stuck to them as they move from flower to flower.
According to Dill, those long tongues allow the hummingbird moth to feed on the nectar long-necked flowers that other insects can’t reach.
“They love flox,” Dill said. “If you have flox you will often see them flitting all over it.”
As far as moths go, Dill said the hummingbird moth is among the more innocuous. It does not sting or bite. It’s larvae do feed on leaves and other vegetation, but he said they are so small that even that causes no real damage to plants.