Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hummingbird Clearwing moth

Write, write, write... I do a lot of it. But no complaints - I enjoy trying to grab up big bunches of words, and make something coherent emerge from the pile. And good writing takes practice. I'm not putting myself into the "good writer" category, but I can try and veer ever closer to some sort of legitimacy :-)
Anyway, in addition to the stuff that I've got going on in my own personal world of writing, I'm in the midst of two large writing projects at work. This means that I'm largely affixed to my desk from 8 to 5, and every now and then a break is in order. Early this afternoon, between our seemingly never-ending storms and showers, I headed outside our building, Canon 5D in tow. Destination: a small planted prairie that's a riot of color from coneflowers, compass-plant, bergamot and other prairie fare.
This brief photographic excursion turned out to be perhaps the brightest idea I had today. Nearly as soon as I clapped eyes on the little prairie, a Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe, shot by! I think these day-flying sphinx moths are just about the neatest things on scaly wings, with the added perk of making for supremely challenging photo subjects.

As soon as the moth darted by, I clicked the camera to shutter priority and notched the control wheel to a speed of 1/1250 - super fast!

Hummingbird Clearwing Photo Tip: If you're out to catch one of these bugs on pixels, use as fast a shutter speed as you can get away with. This'll mean turning the camera off Full Auto, and to Shutter Priority (easiest way). Then, you can easily control the speed at which the camera's shutter opens and closes, and let the camera figure out the other parameters.

Hummingbird Clearwings, when patrolling for nectar, are in perpetual motion. Their wings are a blur, a la hummingbird, and they're nearly always jigging and bobbing. I dare say there are more fuzzy, blurry shots of these moths than the vast majority of insects. A lightning fast shutter speed is essential to freeze them.

This particular Hummingbird Clearwing was smitten with the nectar of Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. The moth would rapidly approach a flowering head, unfurl its staggeringly long proboscis and deftly thrust it deep into a flower's corolla tube. All in the blink of an eye. And off in a circle the animal would go, plundering its way around the inflorescence and then quickly darting to a new plant.

The nonstop bustle of this moth brings up another Photo Tip: Put your camera on burst mode. Ever had some bird photographer with a huge tripod-mounted lens standing next to you when something cool came along? All of a sudden his/her camera explodes to life with an Uzi-like rapidfire burst of clicks. That's burst mode. My Canon will pop off about six shots a second, and by employing a photographic blitzkrieg, your odds of getting a decent image of a rapidly moving object go way up.

This rather pleasing little shrub is Wild Honeysuckle, Diervilla lonicera, and it is one of the native good guys. Some nurseries stock it, and Diervilla is a plant worth searching out. In addition to its aesthetics, Wild Honeysuckle is a host plant for the caterpillars of Hummingbird Clearwing moths. This is one of myriad examples of why landscaping with native plants is infinitely interesting. Toss the right botanical ingredients out, and you make things such as Hummingbird Clearwing moths.

Should you find yourself near Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday, July 27, stop by the Midwest Native Plant Conference. There'll be vendors galore and scads of valuable native plants for sale. You'll certainly find some flora that will enrich your yard. NOTE: The conference and its various talks and programs is full, but Saturday is open to the public for purposes of visiting our vendors, so feel free to stop by.

This rather charming little caterpillar with the black and yellow horn is the larvae of our other common hummingbird moth, the Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis. I made this image last year, in a very urban area not too far from my office. By using the right plants, it isn't too hard to attract such beasts. Plant proper plants, and they will come.



Jack and Brenda said...

Excellent job of getting the photos! Some quick thinking and reactions were needed to catch it.

I've never had a camera in hand when I've seen one (which would of only given me the opportunity, not a guarantee of a photo)

Dave Lewis said...

My favorite moth! I love seeing those, I have yet to get a shot of one in our gardens...

Gaia Gardener: said...

I love the clearwing moths. Actually, I love all hawk moths - even the maligned tobacco hornworm.

I saw my first (two) caterpillars of white-lined hawk moth this spring, feeding on pink evening primrose in my front garden. It was amazing that caterpillars that large could come from plants that relatively flimsy!

Nice to see your photos, especially of the caterpillars, which I've never seen before.

Bruce Lindman said...

Photographed this related "Bumblebee Moth" (Snowberry Clearwing) at Wahkeena Nature Preserve just a few days after you took your shots.