Oh! Look at the… Humming-bugs?
They are large enough to be confused with small birds. In fact, due to their ability to hover, many people confuse them with hummingbirds. They are most active at dusk and can be found buzzing around flowers, drinking nectar. Introducing the Hawk Moth, from the family Sphingidae, the B-52 massive flyers of the moth community. One species has a tongue 7 inches long. Put into perspective; that would be like a human having a tongue that could reach 14 feet. No friend’s ice cream cone would be safe.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hornworm
Hawk Moths are the Jekyll and Hyde of the insect world. The kind loving adult moth flies around peacefully pollinating, while the larval form is a bane to agriculture. One common species, the tomato hornworm, can defoliate an entire tomato plant in a few days. Tobacco hornworm outbreaks can decimate entire crop fields. Crop damage isn’t all; an angered horn worm can spit a sticky often toxic, slurry of chemicals at ants and other predators.
Though the adult form is often thought to be a form of hummingbird, the larval form is much more identifiable. These worms are long, plump and come in a characteristic green or sometimes brown color. All species have the trademark horn on their backside.
Though a tomato hornworm prefers tomatoes, it will also eat potato plants and peppers. They are plant specific, and only target closely related vegetation. In the fall, the fattened worm will drop to the ground and burrow into the soil. It forms a large brown cocoon. Hornworms overwinter in this state. When late spring arrives, an adult hawk moth will emerge from the ground, stretch its wings, and take to the air. Adult life spans can last an entire month. After finding its preferred plant, a female moth will deposit a group of eggs and the whole process begins again.
There are over 1,400 species of hawk moth. Most follow a common life pattern. There are exceptions. In the tropics, one species of hawk moth has given up on flowers and prefers eye excrement. Imagine waking up to a palm-sized moth feasting on your eye-boogers.
Death’s Head Hawk Moth
The Death’s Head Hawk Moth gets its name from a characteristic human skull shape found on its thorax. The skull in human culture has come to denote death, danger, or evil. If irritated, the moth can emit a loud squeak. Both the skull and its sound terrified people of long ago; however, there is nothing frightening about the moth, unless you’re a honey bee. Unlike other species of Sphingidae, the Death’s Head Hawk Moth doesn’t eat nectar, it loves honey. Rather than fly around flowers it steals honey. The moth is equipped with the ability to mimic the scent of bees. Worker bees simply assume the massive moth is one of them and let it eat their precious golden horde.
Friend or Foe?
The Hawk Moth has many fancy attributes; and whether it’s masquerading as an obese honey bee or stealing your crunchy eye fluids left by the Sandman, the hawk moth is a fascination in nature.