Q: I am writing you to ask about a creature in our pink petunias going from blossom to blossom. It looked like a mix between a bee and a hummingbird. Does he have a name? -- JANICE, Cheshire

A: It is a moth that so resembles a hummingbird, we call it the hummingbird moth, or hummingbird sphinx. And unlike most other moths, is seen during the day rather than after sundown. No wonder many people confuse it at first glance with the hummingbird, the way it hovers over colorful blossoms. They are a good size, growing up to 2 inches long with hairs at the end of the abdomen that might be confused with feathers. I must admit, the first time I saw one I did confuse the two for a moment. The wings of this species are mostly clear and give the impression of a hummingbird in flight -- the reason this insect is sometimes called a hummingbird clearwing. Another reason some of us have confused them, is when one is about to feed, it opens or uncoils its long needle-like (or bill-like) "feeding straw," called the proboscis. This makes them wonderful pollinators, getting deep within one flower gathering pollen and delivering it to another. Another common name for this moth, especially in its caterpillar stage, is hornworm. Their caterpillars feed on leaves of the trees and shrubs in the rose and honeysuckle family. Look for adults in gardens and fields about now, and the bright green or even reddish caterpillar through frost.


Advertisement

There was a time at the Berkshire Botanical Garden when we walked by a flowering shrub that had maybe a dozen of these moths hovering about. What a sight!

Q: We have some garter snakes in our basement. They go out to sun themselves and I saw where they get into the house. I have contacted two outfits that advertise as taking care of such situations, but so far no one has called me back.

Do you have any suggestions of how to get rid of them? -- NORA

A: Garter snakes are harmless and are probably doing you a favor. If you have any teenagers in the neighborhood, ask them to help. Catch and release!

Q: Is it unusual to see a downy woodpecker feeding at a hummingbird feeder? -- MARY ELLEN

A: Not unusual, just uncommon. They seem to prefer suet feeders and peanut butter, but will also take sunflower seeds, peanuts and sometimes will drink the sugar water from oriole and hummingbird feeders.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com