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Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist.

hummingbird moth feeding from purple flower

There’s something about this rapid wing-beating creature, a hummingbird moth, that may just cause you to do a double-take.

READER QUESTIONS

Q: Last week, I had a new bug in our yard where we have many flowers along the edge of our lawn that looked like a giant bee or a small hummingbird but without a bill. My uncle, who has gardened for years, says it is probably a moth but it looks like a hummingbird without a bill. It flies like a hummingbird at a flower and hovers like one. He says it is a hummingbird moth. What is it eating? Could it be eating the inside of the flowers? What can you tell me about it? And now that I watch it, I know it isn’t a bird but a large bug insect. And a wonderful thing to watch. Fast as a hummingbird, but an insect!

— Rita, Pittsfield

A: There’s something about this rapid wing-beating creature, a hummingbird moth, that may cause you to do a double-take. It’s one of the most fascinating insects (yes, it’s an insect!) to roam the garden, and we’ve got facts about this moth that is sure to amaze! Like butterflies, hummingbird moths have an extra-long proboscis to sip nectar, sometimes twice the length of their body. A member of the sphinx moths prefers tube-shaped flowers with nectar in the base of the petals, such as columbines, nasturtiums, and four o'clocks (also known as Marvel-of-Peru).

Plant phlox, bee balm or other pollinator favorites in your flower garden to attract hummingbird moths. They are active during daylight but also during the night. Once I took a flashlight to see what might be active in the flower garden, and aside from a skunk nearby searching grubs on the lawn, there were a few of these moths, acting just as if it was noontime feeding on the phlox and other favorites in the flower garden that attract hummingbird moths, bees, flies and others.

Q: I have been noticing monarch butterflies probably heading to winter grounds along with newer hatched ones visiting flower gardens, but more so the tiger swallowtails, and I thought they were around more so earlier in the season. What is up? And why is it so named?

— Al P., visiting, Great Barrington

A: First, this butterfly’s name stems from its name having a (somewhat) tiger-like tiger pattern. Its body is yellow with longitudinal black stripes. They can have a couple of broods during the summer, and usually, adults live just over roughly ten days, I have read.

READER COMMENTS

A reader writes: "Last summer, you wrote about your enormous goldenrod plant that grew as tall as you in your garden. This summer, I have one, not as tall, but I water it, and it is doing well attracting all kinds of bees, large to tiny, flies large and small, and all kinds of other bugs. As a weed, it certainly feeds a lot of things. And now that it is in full golden color, it is as beautiful as any cultivated flower as I have. I wonder why we don’t use this “weed” as a plant along edges for garden edges. It really is lovely." 

From Christine, who wrote earlier this summer about the crazy jumping earthworms: “I think most gardeners hoped that the absence of the worms in large numbers until now was a hopeful sign. Unfortunately, the life cycle of the worm has each new generation that begins with the production of hardened egg capsules, known as cocoons, that overwinter in the soil to hatch the following spring and mature at the same time near the end of summer. So they are beginning to appear in more significant numbers now.

"There is a new fertilizer made from tea seed meal that irritates and eventually kills these worms when applied to the soil. Two applications are recommended, one in late April or early May to target the young hatchlings and again in the summer to suppress the remaining worms. It is expensive, and its effectiveness is unknown, but maybe in the future, it will be readily available. Thanks for keeping the JWs issue in the news.”

MORE ON JUMPING WORMS

The University of Massachusetts reports:

“Jumping worms are smooth, glossy and dark gray/brown in color. A mature adult is 4-5 inches long. (However, some sources note that these species can be 1.5 – 8 inches in length during their lifetime.) Their clitellum (a lighter colored band around the worm) is cloudy-white to gray in color and completely wraps around the body of the worm. The surface of the clitellum is also flush with the body. The clitellum is found relatively close to the head of the worm, approximately 1/3 the total length of the worm from the head. Adult worms are firm and not coated with a slimy substance. They will thrash violently when disturbed and are often found in large groups of individuals. Jumping worms do not burrow deep into the soil and are typically found on the soil surface in debris or leaf litter. However, jumping worms may be found in various habitats, such as yards, gardens, forests, mulch, compost, potted plants, and other similar areas. The observations from many states suggest that these worms prefer moist areas with high organic matter content and are most commonly found on properties next to forested, wooded areas, flower beds, and in raised garden beds.”

If any Berkshire Readers have encountered these, let NatureWatch know.

 

Email Thom Smith at Naturewatch41@gmail.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.