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Friday, June 15, 2001


Hummingbird hawkmoth

* Japanese name: Oosukashiba * Scientific name: Cephonodes hylas * Description: These moths are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds, because they fly just like them. But they are in fact insects -- day-flying moths. The thorax and abdomen of this species are bright green, with red, black and yellow stripes, and it has a 50-70 mm wingspan. Its two pairs of wings are joined together (in most other species of insect, the two pairs of wings beat separately). Most other moths and butterflies have scales on their wings, but the wings of the hummingbird hawkmoth are clear. After its first flight the scales on its wings fall off, giving it another name -- the clearwing hummingbird moth. Its antennae are club-shaped and are used for balance -- if one gets damaged, the insect will fly around in circles.

* Where to find them: Around flowers in parks, cultivated gardens, forest edges and meadows. Females lay their eggs, about 20 at a time, during May and June. Caterpillars of this moth (green with a blue stripe) can be found from July to October, when they pupate.

* Food: Nectar from flowers. Caterpillars eat the leaves of various plants, and are serious pests of coffee plants, which has earned the species yet another name -- the coffee bee hawkmoth.

* Special features: Adults hover over flowers to feed on the nectar, sucking it out with a proboscis (tongue) up to 30 mm long. The moth has to remain a constant distance from the flower in order to take up nectar, so it has very finely tuned reactions and highly controlled flight ability. If there is a gust of wind, the moth instantly and precisely follows the movement of the flower head. Caterpillars have a horn on the end of their bodies, and if disturbed will wave the tail end like a snake, in an attempt to scare off predators.

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