Was that a Hummingbird?

Our Garden and Gift Shop staff are often asked by visitors, “Was that a Hummingbird I saw?”

The answer is No, Hummingbirds are not found in Hawaii.  The small creature they are referring to is a day-flying moth. Two species of moths, Macroglossum stellatarum and
Macroglossum pyrrhosticta, are often seen feeding on various flowers in the Garden.

Sphinx Moth

A Hummingbird Hawksmoth preparing to sip nectar from a Cat’s Whisker flower (Orthosiphon stamineus)

These moths, commonly known as Hummingbird Hawkmoths or Sphinx Moths are newcomers to The Hawaiian Islands, being first observed on Oahu in 1976.

Since that time, they have spread to all of the Islands.  They may be seen year-round, although most moths are
observed in early Spring as this is their peak hatching time.

The moths have many similar physical and behavioral characteristics to Hummingbirds. They are approximately one to one-and-a-half inches long with a
two inch wingspan. Most have gray bodies with dark markings on the wings, although some species also have pink, rust, or white markings on their bodies. Adding to the confusion is their extremely long proboscis, which they use to sip nectar from long, tubular shaped flowers.

This appendage is often mistaken for a bird’s bill. While feeding, the moths hover in front of the plants rapidly flapping their wings, which also give them the appearance of Hummingbirds.

The next time you visit the Garden you may want to look for these interesting moths along the boardwalk. They especially enjoy the Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon stamineus) and lmpatiens (Impatiens walleriana) plants.

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