Okay, for a lot of people, hummingbird moths are nothing to be afraid of.
(And they’re not.)
But the thing is while the moths don’t do any damage, the larvae do. If you’ve seen how they eat, you’d know.
Keeping the adult moths away will help keep the caterpillars away too. So this is why you may want to do this.
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
- Why you hummingbird moths are in your garden
- Whether they’re dangerous or not
- Identifying hummingbird moths
- Getting rid of their larvae
- How to keep them away naturally
- And more
If you have questions, please let make now.
OK, let’s dive in and learn how to keep these moths out of your yard.
What’s a hummingbird moth?
Hummingbird moths are a unique species of moth for two reasons: they have special markings on their back that give them their nickname “white-lined sphinx moth.”
They also feed from plant flowers like hummingbirds. So they’re basically like mini hummingbirds, but just not as graceful.
They can be found fluttering from Texas, Florida, Colorado, Alaska, Maine, Arizona, and more.
These moths aren’t usually dangerous to your garden plant varieties, but once they mate and then lay their eggs, their offspring larvae are harmful.
The larvae are small caterpillars that’ll consume your plants like crazy because their only task is to feed.
Getting rid of these moths can keep your plants safe from their larvae. You can either get rid of the moth or get rid of the caterpillar. Both are the same insect.
Ideally, the moth is much easier to control compared to the larvae because they can hide very well while they feast on your foliage.
Hummingbird moths have multiple aliases.
You may have heard them called the following names:
- White-lined sphinx moth
- Snowberry clearwing
- Hummingbird clearwing
- Sphinx moth
- Hawk moth
- Common clearwing
- Tersa Sphinx moth
- Titan sphinx
Think of a cross between a small bird and a bee. They have furry wings with powerful muscles that allow them to hover in place just like a hummingbird.
There are other 17 identified species of these moths, each varying in looks and habitat. Because of their size, they can be mistaken for actual hummingbirds.
The wings can be yellow, white, black, orange, tan, black, or silver. They range from 1-2 inches in length, while hummingbirds are 3-4 inches.
They have large gray hairs with feathers and rust markings or patterns on their body. They’re distinctly smaller than birds, but only by a few inches.
Relative to other moths, the hummingbird moth is huge. Its wingspan can range up to 3 inches across. It has a brown with white speckled abdomen and brown forewings with orangish bodies.
This month is very easy to identify when feeding because it’ll hover around just like hummingbirds, bees, or even birds.
The proboscis can be up to 5 inches long.
Hummingbird moths will emerge from eggs in the spring then feed for a few weeks as a caterpillar. Then when they’re large enough, they pupate into moths.
The adult comes out of the chrysalis and then drinks nectar from flowers. It’s a very straightforward lifecycle just like most caterpillar/moths have.
If you’ve done the whole science kit thing in school, you know how it works.
What do they eat?
Hummingbird moths love to suck the sap from a variety of plants. Some are preferred over others.
If you have any of these plants in your garden, you may see them feeding:
- Bee balm
- Plant phlox
- Butterfly bush
- Butterfly weed
- Joe Pye weed
- Morning glories
- Trumpet plants
- Centranthus (valarian)
Other native wild plants are trumpet-shaped or have nectar that’s easy to access for their proboscis.
Where are they found?
The habitat of these moths is commonly where flowering plants are present. You’ll find them near sources of water with plenty of colorful flowers to feed on.
You’ll find them in areas that are quiet with minimal disturbances. You often won’t see them in the daytime unless you actively go hunting for them.
They avoid the light, so if there’s an overcast day, you may see them actively feeding. Some states are more populous with these pests, such as Colorado.
There are over 12 species of the 17 found just in CO. They love to hove around the state because of the many miles of heavenly forested areas.
They also can migrate to nearby states such as Texas or Florida. Hummingbird moths skype themselves, which is good for most gardeners.
People usually aren’t even aware of them because of their nighttime feeding habits.
They also don’t like areas that are populated because they prefer quieter environments with solitude.
Because of this, they won’t really invade your garden. Even if they do, they don’t pose a threat to your plants unless there are a lot of them because they’ll lay hundreds of eggs for their young.
This will lead to many caterpillars which will eat up your plants.
While moths aren’t an issue, the larvae will cause vast amounts of damage to your foliage, especially seedlings which can be killed by the feeding.
Note that there are some hummingbird moths that are active during the day.
Where do they come from?
Hummingbird moths are migratory creatures so they likely came from somewhere that had a very cold winter.
They migrate to a warmer region when necessary. You may only see them seasonally if you’re in a state that has winters with temperatures above 65F.
Any host plant that they can sap nectar from will do. These moths won’t stay in zones that are cold. They’ll leave in search of warmer ones.
Where do they hide?
Hummingbird moths don’t hide. They just hover around gracefully as they feed on the pollen from flowers.
They can be found in the garden, near shrubs, or other flowering foliage that is colorful. They can be found around their preferred host plants in midair.
But they usually come out at night as they’re active during this time (nocturnal). These moths are usually harmless as they help pollinate your veggies and fruits.
But if you want to stop them from laying eggs that breed caterpillars, you’ll have to do something about them to keep them out of the garden.
They feed with their proboscis (the tube) that they curl when not in use. They can help pollinate plants.
But while the moths aren’t a problem, the caterpillars are. Hummingbird moths lay eggs in clusters of 200-300.
The larvae will consume your plants until they pupate into moths during the winter and emerge later in the springtime.
The larvae are specifically called tobacco hornworms or tomato caterpillars.
Perhaps you’ve heard of them?
What do they turn into?
They turn into caterpillars. Specifically, tobacco or tomato hornworms.
These moths will pupate during the winter and then emerge in the spring as their women counterparts which does all the damage. While the moth is harmless, the worm isn’t.
The tomato caterpillars are voracious eaters and will damage plants in a short time. Tomato hornworms are very similar to their cousin’s tobacco hornworms.
These caterpillars will destroy your edibles. These guys eat everything. Tomato, eggplant, and even potato or pepper.
The larvae are green which makes them hard to see while they feed.
Are they poisonous?
No, these moths aren’t poisonous and won’t bite. They’re also harmless to pets.
The only thing to note is that if you smack them, they’ll leave some powdery material behind which can stain clothing.
The most dangerous thing about hummingbird moths is their offspring larvae.
Hummingbird moth damage
Hummingbird moths don’t cause any damage from regular feeding.
They’re considered to be a beneficial pollinators for your plants because they help get the pollen between male and female flowers.
Even if you have a ton of them swarming at night, they likely won’t cause any serious damage to your flowers.
The larvae are what do the damage!
Signs of infestation
There are a few obvious signs that hummingbird moths are present.
Look for the following clues to see if you have these moths in your garden:
- Visible hummingbird moths feeding on foliage
- Fluttering moths or “hummingbirds” in the night
- Visible caterpillars or hornworm damage to the leaves
- Larvae hiding under the leaves, behind stalks, or in the foliage
- Visible cocoons when tilling the soil
- Damaged leaves with torn edges and holes in the foliage
- Visible caterpillars anywhere on the plant
- Egg clusters on the bottom of leaves
If you see hummingbird moths feeding on a host plant, chances are that they’ll deposit eggs there too.
How to get rid of hummingbird moths naturally
Hummingbird moths aren’t a real threat for most gardeners, but if you want to discourage them from feeding and then later laying eggs in your yard, you’ll want to formulate a plan to get rid of them.
The following techniques are natural or organic ways to keep them out of your garden.
You’ll probably plant fruits or veggies, which means you want to avoid introducing synthetic poisons to your plants.
Besides, it’s not a problem to get rid of these guys because they’re rarely an issue in the first place. So let’s dive in.
Use moth repelling plants
There are some plants that can help repel hummingbird moths.
Consider introducing these to your garden for a completely natural way to keep moths out.
Plants that emit strong odors or aromas are especially useful to repel hummingbird moths.
Depending on your hardiness zone, see which one of these power plants can be planted with ease:
- Lemon thyme
As you can see, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you’re planting herbs or edibles, these may pair well with what you’ve got going on already.
Again, be sure to check your hardiness zone against the plants you’re considering growing.
Don’t make it hard on yourself by planting something way out of your zone.
Use sticky traps to help catch the caterpillars. Wrap your foliage or stems to help keep the larvae from crawling up the stems. While it doesn’t do anything for the moths, it can passively get rid of the larvae.
Prune off foliage that has visible eggs. This can get rid of larvae in huge numbers, as each egg cluster can have upwards of 300 eggs.
They’re visible to the naked eye, so just remove the leaves and dispose of them (soapy water) to kill the caterpillars.
You can set up row covers or plant netting to help keep moths out.
These are those plant covers that are made to keep birds and bugs out. They still let your plants receive sunlight and water but prevent larger pests from getting through.
Check the grid size so you can ensure the hummingbird moths can’t get in.
Of course, if there are caterpillars present, they can sneak through or dig under the soil line to get to the goods.
Here’s an example of how they work.
You can find them in all sorts of materials and sizes. Everything from plastic to thread is available.
Or you can cut them to size as needed. This is one of the easiest and cheapest natural remedies.
The drawback? It’s often hard for beginners to set it up correctly.
Bugs still get through the gaps because it wasn’t drawn to the soi line or the size is wrong. It also prevents pollinators from getting through like birds and bees.
You have to remove the netting in the daytime so beneficial pollinators can pollinate your plants. But then put it back on at night so the hummingbird moths can’t get inside.
Otherwise, it’s a cheap, easy, and quick way to do it. Try this before you use commercial sprays or chemicals on your plants. It’s often not necessary!
If you don’t want to spend on plant netting, consider nylon stockings.
These can be stretched out over your smaller plants like herbs or seedlings. It still lets them generate energy (photosynthesis) while keeping bugs out.
Bug zapper lights (those blue lights) can help deter moths. Just like how they say “moths to a flame,” the same rings true for these pest control lights.
Given that hummingbird moths are actively foraging at night, the zapper lights work well.
Of course, this is a passive solution that will leave behind a ton of dead moths, so if that’s not what you’re going for, try another remedy.
Consider utilizing natural predators that eat hummingbird moths to help control them.
If you have any of these species in your garden, do some reading to find out how to lure in more of them:
They can help either eat the moth (avian species) or the moths while the crawling species can rid the caterpillars.
This is one of the most natural ways you can prevent hummingbird moths.
By using the feeding habits of other predators that eat them, you can effectively limit the population.
Get rid of the larvae
The hummingbird moth larvae (tobacco hornworms) are what do the bulk of the damage to your plants.
If you get rid of them, you stop the lifecycle from continually breeding more moths.
These larvae require their own special methodologies to eliminate them. You can follow these guides:
You’ll find that the strategies for caterpillar management are largely the same.
If you already notice that larvae are present in your plants, then controlling both the hummingbird adult moths while removing the larvae can be a very good technique to get rid of the pest entirely.
Introduce parasitic wasps to your garden
Parasitic wasps can help eliminate larvae. These wasps won’t damage your crops, but may not be available in your area.
There are multiple types of wasps, and you can even order them online. Use as directed. The wasps will consume the larvae so they will never be able to pupate.
Use bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring bacteria that are considered organic.
It’s widely used for pest control and can be safe for edible plants. Bt can be used to kill the caterpillars so they don’t spawn in and destroy the plants.
It doesn’t harm other insects but does have a few drawbacks. Make sure you read the instructions and use them as directed if you choose to go this route.
There are many products on the market, so do your research. Get something for residential use and safe for edibles.
More info about these moths
Here are some commonly asked questions about these mysterious moths.
Should you get rid of hummingbird moths?
That’s up to you.
If you’re here reading this article and you’re sure the caterpillars are from hummingbird moths in your garden, then it may be worthwhile to take steps to discourage them from feeding.
However, for most people, hummingbird moths are a welcome addition because they help pollinate fruits and veggies, and other decorative plants.
But if they start depositing eggs in your garden, that’s where the issue lies.
Over time, it’s only a given that you’re going to have little caterpillars cropping up on your…crops.
What attracts hummingbird moths?
They’re attracted to plants that have colorful flowers with easy-to-access nectar.
This is why they have some preferred host plants like bee balm or plant phlox.
Hummingbird moths are kind of rare to see because they congregate in areas with minimal disturbance and they usually are active nocturnally. But if you have these favorite plants in your garden, you may see a few of them buzzing about.
They love flowers and plants which they can stick their long proboscis to sip nectar from.
So if you have plants that attract these moths, you may see them around! It’s a good thing to have the moths, but not the caterpillars.
What time do hummingbird moths come out?
These graceful creatures come out during the night and day but are more commonly seen at night as they feed in private.
Sphinx moths may be seen fluttering about and drinking sap anytime.
But if you want to see them in numbers, nighttime is your best bet. They can be found in meadows, forest edges, or your own yard.
Are hummingbird moths a pest?
This is subjective.
It depends on your situation. If you’re not growing any prized plants, then perhaps a few moth larvae here and there won’t cause too much damage in your garden.
But if you’re growing edibles or something that you’re putting in the work for, then you may consider them a nuisance pest.
While a few hummingbird moths won’t do much harm, the larvae that they lay will. The moths themselves are fine, but the caterpillars aren’t.
If you could eliminate the larvae without harming the moths, that would be ideal for a wildlife garden.
Do hummingbird moths go to hummingbird feeders?
Hummingbird moths have been spotted visiting nectar feeders overnight!
These moths fall for the fake flower feeders and will try to drink out of them.
While they won’t do any harm to the feeder, they may fool you. That’s no bird. That’s a moth, friend. You may even see those fluttering wings just like the real bird.
They can sip nectar through the feeder too.
Here’s a video of one doing the deed:
Where do hummingbird moths lay their eggs?
These moths will lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves.
The eggs are usually found on plant leaves such as cherries, viburnums, hawthorns, honeysuckles, snowberries, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, petunias, and more.
They can lay upwards of 300 eggs! How’s that? Vines, shrubs, and other leaves are my favorites.
The eggs are well camouflaged. They’re usually white or black with a perfect sphere shape.
Each egg will hatch in 6-8 days on average, and then the larvae will begin feeding for about 21 days. The caterpillars are yellow or green with large bodies.
What happens to hummingbird moths in the winter?
In the winter, these moths will migrate to places that are warmer. They usually seep the nectars from plants that’ll sustain them during this time.
They will hibernate by spinning into the resting pupa so they can hide in the soil to keep warm from the elements.
These moths usually won’t be able to withstand the cold unless they go somewhere else that’s warmer so they can sustain themselves.
Otherwise, the cold will kill the moths in the end. But if they lay eggs, that’ll spawn a new generation of these guys.
Here are some handy references you may find useful:
- Don’t be fooled by hummingbird moths – Farm and Dairy
- Hummingbird Moth – used a 1/4000th SS @ ISO 4000
- Hummingbird Moth, Hemaris thysbe – Wisconsin Horticulture
Hummingbird moths – Pest or pet?
Sphinx moths are often a pleasure to have in the garden as they hover from plant to plant sapping up that precious nectar.
They can be gorgeous native wildlife to your yard.
If the caterpillars are an issue though, then you’ll want to take steps to manage these guys. It really depends on what you’re growing and how much you care for those plants.
Going for the wild native look? Then leave them be. Growing important plants?
Then get rid of the buggers! Use the DIY solutions outlined in this guide to get rid of those moths naturally without those darn synthetic poisons.
If you have questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.