The Exhilarating Encounter with a Hummingbird Moth

by Sandra Tuszynska

Latest update on Hawk Moths in Australia.

About two weeks ago I have experienced something out of my ordinary. I was talking to a friend in her garden at around 6 pm, and as we stood by a red bottle brush (Callistemon), we heard a very loud buzzing sound. The larger than normal pollinator hovered with it’s extremely rapidly beating wings near the flowers. It was just like a tiny hummingbird! We were so intrigued, we almost got fooled, but I knew that unfortunately, we do not have hummingbirds in Australia.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth, <em>Macroglossum micacea</em>, Wilkesdale, SE QLD, Australia

Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Macroglossum micacea, Wilkesdale, SE QLD, Australia

I started craving for my camera. Soon my friend brought out her brand new Cannon hoping to maybe get a shot of this fascinating little creature, so we could get a closer look. As we have suspected this fantastic, hovering beauty was a hawkmoth. I was determined to get a closer pic and was very glad when my friend handed me her camera. I followed the very adamant creature trying to capture it’s beauty on camera. It was fast and I just stood there mesmerised by its disposition.

Macroglossum sp. Wilkedale, AustraliaAfter some time it seemed to have become accustomed to my prying presence and began to ignore me, completing it’s seemingly one pointed mission, as I ecstatically snapped away. I could have stayed there for ever, I did not want this experience to ever end. After a while though, it was time for me to leave this impressive experience behind. As I walked away, I hoped that at least some of the photos would turn out, so I can identify the creature and perhaps share its beauty with others.

IMG_1236-Macroglossum sp. Wilkedale, AustraliaI asked my friend if I could borrow her SD card to copy the images onto my computer. I could not believe the treasure I have acquired. I felt so much joy, just like an excited child who has just received a brand new toy, or better yet a brand new puppy!

IMG_1238-Macroglossum sp. Wilkedale, AustraliaSome days later I sat down to get a closer look at the images and choose a few good ones to share. I also started doing some research to identify this hummingbird-like hawkmoth. This turned out to be a long winded venture. I first looked up Google Pictures to see if any other person has posted a photo of this creature. I found a few similar moths but from China and Europe. The genus I began to suspect the moth must be from is Macroglossum, but I could not find photos of any similar species in Australia. This lead me to find an incredible photographer, SINOBUG form Toowoomba, who has moved to China to photograph insects. Another fantastic resource I encountered is the Australian Wildlife Photography group on Flickr, where people post some of the most amazing images of Australian Wildlife.

IMG_1242-Macroglossum sp. Wilkedale, AustraliaI emailed Helen Schwencke, a butterfly expert and author of Create More ButterfliesEarthling Enterprises. Helen suggested that it might be a Bee Hawk moth, Cephonodes spp., but after some comparison of the features between the moths I was in doubt. I’ve checked the Australian Museum site and images, and Ous-Lep a site dedicated to Australian Lepidoptera, the moth and butterfly order, but I could not see what I was looking for. It is not easy to compare a photo of a live specimen with a drawing or photos of dead specimen.

Macroglossum micacea, Wilkesdale, SE QLD, AustraliaI’ve decided to ask What’s that Bug. This incredible site is run by passionate volunteers in the U.S., who identify insects from photos that people upload. To my surprise, I received a massage from them in less than a day and here is what Daniel wrote:

Dear Sandra,

We believe we have identified your diurnal Hawkmoth as Macroglossum micacea based on images posted to Butterfly House where it states:  “The adult moths of this species have dark brown forewings sometimes with indistinct paler bands across them. They have even darker brown hind wings with two yellow areas by the inner margin. The moths have a wingspan of about 5 cms.”  Little other information is provided and the site does not indicate the species flies during the day.  The Sphingidae Taxonomic Inventory shows Queensland as the only part of Australia where sightings have been reported.  Since they are in the same genus, the similarity to Macroglossum stellatarum is understandable.  It is also pictured on the Papua Insects Foundation.  Most online images are of mounted specimens, and we are thrilled to be able to post your excellent action photos of this lovely diurnal Hawkmoth.

IMG_1253-Macroglossum sp. Wilkedale, AustraliaI was so grateful and absolutely delighted by this response. I notified Helen who suggested to Ask an Entomologist to confirm the moth’s ID. So I emailed Dr. Kathy Ebert to illuminate me further on this humming query. I have not heard back yet but I am patiently waiting. In the meantime I have started to do some research on hummingbird and other hawkhmoths.

IMG_1255-Macroglossum sp. Wilkedale, AustraliaI have downloaded some fascinating science articles on moth vision. Here is a preview of what’s to come in the next post:

Hummingbird moths are actually diurnal species, meaning that they forage during the day. Besides using olfactory or scent senses, they have cololour or chromatic vision to identify their food source. Additionally they also use achromatic cues such as intensity of contrast or brightness to identify their preferred nectar sources. Like us and bees, they also use colour constancy, the ability to recognise a specific colour regardless of the illumination, which may change the shade or intensity of a colour. However, unlike us and bees, who are colourblind at night, nocturnal moths are able to discriminate flowers at starlight intensity. Moths, like us, bees and other animals learn to distinguish colours and can be trained to do so, if given a sweet reward.

IMG_1258-Macroglossum sp. Wilkedale, AustraliaSo until next post, I hope you get to enjoy the incredible natural beauty that we still have around us.

About Mt Gravatt Environment Group

Mt Gravatt Environment Group is restoring a unique piece of Australain native bushland only ten minutes from Brisbane CBD.
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59 Responses to The Exhilarating Encounter with a Hummingbird Moth

  1. Fascinating post Sandra … extraordinary photos of an extraordinary creature and I am fascinated to follow your search for an id on this moth.

  2. Yvonne Bochow says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I just saw one of these in my paddock, feeding on lantana flowers (I know, I know). It came out of the scrub across the road and towards me, it was so loud I could hear it coming but couldn’t see it, it was so small ! I followed it around, it moves so quick! I have been hearing this sound for a couple of weeks now, just on sunset, in the scrub and have been putting the sound down to beetles coming out, but it’s these! I thought it was a bird at first but so small and after it left me behind I went to look in my bird book – not a thing to be found! Google? and your post came up, so thank you for reassuring me I’m not crazy. I’m in Far North Queensland, approx. 430m above sea level, on the edge of the Mowbray National Park, the area has been largely cleared for 80+ years, lots of regrowth scrub in gullies etc for 30+ years. Several residential 5 acre block suburbs developed since 1990’s.

    • Hi Yvonne

      I am glad you have had a similar encounter to mine. I can understand why you thought you were crazy, I thought I was too, and secretly hoped, it was a bird, but I know we don’t have hummingbirds in Australia. There are a number of species of these beauties, so I wonder which one you have seen? They are difficult to identify, I found. The area you live in sounds fascinating.

      With regards to your comment about lantana, for a while now I have been aware that it attracts so many butterfly species and small birds love to hide in it. It is no surprise since lantana seems to be the only flowering plant in some scrub and bush lands, actually supporting a large number of nectar feeding animals. Some research from the University of New England’s Avian Behavioural Ecology lab is showing that the removal of Lantana actually harms native fauna, causing depreciation in a number of species, due to these species having adapted to live in, on and by feeding on lantana. Here is the link http://theconversation.com/hold-the-spray-some-garden-weeds-are-helping-native-wildlife-47848

      Lovely to hear from you and feel your excitement about the hummingbird-moth Yvonne.

      Sandra

      • Ben Olsen says:

        Hi Sandra..just had the most beautiful encounter with The Hummingbird Moth in our garden at Burpengary East, I immediately went onto the computer to find insects of Qld that look like a Hummingbird(have seen them many times overseas on our travels ) and found this article. Absolutely beautiful. Regards Ben Olsen

  3. Evelyn Harber says:

    Thank you for an interesting story of the Hawk/Hummingbird moth. Although fascinated by everything nature has provided around us there is so much we have yet to learn of our natural environment. You have just introduced me to another previously unknown creature, to me in Australia. I also admire the Hummingbirds of America and so was delighted and amazed to hear that in Australia we actually have a representative of the bird in an insect form. WOW. Look forward to learning more about our fascinating mini world from a learned person, or is that curious, yourself. Thank you.

    • Thank you Evelyn … Sandra has shared some amazing experiences from her garden and we are still finding more.
      Michael Fox

    • Hi Evelyn, thank you for your comment, great to hear you enjoyed the post. Yes the learning will never stop and we are always graced with great surprises which make life all worth living!!! The humming birds are so amazing, I’ve had the pleasure of photographing some in Peru recently in the Amazon rainforest verges 🙂 Perhaps it is worth writing a post about them???

  4. Evan Christensen says:

    Thank you for sharing those amazing photos. My wife and I saw one of these fascinating little creatures in the garden tonight at sunset (Scottville Nth Qld). It was feeding on a patch of Vinca’s. Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos so I appreciated yours in helping us to identify it, but we’ll be looking out for it again though.

  5. Julia Toft says:

    Thank you so much for this. We have just seen three of these in our ice cream bean trees and live in Julatten fnq. I am guessing these moths must be very rare as can find little info on them. I only managed to get one very blurry photo sadly but your photos are just fantastic! Julia

  6. Hi Julia, great to know that ice cream bean is being enjoyed by these gorgeous creatures. I have a feeling that perhaps they are not as rare as we might think, but rather that not so many of us stop and investigate the creatures around us as much as we can be investigating? Or it could be both???

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  8. Gavin fones says:

    I have sighted one of these moths in my garden100419 around 1300. In Trinity beach a northern suburb of Cairns. It was feeding on Pentas flower. Pink ones to be exact.
    Just making this post as a matter of record

  9. Larry sandilands says:

    Hello i live at boyne island qld we have a little tree that flowers after we get rain at our back verandah n just on dark we get visits by the hummingbird hawkmoth family which is 2 adults n 2 young whose bodies are about 25mm long parents about 35mm long maybe a bit longer colours are grey brown with a splash of yellow across wings n body l have tried to take photos but they are to fast to get a shot i first saw one at airlie beach bout 7 years ago the next day after a cyclone hsd gone through it was in the afternoon about 2 oclock simular colour but yellow was a strip across wings n body n tail it was more colourful than the ones at boyne island i thought it was a bird until a friend i told about it said no not a bird a moth

  10. Glenda Berhel says:

    I just saw one of these feeding off my Penta’s flowers. I am in central Queensland. What a treat. Thank for sharing your photos, now I know what is is. What a wonderful way to start the morning.

  11. Helen Crosland says:

    Omg omg omg I thought I was going crazy unable to find this…I went thru insect index’s and butterflies and bees but not moths. I only had my mobile and got some average photos but still enough to clearly see the half and half animal. I live in Nyngan central NSW so to see something so left field was amazing. March 2020

    • Hi Helen, so great to hear you have found this post to know what this little miracle is 🙂

      Even more great is your excitement about the creature!

      Makes life even more exciting to share this feeling of pure joy, so thank you for leaving a comment 🙂

  12. Jenny Fiddyment says:

    Thank you so much. We have seen this at Logan Village and thought it was a tiny hummingbird. Like you we were fascinated and kept watching this intriguing creature. It had us stumped to what it could be.

    • So glad you got to see this amazing creature, Jenny, and have found this post, thank you for letting us know about it. W could almost map out where it is now with so many people commenting 🙂

  13. Angela Williams says:

    Hi Sandra thanks for your amazing photos. Couldn’t believe what I was seeing at 5am this morning outside my window at Mt Nathan Gold Coast. Thought it was a giant bee. Hoping I’ll see it again

  14. Emma Bellamy says:

    Bangalow NSW! I too could only think of a hummingbird so was very glad to recall a similar experience in France which led me to ‘hummingbird moth’. What a delightful creature! Thankyou so much Sandra! March 2020.

  15. Christopher Foley says:

    Just seen one eating at my male Papua tree flowers, hummingbird was my 1st thought which is what led me here. Good to watch to slow with my phone cam.

    • Slow mo would be an awesome way to capture it, must get out there and find some more, they must be about with all the comments we’re receiving. Thank you for sharing, Christopher 🙂

  16. Cherie says:

    Hi! I am so happy that I found this site! We have come across two different species in the last two days!! So we are still on a Hummingbird Moth high!!! 😊 Upon our foriginal sighting we at first thought it was a Hummingbird too, but then did our research and found out otherwise but nonetheless still just as mesmerised!! Magical little creatures!! I did get a couple of slo mo images but only on my iPhone 6 so I will try and edit them and post. My husband, ( who just had to out do me) was able to take some recordings on his iPhone 11 and the the quality is there but he is having trouble sending it. It was in an original setting and he somehow changed it to slo mo… he was just trying to show off! 😂 Sandra your photos are Devine!! Thanks so much!!

    • Hi Cherie, with all the treasures around at the moment, it is a wonderful time to be alive! Sounds like you and your husband got some great shots. Feel free to find me on facebook by searching my name, if you’re a user, and tag me in a post if you want to share those images/videos 🙂 Would love to see them!

  17. Deb says:

    Hi Sandra. I’m at Woodgate qld. I have had the utmost privilege and delight at seeing this little moth. I was positive it was a baby hummingbird lol. It has been here for the last two mornings. I feel blessed to be able to witness this little miracle in the midst of these sad times. Thank you for your information and helping me know I wasn’t going stir crazy.

    • Haha, thank you Deb, that is great news! I love that these little creatures bring so much joy to people, and that you are all so generous in sharing your experiences 🙂 Nature just keeps giving and as long as we are willing to receive and appreciate these gifts, it is a beautiful symbiosis 🙂

  18. Carroline Ann Watkins says:

    I believe I just had one in my garden wide bay region Qld , Moore Park Beach near Bundaberg I took a photo on phone but it is not clear.

  19. Karen Wheatland says:

    I have just seen them in our ‘Aussie Gold’ tree, feeding from the yellow flower stamens. I thought it was an extremely small bird, even a hummingbird, until I found this post. We could even identify what looked like male and female. They were feeding amongst rainbow lorikeets and many butterflies. We are in CQ. So pleased I’ve read this.

    • Hi Karen, thank you for letting us know. So good to know the plant species and location, Will have to find out what CQ is, central QLD maybe? Any chance of a more defined location? I think we will have to map this data out haha

  20. John Hohenhaus says:

    Sandra Add another confirmed sighting in Ashgrove Brisbane at 1300 on Pentagon flowers.A real thrill

  21. Birdybuggy says:

    Hi, These are so amazing aren’t they. My daughter first spotted them early in the morning at the beginning of April. She’s 7 and at first I thought she must have been exaggerating. I finally saw them a week later in the evening at dusk feeding on our Duranta (Geisha Girl) in our backyard. We had close to 20 humming around the tree on dusk and unfortunately I do not have a great camera but I was able to see them clearly against the sky. So beautiful and fast. Very special to see and a whole new journey of exploration in the moth world for my daughter and I. We make sure we go outside at dusk every night to watch them and enjoy.
    For the record we are on the Gold Coast in Queensland.

    • Hi there, so fantastic to hear you and your daughter have discovered these flying treasures 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing this. The world is so full of wonder and surprises and makes life so enjoyable and special 🙂

  22. Sylvia Nash says:

    Can you confirm if this was corrctly identified as a species that is only recorded to occur elsewhere in the world?
    Hawk moths and hummingbird moths are the same family not the same genus.
    Most of what people are spotting are more likely to be hawk moths not hummingbird moths.

    • Hi Sylvia

      I do not understand your question: “Can you confirm if this was correctly identified as a species that is only recorded to occur elsewhere in the world?” Are you asking if the species identified in the article occurs elsewhere in the world?

      As for what people are spotting, without images it is not easy, but I think that only hummingbird moths resemble hummingbirds, and all posts report thinking they saw a hummingbird before finding the article. Other hawkmoths have different flight characteristics and not sure they have this long proboscis?

      I am sure there are a variety of species people are reporting as we have several in Australia.

  23. Cyrus says:

    Just spotted one of these in our bottlebrush outside the kitchen window, Nambour Qld. Very confused to se a “Humming bird” in my garden! Thanks to your post, I now know what I saw. Amazing moth!

    Cheers,

  24. Chris Glennie says:

    Hi there! I just saw 3, in my front garden. They were not loud, and it was 4.30pm. They were enjoying Pink pentas lanceolata. 🙂 Great to see all this info! I live at Kawana on the sunshine coast.

  25. Renee says:

    Yesterday i was standing near my flowering jasmi e tree in the garden. Next minute i had what i was fooled to believe was a beautiful tiny hummingbird buzzing about 20cm from my face! This article was very helpful to determine what we were in fact experiencing! Since that day i have seen atleast 20 of these pollinating flowers all around my neighborhood. They are a beautiful addition to our garden and i hope they stick around!!

  26. I just spotted one of these in New Farm Park. Absolutely stunning moth. It has been in the same spot two days in a row at sunset.
    Thank you for sharing and helping me identify !

  27. Susanne Krause says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I, too, have been really excited and fascinated by this “hummingbird” moth, which I first saw three evenings ago. I was pulling dead stems off a large dianthus when this huge moth crawled out from the base of the plant. It flew to an abutilon (Chinese Lantern) tree and proceeded to hover exactly like a humming bird beneath the cup-shaped flower. I was so excited!! I took photos with my phone, but nothing like the ones shown. I’m so grateful to have it identified for me, Thank you.
    Does anyone know how it breeds?
    Regards, Susanne

  28. julierstevens@hotmail.com says:

    Got lots around my tree in my little garden in Noosa, Qld. Glad I’ve had it identified for me from this post. They’ve been around for days and days, lots all the time.

  29. Penny says:

    I have these beautiful and fascinating creatures around my grevilleas in my back garden in Hervey Bay. Seen one on three separate occasions now in the late afternoon.

  30. Elwyn J Paton says:

    Couldn’t believe my eyes when I was looking at my Pentas the other day. There was a tiny ‘bird’ hovering so quickly that I could not see its wings clearly. Then I spied some antlers. So it wasn’t an escapee from a specialist bird house. My moth is much darker than featured in other photos, almost black with specks of white on its lower body and a neat ‘paddle’ at the end of its body. I live on Tamborine Mountain west of the Gold Coast Qld.

  31. Nicole Smith says:

    Thank you for your post. Monday afternoon/night just gone, I went downstairs to set the washing machine and as i went to go back upstairs a critter at my lemon flowers caught my eye. I was mesmerized, I had never seen anything like it. It just hovered, sucking from the flowers. The wings fluttering so fast you couldn’t see them. You could just make out the body, a light brown with and orangey/red spot behind the head? I looked at it for a while its tongue was so long. I had seen pics and videos of humming birds and this was very much like it but, I was sure we didn’t have them in Australia. I called for my husband to come see. He too was so mesmerized he missed a step and fractured his ankle. I am so glad i found your post as i was beginning to think i would never know and could never explain, the one time I didn’t have a camera on me, I wish i had. Regards nicole

  32. Sarah says:

    I just wanted to let you know that we have spotted these in Toowoomba recently. They come to one of our geisha girl plants, regularly. I’ll try and take a photo next time I spot it.

  33. Karen Wilson says:

    Thank you so much for this site, as I was able to identify around 3-4 months that I saw right on dusk tonight, I’m just out of Tamworth NSW I was able to get a bit of video footage on my phone, but not sure how to put it here.. all the best..

  34. john peach says:

    Just magnificent to see.Knew it couldn.t be a hummingbird but what resemblance.Have seen it twice

  35. RICK Brett says:

    Stumbled across thiese amazing insect s for the first time in my life this evening. Yorklea (Northern NSW).. As per many others in this conversation, tried to photograph and then came to www to then try and identify them. Came to this post and conversation . (Had several of them flying and rapidly indulging themselves at the purple blossom just on dusk). Photos were a fail. Their eyes glowed red under the iphone flashlight. Hopefully we get to see them again and will have a better camera good to go.

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