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What the heck is buzzing around our deck?

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Greg Peck
September 20, 2013

My wife and I were getting ready to enjoy supper on our deck Wednesday night when I first saw the little object buzzing around. At first I thought it might be one of those big ground wasps that have tunneled holes into our yard three times the past two summers, until I hit them with Raid lest Molly, our cairn terrier, tangle with one and get stung.

But this flying object seemed larger, and I thought we had seen this buzzer a couple of nights earlier, zipping around our front yard and garden. So on Wednesday night I snuck out for a closer inspection as it flitted around Cheryl's many flowers decorating our deck. Something in the back of my mind said “hummingbird moth,” perhaps because that's what it looked like. It didn't seem to be scared by my presence, and I grabbed my camera and quickly attached the zoom lens. I snuck back out the door—as it almost joined me inside—and tried to get it in a frame as it kept moving quickly from flower to flower or plant to plant. My first few frames were futile—its wings were flapping so fast the photographic images were nothing but blurs. I switched to flash mode and after three attempts got the photo you see here.

It kept buzzing the flowers as we ate, and, fortunately, Molly seemed to ignore it. At one point, it almost flew right into my salad until I waved it away. (Perhaps it prefers Wish Bone Western dressing!).

As we finished eating, a clambering of crows caused a commotion in the big trees next door. That's when my wife spotted a hawk—my guess is it was a Red-tailed hawk—sitting high atop a tree. This predator set the crows to squawking.

On Thursday I checked a few websites to see if my suspicions about our visiting “hummingbird moth” were correct. Sure enough, it appears to be one of a variety of hummingbird moths, this one known as the white-lined sphinx moth, that are seen during daylight.

A wikipedia website says this moth, with a wing span of about 2 to 3 inches, ranges from Mexico to Canada and is generally seen between April and October. It's often called a hummingbird moth because its rapid wing movement resembles that of a hummingbird.

The website eHow.com called it a sphinx or hawk moth and says such an insect gathers nectar with a long, flexible proboscis that, when not in use, is kept coiled up beneath its head. That is what this moth was doing Wednesday evening around Cheryl's flowers.

Still another website on hummingbird moths says birds are among predators of these insects. I hope that Red-tailed hawk watching us from its high perch wasn't planning on having our flighty little friend for its next meal!

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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