For the past few weeks, my wife and I have enjoyed watching the aerial show put on by aerial visitors to our four o’clocks.
During the late afternoon ruby-throated hummingbirds descend on our large bed of four o’clocks. These hungry birds dart up to pink and yellow four o’clock blossoms, hover, and poke their long bills and tongues deep within the bugle-shaped flowers and dine on the sugar-rich liquid. No other bird is capable of the aerial dexterity needed to dine, in such a manner, on the nectar offered by four o’clocks. As much as we would like this show to continue on, it always proves to be too short. Just before dark the hummingbird forays abruptly end.
We have learned that, if we get up from our seats and go inside after the last hummingbird has departed, we miss the opportunity to watch another accomplished aviator display its aerial prowess. This performer is the Carolina sphinx moth. Its feeding flights extend well after dark descends on our backyard.
It is easy to understand why this super-sized moth is often mistaken for a hummingbird. It seems to be larger, than a rubythroat, and feeds in much the same manner as a rubythroat. However, when you closely examine it, you will see that it has thick antennae, a long, extremely thin proboscis instead of a bill, lacks feathers and has six legs instead of two.
While the Carolina is one of several sphinx moths that visit flowers in our backyards at night, in my neck of the woods, it is by far the most common.
This impressive moth displays six rows of large yellow spots running down an abdomen that seems as thick as your finger. Its wings are gray and decorated with black markings.
Since this nectar-feeder is flying at dusk and beyond it is difficult to see any details. However, since these moths are quite tame, they can be easily approached and photographed using a camera equipped with a flash. All you have to do to either wait until a Carolina sphinx, begins feeding close by or slowly walked toward one. As you walk, hold a small flashlight in one hand and your camera in the other. The flashlight’s beam will help you determine when the moth is in front of your camera lens. Once the moth is just where you want it, snap a picture. With a little luck, you will snap an image that will allow you to study the intricate beauty of this nighttime flyer.
My family has been enjoying watching Carolina sphinx moths for years. During this time, we have learned that, out of all of the flowers available to them in our yard, they only feed on four o’clocks.
If you have a patch of four o’clocks blooming in your yard, go out tonight and see if the Carolina sphinx moths are on patrol. If they are, I assure you they will give a dazzling performance.