Hummingbird moth time in these parts. These interesting large insects must be around all summer, but it seems that the first weeks of autumn bring them to domestic flower gardens.
There are a number of hummingbird moths in North America, but the one seen mostly in Jackson Hole is about 2 inches long with a body striped horizontally black and white, two large antennae and a long proboscis. The insect probes flowers for nectar as it hovers and sure does suggest a hummingbird, especially at dusk or dawn. Unusual for moths, these can be active even at midday.
No hummingbird has stripes, or antennae. The moths lack tails.
A common reaction people have when first encountering a hummingbird moth – moths tolerate your close approach; birds don’t – is, wow! A bug imitating a bird!
But, insects came first, even flying insects, many millions of years before birds evolved, so that can’t be. Seems likely each evolved to take advantage of a food source. And to reward the plants providing the food, the nectar, and by pollinating them.
Convergent evolution, it’s called. In this instance birds, moths and plants were in the act. Some plants even modified their nectar to encourage or to discourage particular pollinators. All pretty wonderful.
Soon it will be balloon spider time. A week or so in the fall, October around here, when some small spider species disperse by spinning silk strands that can act as parachutes or kites in a wind. A spider will climb to some suitable launching spot, a bare twig or rock, and balance on tiptoes – well, front leg tiptoes point its abdomen skyward and lift off.
The voyage may last a few feet or many miles. It’s up to chance. No island in the world, no matter how remote, is without a spider population carried there on the wind.
It’s also wasp and bee time. If they’re congregating around your garden, house or picnic, you do not want to think about them.
Field Notes: Meredith Miller was surprised, intrigued and fascinated when she noticed her first hummingbird moth and pleased when she identified it.
Tom Hahn has identified two pygmy nuthatches, a species seen very infrequently in the Jackson Hole region (Saturday). The pygmy nuthatches were moving in company with a large group of red-breasted nuthatches near the base of Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park. Dr. Hahn reports exceptional numbers of white-winged crossbills, many in molt and some young juveniles.
As deciduous tree leaves begin to look tired and a few turn autumnal colors, migrating birds appear, and disappear. Mountain bluebirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, chipping sparrows. Smaller numbers or single birds including warblers, flickers, woodpeckers, northern harriers, hummingbirds.
Deb Patla reminds that sandhill cranes are grouping together, all too soon to depart for Arizona and parts south. No one has reported threesomes, family groups in the hills; hope nesting in Teton Valley, Idaho, and surrounds, was more successful. In recent days, Brian Cassell has enjoyed good views of a long-eared owl in Wilson.
Elk are bugling as the rut is commencing. Early snows are late, but the season moves along.
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