Phenology Journal: On the Arrival of Hummingbird Moths

El mundo está bien

The world is well

Jorge Guillén from “Beato sillón”

I have made some observations, comforting to me, about the arrival of hummingbird moths at my garden in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The notes, made over a series of years, reveal a simple pattern, one easily supported by academic research.

The hummingbird moth is a real moth, of the genus hemaris. It is active during the day, not in the night, is fat, is a little bigger than a bumblebee and is usually striped. It flies like a hummingbird, its wings beating so rapidly that they appear as only blurs against the red bee balm, to which it is quite partial.

My introduction to the local hemaris occurred on July 4, 1986 a day on which I heard the first cicada of the year and identified, for the first time in my life, a hummingbird moth in the red bee balm of our garden.

The following year, my first sighting of a hummingbird moth was on July 5.

Skipping a few decades, I noted in my daybook that on July 2, 2007: “Several fritillaries, two hummingbird moths (at the violet and red bee balm) and a red admiral were in the back yard today.”

On July 3, 2010 in the butterfly garden at home, “browns and red admiral butterflies were playing, and the first hummingbird moth of the season was haunting the bee balm.”

July 4, 2011: “In the afternoon, a yellow swallowtail and the first hummingbird moth of the summer at the north garden bee balm”

July 2, 2013: “A spicebush swallowtail and a great spangled fritillary, and the first hummingbird moth worked the butterfly bush in the afternoon.”

July 2, 2014: “Max (my grandson) sighted the first hummingbird moth of the year in the north garden’s red bee balm.”

This wet and cool year, I didn’t see the first hummingbird moth until July 6. And in the unusual year of 2012, when every plant and tree bloomed early, the first hummingbird moth arrived at the bee balm on June 25.

From these and other converging notes, I draw a few basic conclusions, conclusions that need not be taken on faith from a naturalist or from a scientific journal or from the omniscient Internet:

That the local world in this place is still very much on schedule; the seasons still bring the hemaris when they should near the 4th of July – the way they always have; and when those moths arrive, then I can see from the daybook that other things happen, too: not only is the bee balm blooming, but the first blueberries are blue; big, brown stag beetles crawl through the grass; cicadas call; touch-me-nots start to flower; yellow jackets come to look for fallen fruit; teasel blooms along the road to Cincinnati; all the thistles have gone to down; fields are full of Queen Anne’s lace and daisy fleabane, just like they always have been: All is well (made) in the world. El mundo está/bien. The world is well/made.

Bill Felker

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