DEAR SUN SPOTS: Regarding July 27 Sun Spots about how many Lewiston-Auburn homesteaders owe taxes, I do want to let your reader asking the question know that if a property has a mature tax lien on it, it’s not eligible for the homestead exemption. If anyone is behind on their taxes, however, they may still be receiving the exemption. That information is part of our tax collector’s records. For further questions about this, contact Auburn Tax Collector, Nancy Bosse at 207-333-6601 ext. 1174.

—Karen, Auburn

DEAR SUN SPOTS: I grow a lot of bee balm in the garden to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Yesterday I saw an unusual insect near the flowers. It looks like a butterfly and hummingbird rolled into one. I’ve never seen one before and wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me, but today I saw it again! Can you find out what it is? Is it rare?

—Sheri, Monmouth

ANSWER: You have been fortunate enough to be visited by a hummingbird moth, otherwise known as a clearwing moth. And yes, it’s a rare treat to see one! At first sight, it’s easy to mistake a hummingbird moth for a tiny hummingbird. Like the hummingbird, it feeds on the nectar of flowers, hovering above the blossom as it uses its long proboscis, or beak, to eat. Its transparent wings beat so fast they’re nearly invisible. Just like a hummingbird, the moth’s wings create a soft buzzing that sounds like a little fan.

According to the Massachusetts Audubon website at www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/insects-arachnids/hummingbird-moth-clearwing-moth, hummingbird moths are members of the sphinx moth family or Sphingidae. These fuzzy little pollinators have heavy bodies and long front wings. The wings of hummingbird moths are clear, with a black or brown border, and are nearly invisible when they fly. Males have a flared “tail” like that of a hovering hummingbird. One obvious difference between the birds and the moths is their size. The ruby-throated hummingbird is about 3 inches long. Hummingbird moths are much smaller, at 1 ½ inches long.

There are two species of hummingbird moths that you’re likely to see in Maine. The most common one is the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe). It has an olive green back, a red-brown abdomen, and pale legs.

Another hummingbird moth not seen as often is the snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis). This one is usually yellow and black, with black legs. It also has a black line running through its eyes and down its sides.

While most sphinx moths fly at night, hummingbird moths are visible during the day in meadows, forest edges and suburban gardens. They especially like honeysuckle.

Hummingbird moths lay their eggs on plants and the mature caterpillars are plump and yellow-green, or sometimes light brown, with the spiky tail horn typical of most sphinx moth caterpillars.

Depending on the species, these caterpillars eat the leaves of viburnums, honeysuckles, snowberry, blueberries and members of the rose family. They pupate in a thin cocoon in leaf litter, where they remain during the cold months, emerging as moths in late spring or early summer to start their very busy business of tasting all the flowers in your garden.

I’m always delighted when I see these funny-looking creatures. I think both the moths and the bee balm belong in a Dr. Seuss book!

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to [email protected]

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