Jul 22 2015
There’s a moth called the hummingbird clearwing moth that we sometimes mistake for a hummingbird, but did you know that a hummingbird can be mistaken for a bug?
On Saturday at the Cunkelman’s Neighborhood Nestwatch banding I found an annual cicada caught in one of the mist nets. I brought it back to the banding area and Bob Mulvihill held up a hummingbird next to it for comparison. The two are amazingly similar when held in this position.
We rarely confuse hummingbirds with bugs but Bob has seen a bug — a cicada killer — mistake a hummingbird caught in a mist net for a cicada.
Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are large, solitary wasps that feed on nectar as adults. Each female digs an underground nest with chambers where she plans to lay her eggs. Then she patrols the area looking for cicadas to collect as food for her young. When she finds one she stings it with a venom that paralyzes it, then carries the cicada back to the nest where she places it in a chamber, lays one egg on it, and seals the chamber. When the egg hatches the larva eats the paralyzed cicada. (Yes, I’ll say it. Ewwww!)
Because cicada killers are solitary, they aren’t aggressive toward humans. You have to work very hard to make one sting you and when it does the sting is reported to be as harmless as a pinprick.
Bob told us the cicada killer tried to subdue the hummingbird with a sting but the venom did not affect the bird. Whew!
(comparison photo of hummingbird and cicada by Kate St. John, cicada killer wasp photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)