Summer arrived late this year in the Sierra high country, as the prodigious amounts of snow left over from last winter took awhile to melt. Snowmelt, mosquitos, and wildflower blooms all started and ended at least a month later than normal.
But that meant that summer lingered longer as well; we were still finding lots of flowers in late August.
And something about the timing of everything, or the great abundance of flowers, seemed to suit the white-lined sphinx moths. Claudia and I started seeing lots of these moths, along with their caterpillars, during July in the Eastern Sierra, and kept finding them anywhere we saw flowers for a good two months afterward.
These large moths are nectar feeders. They resemble hummingbirds as they buzz around a patch of flowers, hovering next to blossoms with rapidly-beating wings. But sphinx moths, being insects, have four wings rather than two. And instead of a pointed beak with an extensible tongue, they have a long, flexible proboscis that allows them to reach inside tubular flowers to find nectar.
We found hundreds of these moths feeding on patches of larkspur in the Yosemite high country. That was probably more than I’d seen in my whole life before this summer. We also watched them sipping nectar from sunflowers and a butterfly bush next to our house in Mariposa, sometimes alongside monarch butterflies or hummingbirds. They seemed to be everywhere, and were a lot of fun to watch.
You’ll find a video below that shows sphinx moths swarming around fields of larkspur, then slow-motion of one moth feeding on a larkspur, where you can see how it uses its proboscis to probe deeply into the flowers. As we watched, they always ascended upward along a Larkspur stalk, feeding from bottom to top, then flying off to a different plant.
But aside from the mothy entertainment, we enjoyed just viewing and photographing all the late-summer flowers. It was great to see all that color linger so long. We’re transitioning from a long, long wildflower season right into autumn.
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.