Ranger Dwayne Martin specializes in hummingbirds, so he had reason to suspect that’s what he saw out the window of the Riverbend Park office near Conover on Thursday.
Upon further inspection and some outside consultation, Catawba County Parks officials determined the flying creature was one that had never before been documented in North Carolina.
It turned out to be a giant bug – the Aellopos titan species also known as the Titan Sphinx Moth.
“It flew exactly like a hummingbird,” Martin told The News & Observer. “It’s probably about 3/4 the size of a hummingbird.”
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The moth has a white stripe and white spots on its wings, and can grow to have a wing span of 2 9/16 inches, according to the Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) project.
In a Facebook post about the discovery, Catawba parks said it appears to be one of only a couple dozen confirmed records of the moth nationwide.
The BAMONA project lists significantly more U.S. records of the Titan Sphinx, but none of them took place in North Carolina.
The normal range of the Titan Sphinx is from “Uruguay and northern Argentina north through Mexico and the West Indies to the Florida Keys,” according to the BAMONA project. They stray as far north as Maine and North Dakota and as far west as Arizona, the group says.
A map of all 93 records the group has on the moth in the United States shows a giant void in the Southeast, including the Carolinas.
“I’m sure it’s been in North Carolina before, but it’s never been documented,” Catawba Ranger and moth specialist Lori Ann Owenby told The News & Observer.
As for why the Titan Sphinx paid North Carolina a visit, Owenby said it’s a mystery.
“We have no idea,”she said. “It’s just like birds when they wind up in places where they aren’t supposed to be. We hypothesized maybe this one is from the Florida Keys, since it looked so fresh.”
Owenby said she submitted what will be the first record of the species ever to be listed on the state parks system’s “Moths of North Carolina” website.