Meet the Pellucid Hawk Moth (Cephonodes hylas), a gorgeous cross between a moth, a cicada, and a glasswinged butterfly.
At home in an array of habitats across Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and in Queensland, Australia, this strange little species starts off as a bright green caterpillar, feeding upon some of the finer things in life – coffee and pomegranate plants – wherever it can find them.
Locally, these caterpillars will snack on our native butterfly (Pavetta australiensis) and banana bushes (Ervatamia angustisepala), and the leaves of our introduced gardenia plants until they’re fat enough to construct a cocoon and undergo the rather gooey process of metamorphosis.
When a pellucid hawk moth first emerges from its cocoon, the scales obscuring its stunning pair of transparent wings will begin to drop off, eventually revealing the species’ most distinctive trait.
Together with their green, yellow, or orange abdomens, banded in black, these clear, wispy wings give them the appearance of a great big bumblebee – hence the nickname of their genus, ‘the bee hawks’.
The largest of the species will develop a wingspan of over 7cm.
Glass wings act like invisibility cloak
Just a handful of species in order Lepidoptera, which includes all butterflies and moths, have scaleless, transparent wings.
So, you might be wondering what the point of them is, when coloured wings can serve so many functions, including communication, defence, thermoregulation, feeding, and waterproofing.