What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Unknown caterpillars
Mon, Jan 5, 2009 at 4:20 AM
I thought I picked two brown caterpillars with fake eyes from my mother’s penta plant in Sun City Florida yesterday. When I opened the jar to photograph them this morning, I had two browns and two greens, all with false eyes. I never kill bugs without knowing what they are but I can’t find these in my caterpillar book.
V Parsons
Central Florida

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar:  Brown Morph

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar: Brown Morph

Dear V,
Both the green caterpillars and the brown caterpillars are the same species.  The Tersa Sphinx, like many other Sphinx Moths, have caterpillars in different colors.  These different morphs probably aid in the survival of the species.  Predators that notice the brown caterpillars may not notice the green individuals just inches away.  To see images of the adult moth and to read more about the Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa, you can search Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar:  Green Morph

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar: Green Morph

Thank you so much! I gave the caterpillars to a friend with a lot of penta and a six-year-old grandaughter who loves bugs — she’ll take good care of them 🙂

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
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33 Responses to Tersa Sphinx Caterpillars

  1. woodland elf says:

    I live in middle Tennessee and just found three of these caterpillars on some of my pentas plants. Two of them are gray and one is green. They are amazing looking. This is the first time that I have found this species in my garden and I look forward to seeing the moths appear.

  2. Carrie Jahn says:

    Are these caterpillars poisonous?

  3. tony says:

    Can they sting you and if so do they lose their stinger?

  4. Luba says:

    What is the prevention that the caterpillars won’t come back? Where are they comming from?

  5. Sabina says:

    I saw a hot pink caterpillar that looks similar, but the 5 “eyes” on the sides were all white with one small dot of black or brown. There was also one brown “eye” with a white outline around it on the top center of its end. Could this be the same caterpillar, just in a different stage of metamorphosis ?


  6. Robyn says:

    I was wondering what the bug was that was eating my Pentas. Interesting that they are here in Queensland Australia! I have often seen the Sphinx moth at dusk.

  7. Judith Riddell says:

    Last night I went to bed with a beautiful penta and this morning it has been eaten to stubs. Found both brown and green Sphinx larva on my plant. Will they move on to some other type of plant and destroy those as well or will they remain on the stubs and spin a cocoon? Don’t want to destroy – are they good for the garden? Will my penta come back while they are in cocoon form?

    • bugman says:

      They will not spread to other plants as they are very specific about their diet. They will pupate underground.

  8. Jeannie says:

    If the tersa sphinx stick a dog with the stinger that comes out of its spots and on its tail can it hurt the dog in a bad way.

  9. christy brantley says:

    what other plant does this catapilar eat. I just saw this near a Pentax plant in North West Florida. I don’t want my husband to kill it, but I don’t want it to strip my only, New penta plant..

    • bugman says:

      According to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on Madder Family, Rubiaceae, including Smooth buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra), starclusters (Pentas species), Borreria, Manettia; and Bignoniaceae: Catalpa. Also noted, in North Carolina, from Virginia Buttonweed, Diodia virginiana, also in the Rubiaceae.”

  10. Thomas Noble says:

    I found one of theese in my garden in the UK, is this normal?

  11. Thomas Noble says:

    Yeah, could be one if those,

  12. Renee says:

    Where would they both go when they finish eating the Penta plants. I found 5 of them and now don’t know where they disappear.

    • bugman says:

      According to the Sphingidae of the Americas site: “Pupae probably wiggle to surface from subterranean chambers or leaf litter just prior to eclosion” and “The pupa is tan with dark markings and is formed amongst surface debris.” So, as they near the end of their lives as caterpillars, the Tersa Sphinx larvae pupate on the ground, either just below the surface of the soil or buried among leaf litter.

      • Renee says:

        in which other plants do they eat I only have Pentas plants and only just see thier poops in the soil of the plants but still don’t know where they go to make there cocoons on or in plants like leaves. And what kind of insects can kill them?

  13. Susan says:

    Could this species eat my tomato plant? I found two tomato hornworms in last couple of days but this one looks quite different. It has not eaten much of my tomato plant but I don’t really want to give it a chance to either. I am in central Alabama.

  14. Patricia says:

    How long is Tersa Sphinx Moth in pupa stage, please?

    • bugman says:

      We suspect that the dormancy would last about a month to six weeks, depending upon the temperature and other conditions.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Just found one of these in my carport in east Texas. I photographed it and looked it up to identy. We have none of the known plants around us so not sure what he is eating. I have never seen one of these before. What else do they eat?

    • bugman says:

      According to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on Madder Family, Rubiaceae, including Smooth buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra), starclusters (Pentas species), Borreria, Manettia; and Bignoniaceae: Catalpa. Also noted, in North Carolina, from Virginia Buttonweed, Diodia virginiana, also in the Rubiaceae.”

  16. Chiffon says:

    So I have a family (slowly dying off though) of Thersa Sphinx caterpillars. I found 2 LARGE ones Tuesday and yesterday (Wednesday) my 4yr old informs me that my dog is in the plant pots digging! Find one of the 2 in there and it seems to have made a come back, but the 2nd has not reappeared. In the process we also found 5 more babies of various sizes and colors but obviously same critter. My Pentas were stripped clean by the first 2 originals so I tried other butterfly like plants and they are NOT interested. I’m worried they remaining cats are going to die between the dog and lack of food! What can I do!?

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