Location: Palm Beach County, FL
September 4, 2010 1:23 pm
I was picking basil this morning and almost picked this guy – to my immense surprise! He’s soft and squishy, didn’t move the entire time I was out there, and BIG. Can you tell me what species it is?
Thanks in advance!
Signature: basil lady
Dear Basil Lady,
This is the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, known as a Hornworm. It looks to us like a Rustic Sphinx, Manduca rustica, and Bill Oehlke’s excellent website has photos of the caterpillar as well as the other stages of metamorphosis. The features that lead us to believe your caterpillar is a Rustic Sphinx are the “numerous white nodules on top of the thorax (visible in your closeup photo) and seven pairs of oblique, blue-gray stripes along the side of the body. The horn is white at the base and blue-gray at the tip.” There is an extensive list of plants that the caterpillar is known to feed upon, and basil is not among them, so we are copying Bill Oehlke on this reply to get a confirmation and also in the event he may want to add basil as a food plant to his list.
Bill Oehlke Responds
Thanks for referrals. Here is confirmation notice of Manduca rustica from Palm Beach County, Florida.
Daniel Marlos, from What`s that bug`, sent me your email in reference to a Manduca rustica larva you encountered feeding on basil.
I confirm that it is Manduca rustica, and I would like permission to add your images to my Sphingidae data base, credited to you.
My Palm Beach County thumbnail checklist is at
Can you send, as jpg attachments to this email address, larger images than the ones displayed on What`s that bug
Basil represents a new host plant for this species, but it is not surprising to me because it seems to eat just about everything in sight.
I am wondering though it it just switched over to basil recently and was previously eating something else. Can you find basil plants nearby with many leaves missing and numerous caterpillar droppings (poop) on the ground below the basil plants.
Also if I am to credit the photo properly, I would need your full name, or just initials if you would prefer.
Thank you for the really fast reply!
If you want any additional images of the caterpillar, please let me know. If you use any of the images, you can credit little c photography instead of “Basil Lady.”