Subject: Caterpillar Identification
Geographic location of the bug: Canary Islands
Time: 03:51 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hello Bugman,
I was wondering you could identify the caterpillar in the attached picture? A person that I know found several of them on a plant in Indiana. I tried to identify it on my own but with no luck. I thought it was some sort of hawk moth larva.
How you want your letter signed: Emma
Correction: Thanks to a comment from frequent contributor on Sphingidae submissions, Bostjan Dvorak, we now agree that this is the caterpillar of the related Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth, Hyles euphorbiae, and according to BugGuide: “Introduced from Europe since the 1960s to combat leafy spurge.” Sphingidae of the Americas does not list the Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth from Indiana, but BugGuide does list it in nearby Michigan, leading us to speculate that the range of the introduced moth is increasing with the spread of Leafy Spurge.
Update: Hello Daniel Marlos,
Thank you very much for the feedback. That’s definitely interesting. I am just confused because although this specimen looks pretty much exactly like the Spurge caterpillars it lacks the double spots found on the side of Spurge caterpillars. Also, the big spots are filled in with color not just white. Could it be perhaps a variable pattern?
I have been told by the person who took the photo that this caterpillar was found with several other of these same types of caterpillars. Not that this piece of information helps but perhaps shows that it’s not just an anomaly?.
Thank you again for taking the time to identify this caterpillar.
Hi Again Emma,
There is often much variation between individuals of the same species. Often knowing the plant upon which an insect was feeding is a tremendous clue in determining identity. The greatest evidence we have that this is a Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth Caterpillar was provided in the comment sent by Bostjan where he identified the plant upon which the individual was feeding as Spurge in the genus Euphorbia. That food plant would negate our original supposition that this might be a very colorful Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillar.
CORRECTION: February 25, 2019
I made a mistake in the location of the caterpillar we thought was a leafy spurge moth, which clears up this confusing identification. This caterpillar was found on Gran Canaria Island, Spain which is off the coast of NW Africa. It is actually the Barbary spurge hawkmoth (Hyles tithymali).
Thanks for the update Emma. We aren’t going to ask how the Canary Islands were confused with Indiana. We have images of the Barbary Spurge Hawkmoth Caterpillar in our archives.
Haha, yeah definitely an odd switch up. My dad showed me the picture that his friend had taken. He didn’t ask his friend where he took it and assumed he took it in Indiana. I asked my dad again since the identification didn’t quite make sense and that’s where I got the true location which makes so much more sense. Thank you!
At least we got the genus correct originally.