What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Subject:  Caterpillar Identification
Geographic location of the bug:  Canary Islands
Date: 01/31/2019
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.
Thank you,
How you want your letter signed:  Emma

Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Dear Emma,
This is a very colorful Whitelined Sphinx, a highly variable caterpillar when it comes to markings and coloration.  Here is a BugGuide image that greatly resembles your individual.

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.
~ Emma

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
Hi Daniel,
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.


What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: Canary Islands

4 Responses to Barbary Spurge Hawkmoth Caterpillar from the Canary Islands

  1. Bostjan Dvorak says:

    Fascinating! – I am confused by the unusual morph – and the hostplant of this caterpillar. It looks so much like a spurge hawk moth (Hyles euphorbiae) larva, and is feeding on a spurge (Euphorbia), to which this colours suit (due to the poisonous content). Is there any introduction of the latter species known – to fight some spurge species (also introduced)? – But they could be that similar, on the other hand, and H. lineata could feed on a spurge as well…

    Best wishes,

    • bugman says:

      Hi Bostjan,
      We were confused with this individual, because we also thought it looked like Hyles euphorbiae, the Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth, but to the best of our knowledge, it is only found in western states on the Canadian border and in western Canada. Since BugGuide does list it in nearby Michigan, we now believe you are correct, and that coincides with our original thoughts on its identity.

  2. Bostjan Dvorak says:

    Dear Daniel, dear Emma,

    yes, a Hyles tithymali caterpillar indeed. The difference is clearly evident by the shape and pinkish colour of its lateral spots. I realised it, but I didn’t want to further comment on this detail, being sure that somebody had breeded this foreign species and let some of them free (which is forbidden – though not quite a risk in this case, as this mediterranean species would not be able to survive a continental winter, but laws and care make sense). Now I understand! Everything is ok. Thank You for this additional information – and the nice story! – And keep Your eyes open – the continental spurge hawk (Hyles euphorbiae) could really occur in Your area, as an introduced and fully synanthropic apecies.

    Best wishes,

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