Catalpa Sphinx Moth: Essential Facts and Tips

The Catalpa Sphinx moth, scientifically known as Ceratomia catalpae, is an intriguing and captivating creature. Known for its distinct gray wings with irregular dark and light bands, this heavy-bodied moth is both stunning and captivating, with a wingspan of around three inches1.

This moth species is quite remarkable, especially considering its close relationship with catalpa trees. The caterpillar, commonly referred to as the catalpa worm or catawba worm, is often found feeding on the large leaves of these trees, sometimes leading to defoliation during outbreak years2. Not only are the caterpillars essential to the moth’s life cycle, but they also serve as a vital food source for various fish and bird species.

Catalpa Sphinx Moth Overview

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Sphingidae
  • Genus: Ceratomia
  • Species: C. catalpae

Habitat and Distribution

The Catalpa Sphinx Moth, also known as Ceratomia catalpae, is a species of sphinx moth found in the eastern United States. They inhabit regions from Maine and New Hampshire to Nebraska, Iowa, and Virginia, extending to the Gulf States. In their larval stage, called catalpa worms, they primarily feed on the leaves of the catalpa tree.

Ceratomia catalpae is best known for its association with catalpa trees, where female moths lay clusters of up to 1,000 white eggs on the leaves, usually in April or early spring. The caterpillars then emerge and start feeding on the tree’s leaves. Adult sphinx moths have heavy bodies and wingspans of about three inches, with gray coloration marked by irregular dark and light bands.

The catalpa tree and its associated moths gained importance in the 19th century with the US patent office promoting the planting of catalpa trees for their valuable wood and caterpillars as fish bait. Consequently, Catalpa Sphinx Moth distribution expanded as more trees were planted.

In summary, the Catalpa Sphinx Moth is an insect species native to the eastern United States, primarily associated with catalpa trees. Adult moths have distinct gray-colored wings, while in their larval stage, they feed on the leaves of the tree, making them valuable for both their role in the ecosystem and their use as fish bait.

Life Cycle of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth

Egg Stage

The life cycle of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth begins with the female moth laying clusters of up to 1,000 white eggs on catalpa tree leaves. The oval-shaped eggs are small with diameters measuring around 1mm.

Larva Stage

  • Caterpillar: Also known as the catalpa worm or catawba worm.
  • Coloration: Yellowish-green body with black dots and stripes.

When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars or larvae emerge. The green and yellow catalpa worms are known to defoliate catalpa trees. They molt through multiple stages as they grow.

Key characteristics of the catalpa worm:

  • Possesses soft, translucent skin.
  • Features a distinctive black horn at the end of its abdomen.

Pupa Stage

  • Transition: Caterpillars transform into pupae in winter.
  • Color: Pupae have a light brown, spindle-shaped appearance.

The catalpa worm enters the pupa stage after fully growing and prepares for metamorphosis. During winter, pupae stay 2-3 inches deep in the soil around the host tree’s base.

Adult Moth

  • Wing Characteristics: Forewings are gray with irregular dark and light bands; brown hind wings.
  • Family: Sphingidae (hawk moths), within the Lepidoptera order.

Adult moths emerge from pupae in spring, bearing a heavy body and a wingspan of about three inches. The moths feed on nectar and mate, continuing the life cycle.

Pros and Cons of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth:

Pros:

  • Attracts natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) that help control their population.

Cons:

  • Defoliates catalpa trees, posing a threat as a pest.
  • Can lead to complete defoliation if the infestation is severe.

Comparison of stages in the life cycle:

Stage Duration Key Features
Egg Few days Oval, white, laid on catalpa tree leaves
Larva (caterpillar) Several weeks Yellow-green, black dots and stripes, black horn
Pupa Over winter Light brown, spindle-shaped, 2-3 inches deep in soil
Adult Moth Spring to October Gray forewings, brown hind wings, 3-inch wingspan, heavy body

Catalpa Trees and the Catalpa Sphinx Moth

Host Plants

The Catalpa Sphinx Moth caterpillars, also known as Catalpa worms, primarily feed on the leaves of Catalpa trees. Some common species of Catalpa trees include:

All of these tree species belong to the genus Catalpa and share certain characteristics, such as showy flowers, large leaves, and elongated seed pods.

Defoliation

Catalpa worm infestation can result in significant defoliation. Feeding caterpillars consume the foliage, potentially leading to entire branches being stripped of leaves. The Catalpa Sphinx Moth is known for its occasional outbreaks that may cause severe defoliation, especially during particular years.

In some cases, defoliated trees may endure substantial stress but often have the ability to recover.

Impact on Catalpa Trees

While Catalpa Sphinx Moth caterpillars can cause significant damage to Catalpa trees, they usually don’t cause long-term harm. Some possible impacts on Catalpa trees include:

  • Temporary loss of aesthetic value due to defoliation
  • Reduction in energy production as a result of missing leaves
  • Stress caused by loss of foliage

Catalpa trees are generally resilient and can tolerate a range of soil conditions, including wet and dry environments. This resilience may contribute to their ability to cope with and recover from caterpillar damage.

Catalpa Worm as Fishing Bait

Fishermen’s Favorite

Catalpa worms are a favorite bait among fishermen, especially in the southern US. Their effectiveness in attracting fish is well known, making them highly sought after during the fishing season. Here are some reasons why they’re popular as fishing bait:

  • Easy to find on catalpa trees, also known as cigar trees
  • Produce a white cocoon that can be easily spotted
  • Highly effective in attracting various fish species

Below is a comparison table of different fish species attracted to catalpa worms as bait and alternative bait options:

Fish Species Catalpa Worms Alternative Bait
Largemouth bass Effective Minnows, plastic worms
Bream Effective Crickets, earthworms
Catfish Effective Chicken liver, dough balls

Catching Fish Species

Catalpa worms are particularly effective for catching fish species like largemouth bass, bream, and catfish. Chinese catalpa trees are a common source for these worms. Here are some examples of using catalpa worms for fishing:

  • Hooking the worm in a way that allows it to wriggle, becoming more enticing to fish
  • Using freshly picked worms, as they release juices that attract fish
  • Storing worms in a cool container to keep them fresh during a fishing trip

To sum up, catalpa worms serve as an excellent fishing bait for various fish species, and are easily found on catalpa trees. With the right technique and storage, fishermen can maximize their chances of making a successful catch.

Natural Predators and Control Measures

Parasitic Wasps

One of the natural predators of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth is the parasitic wasp, specifically Cotesia congregata. These wasps help control the Catalpa Sphinx Moth population by laying their eggs inside the moth’s caterpillars. The larval wasps feed on the caterpillar, eventually killing it. Examples of benefits for using parasitic wasps include:

  • Eco-friendly method of control
  • Reduced need for chemical pesticides

However, they come with some drawbacks:

  • May not be sufficient during outbreak years
  • Might disrupt balance between moth and natural enemies

Diseases Affecting the Catalpa Sphinx Moth

Diseases also play a role in controlling the Catalpa Sphinx Moth population. They can affect moth eggs, larvae, or cocoons. Some natural enemies, such as white-footed mice, certain birds, and predatory insects or mites, contribute to spreading disease among the moth population. Here’s a comparison table of diseases and other control measures:

Control Measure Pros Cons
Diseases Natural way of controlling population May not always effectively control moths
Predatory Insects Can target moth larvae effectively Might affect non-target species
Chemical Pesticides Quickly reduces moth population Can be harmful to the environment

In summary:

  • Parasitic wasps and diseases are significant natural control methods.
  • Chemical pesticides can help, but have environmental drawbacks.
  • Balancing natural predators and control measures is an ongoing challenge.

Remember to be aware of the pros and cons of various control measures while managing the Catalpa Sphinx Moth population. Always consider the environment and the long-term implications of your chosen methods.

Additional Information

Images of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth

The Catalpa Sphinx Moth, also known as Ceratomia catalpae, is a visually striking moth with a heavy body and a wingspan of about three inches. Its grey wings feature irregular dark and light bands and markings, while its hind wings are almost uniformly brownish grey.

Some features of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth include:

  • Shiny black head
  • A prominent black spine on the back end of the body
  • Body coloration and markings change as they grow

Interesting Facts

  • Host plant: The main host plant for the Catalpa Sphinx Moth is the Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), a medium to large deciduous tree with showy white flowers and large, green seed pods resembling beans.
  • Larval stage: The larval stage of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth, known as the Catalpa Worm or Catawba Worm, can grow up to 3 inches long. These caterpillars are occasional pests, with a potential to defoliate catalpa trees during outbreaks.
  • Distribution: The Catalpa Sphinx Moth can be found in various parts of the United States, ranging from states like New Hampshire to Iowa. Their distribution coincides with the presence of catalpa trees.
  • Defoliation: In some instances, the caterpillars can completely defoliate catalpa trees. However, the trees can typically recover from such events by producing new leaves fairly quickly.

Comparison of Larval Stage and Adult Moth

Larval Stage (Caterpillar) Adult Moth
Up to 3 inches long Wingspan of 3 inches
Shiny black head Heavy body
Prominent black spine Grey wings with bands and markings

Please note that these interesting facts and comparisons should not be taken as a comprehensive guide. Research and knowledge about the Catalpa Sphinx Moth may evolve, and it’s essential to consult updated and accurate sources for the best understanding.

Footnotes

  1. Catalpa Worm or Catalpa Sphinx – NC State Extension Publications

  2. Catalpa Worm/ Catalpa Sphinx Moth – Penn State Extension

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar id?
Location: belle vernon, pa
June 16, 2011 2:43 pm
I was just wondering what these caterpillars are and if they’re toxic or not. We have thousands here on a large bush and when I noticed them one struck at me. And my 2 year old son plays around and under the bush and I need to know what I should do.. leave them be or remove the bush?
But still I would love to know what they are because they’re quite beautiful.
Signature: Savannah Chamberlain

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Savannah,
This is the caterpillar of a Catalpa Sphinx,
Ceratomia catalpae.  The excellent Sphingidae of the Americas website does not have any examples of caterpillars with markings like your individual, however, they do state:  “Colouration of mature larvae is somewhat variable, and there appear to be two primary color phases, dark and pale.  In the dark phase, there is a broad, solid black band down the back, bordered by white lines. The sides are yellowish with some black spots and vertical lines.”   BugGuide does have a photo of a Catalpa Sphinx with your coloration.  They are not toxic and they pose no threat.

Letter 2 – Caterpillar of the Abbott's Sphinx

 

Unknown catrerpillar
July 5, 2010
We found this caterpillar near a grapevine. I was strucked by that single eye. When it relaxed, it looked more like a normal caterpillar, but when it was disturbed it instantly curled up (in the position in the photographs) and made an intermittent buzzing sound, as though it were imitating a snake – perhaps to ward off an attack by birds?
Blu Mackintosh
Eastern Ontario, shores of the St. Lawrence River, 44º20’N by 76º00’W

Abbott's Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Blu,
The caterpillar of the Abbott’s Sphinx,
Sphecodina abbottii, has several different color morphs, and this brown form is just one of at least three variations.  You can view the other color variations on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.  Grape is a common host plant for the caterpillars which are also reported to feed on Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy.

Daniel, thank you so much for your quick reply.  I have forwarded Bill Oehlke’s website address to my grandchildren, to show them what my mystery caterpillar turned out to be.  I had no idea that one caterpillar could have so many different forms.  What a challenge for researchers, to ascertain that such differing larvae could all be the same animal!
Amazing to think about:  How would the caterpillar find that grapevine?  The one it was near happens to be a cultivated species, but there is a lot of wild grapevine on our property, too.  (…and Virginia Creeper, and Poison Ivy).
Thanks again,
Anne Mackintosh

Hi Anne,
To respond to your new question, the Caterpillar did not find the grape vine.  The adult female moth laid the egg on the grape vine to ensure that her progeny would have a ready food supply upon hatching.

Letter 3 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar Invasion
Hi Bugman – You have a great site! I noticed that a tree in my yard was being defoliated – at first I thought it was just some deer munching their way through to the rest of the “salad bar” my gardens provide. However, on closer inspection, I discovered the tree has at least 75-100 of these caterpillars happily munching away. Any idea as to what they could be? The are smooth, with a single “horn” above their posterior and a dark black/blue body with the yellow colorations down their sides. They range in size from about 1.5 to 3 inches long. Thanks for any help you can provide. I live in central NJ, 10 minutes from the ocean. The caterpillars are munching on a catalpa tree, which is about two years old and approximately 15′ tall. The tree was a “gift” from either the winds or birds and was quite happy in its location – which has butterfly bush, milkweed, assorted wildflowers and hummingbird vine. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Regards, Anne

Bingo Anne,
Thank you for writing back with the host plant. Often the host plant is a critical bit of information in caterpillar identification. This is a Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae. Here is a site with a wealth of information. Huge infestations often occur and the tree can be severly defoliated.

Letter 4 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar
September 14, 2009
Found this guy about 2 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio Metroparks system. Gates Mills, Ohio to be exact. It was early fall and I found him sitting on a picnic table. I’ve tried to find his picture on the web but have not had much luck.
What is he?
Judy
Northeastern Ohio

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar
Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Judy,
This is the dark form of the variable caterpillar of the Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae, which can be seen on Bill Oehlke’s wonderful website.

Thank you soooo much…I hate having a picture of something and not knowing what it is!
Take care!

Letter 5 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Mystery caterpillar
Location: Utica, Ohio
August 19, 2017 2:18 pm
Hello, Bugman! We found this caterpillar here in Central Ohio, we were curious to know what kind it is. Thank you!
Signature: Carol

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Carol,
Is there a Catalpa Tree or Cigar Tree nearby?  This looks to us like a Catalpa Sphinx,
Ceratomia catalpae, a species with variable coloration.  Image B on Nature Search looks very much like your individual, and the description is “The mature caterpillar is about 2 3/4 inches in length.  The color varies on individuals from mostly yellow to mostly black.  The head is black.  The sides are often marked with vertical black lines.  There is a long, straight black horn on the top of the last segment.

Hi Daniel,
Yes, there actually is a cigar tree right near where the caterpillar was found. Thank you so much for your quick response, and for helping us ID this little guy!

Letter 6 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Big caterpillar!
Geographic location of the bug:  Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
Date: 09/03/2017
Time: 08:43 PM EDT
Spotted this big guy by the lake on our evening walk tonight. I’m interested to see what this caterpillar becomes!
How you want your letter signed:  Liz

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Liz,
We are surmising that there is a catalpa tree or cigar tree nearby as that is the food plant for the Catalpa Sphinx caterpillar you found.  We have no images on our site of the adult Catalpa Sphinx, but you can see images on Sphingidae of the Americas.

Letter 7 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillars including possible Albino!!

 

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar Albino?
Hello bugman,
Your site is terrific! We used it to identify these caterpillars which are madly defoliating our catalpa trees, and we checked out the link you offered as well. But, we’ve not found specific information to help us determine the nature of the very pale version. Could this be an albino of the catalpa sphinx?
Thanks!
Elizabeth

Hi Elizabeth,
Nice photo. Here is what we do know. The smallest caterpillar exhibits the normal coloration of an early Catalpa Sphinx instar. The largest caterpillar also exhibits normal coloration. There are albinos possible in all species. This could be an albino. If that is true, the adult would probably also exhibit albinism. Good find.

Letter 8 – Catalpa Sphinx

 

I live in Northeastern Ohio and I have found about a dozen of these in my yard today. I have looked all over the internet before finding your site. Can you please tell me what this is.
Lisa

Hi Lisa,
Your caterpillar is a Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae. They feed on the leaves of catalpa, or cigar tree as we called them in Youngstown Ohio. You can find photos of the adult moths on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website. We are copying Bill Oehlke on this response so he can add your data to his comprehensive species distribution information.

Letter 9 – Parasitized Catalpa Sphinx

 

Ceratomia catalpae parasitized by Apanteles congregatus
Location: Northeast Tennessee
Subject: Ceratomia catalpae parasitized by Apanteles congregatus
Location: Northeast Tennessee
October 10, 2011 9:02 pm
Or…
Catalpa Sphinx caterpillar with eggs from a parasitic Braconid wasp.
I took these at my grandparents’ house last weekend.
There was a congregation of about 6 caterpillars on the leaves of one branch of their Catawba tree. They were not moving and many had these eggs on them. Some were hanging (as if about to pupate, maybe?). Sorry they’re so blurry, my camera is really crappy:)
Love your site!
Signature: Easily Fascinated Strikes Again

Parasitized Catalpa Sphinx

Dear Easily Fascinated Strikes Again,
This is a very interesting sighting, though not really rare.  We wish your photos were clearer, but we are posting the best of them anyways.  Thanks so much for your concise personal observations.

Letter 10 – Plebian Sphinx

 

Subject: What’s this moth?
Location: Central North Carolina
July 28, 2013 7:24 am
Moth found hiding out during the day
Signature: Greg

Catalpa Sphinx
Plebian Sphinx

Hi Greg,
We believe this moth is a Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa, based on photos on the Sphingidae of the United States website and BugGuide.  We will try to get a confirmation from Bill Oehlke.

Bill Oehlke provides a correction
Daniel,
Nice picture of Paratrea plebeja, the Plebian Sphinx.
I would like permission to post. Can you help?
Bill

Letter 11 – Catalpa Sphinx

 

Subject: What type of caterpillar is this?
Location: Salina, Kansas
August 22, 2013 8:41 am
These caterpillar are consuming leaves on our Catalpa tree. Can we expect beautiful butterflies in our future? We live in central Kansas.
Signature: Expecting Butterflies

Catalpa Sphinx
Catalpa Sphinx

Dear Expecting Butterflies,
This Catalpa Sphinx,
Ceratomia catalpae, will eventually transform into a somewhat large, brown moth.  Sphinx Moths are elegant moths, though the Catalpa Sphinx is not one of the more colorful members of the family.  This is a case where the caterpillar is quite colorful, but the moth lacks the dramatic colors and markings.  You can read more about the Catalpa Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar id?
Location: belle vernon, pa
June 16, 2011 2:43 pm
I was just wondering what these caterpillars are and if they’re toxic or not. We have thousands here on a large bush and when I noticed them one struck at me. And my 2 year old son plays around and under the bush and I need to know what I should do.. leave them be or remove the bush?
But still I would love to know what they are because they’re quite beautiful.
Signature: Savannah Chamberlain

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Savannah,
This is the caterpillar of a Catalpa Sphinx,
Ceratomia catalpae.  The excellent Sphingidae of the Americas website does not have any examples of caterpillars with markings like your individual, however, they do state:  “Colouration of mature larvae is somewhat variable, and there appear to be two primary color phases, dark and pale.  In the dark phase, there is a broad, solid black band down the back, bordered by white lines. The sides are yellowish with some black spots and vertical lines.”   BugGuide does have a photo of a Catalpa Sphinx with your coloration.  They are not toxic and they pose no threat.

Letter 2 – Caterpillar of the Abbott's Sphinx

 

Unknown catrerpillar
July 5, 2010
We found this caterpillar near a grapevine. I was strucked by that single eye. When it relaxed, it looked more like a normal caterpillar, but when it was disturbed it instantly curled up (in the position in the photographs) and made an intermittent buzzing sound, as though it were imitating a snake – perhaps to ward off an attack by birds?
Blu Mackintosh
Eastern Ontario, shores of the St. Lawrence River, 44º20’N by 76º00’W

Abbott's Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Blu,
The caterpillar of the Abbott’s Sphinx,
Sphecodina abbottii, has several different color morphs, and this brown form is just one of at least three variations.  You can view the other color variations on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.  Grape is a common host plant for the caterpillars which are also reported to feed on Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy.

Daniel, thank you so much for your quick reply.  I have forwarded Bill Oehlke’s website address to my grandchildren, to show them what my mystery caterpillar turned out to be.  I had no idea that one caterpillar could have so many different forms.  What a challenge for researchers, to ascertain that such differing larvae could all be the same animal!
Amazing to think about:  How would the caterpillar find that grapevine?  The one it was near happens to be a cultivated species, but there is a lot of wild grapevine on our property, too.  (…and Virginia Creeper, and Poison Ivy).
Thanks again,
Anne Mackintosh

Hi Anne,
To respond to your new question, the Caterpillar did not find the grape vine.  The adult female moth laid the egg on the grape vine to ensure that her progeny would have a ready food supply upon hatching.

Letter 3 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar Invasion
Hi Bugman – You have a great site! I noticed that a tree in my yard was being defoliated – at first I thought it was just some deer munching their way through to the rest of the “salad bar” my gardens provide. However, on closer inspection, I discovered the tree has at least 75-100 of these caterpillars happily munching away. Any idea as to what they could be? The are smooth, with a single “horn” above their posterior and a dark black/blue body with the yellow colorations down their sides. They range in size from about 1.5 to 3 inches long. Thanks for any help you can provide. I live in central NJ, 10 minutes from the ocean. The caterpillars are munching on a catalpa tree, which is about two years old and approximately 15′ tall. The tree was a “gift” from either the winds or birds and was quite happy in its location – which has butterfly bush, milkweed, assorted wildflowers and hummingbird vine. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Regards, Anne

Bingo Anne,
Thank you for writing back with the host plant. Often the host plant is a critical bit of information in caterpillar identification. This is a Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae. Here is a site with a wealth of information. Huge infestations often occur and the tree can be severly defoliated.

Letter 4 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar
September 14, 2009
Found this guy about 2 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio Metroparks system. Gates Mills, Ohio to be exact. It was early fall and I found him sitting on a picnic table. I’ve tried to find his picture on the web but have not had much luck.
What is he?
Judy
Northeastern Ohio

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar
Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Judy,
This is the dark form of the variable caterpillar of the Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae, which can be seen on Bill Oehlke’s wonderful website.

Thank you soooo much…I hate having a picture of something and not knowing what it is!
Take care!

Letter 5 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Mystery caterpillar
Location: Utica, Ohio
August 19, 2017 2:18 pm
Hello, Bugman! We found this caterpillar here in Central Ohio, we were curious to know what kind it is. Thank you!
Signature: Carol

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Carol,
Is there a Catalpa Tree or Cigar Tree nearby?  This looks to us like a Catalpa Sphinx,
Ceratomia catalpae, a species with variable coloration.  Image B on Nature Search looks very much like your individual, and the description is “The mature caterpillar is about 2 3/4 inches in length.  The color varies on individuals from mostly yellow to mostly black.  The head is black.  The sides are often marked with vertical black lines.  There is a long, straight black horn on the top of the last segment.

Hi Daniel,
Yes, there actually is a cigar tree right near where the caterpillar was found. Thank you so much for your quick response, and for helping us ID this little guy!

Letter 6 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Big caterpillar!
Geographic location of the bug:  Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
Date: 09/03/2017
Time: 08:43 PM EDT
Spotted this big guy by the lake on our evening walk tonight. I’m interested to see what this caterpillar becomes!
How you want your letter signed:  Liz

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Liz,
We are surmising that there is a catalpa tree or cigar tree nearby as that is the food plant for the Catalpa Sphinx caterpillar you found.  We have no images on our site of the adult Catalpa Sphinx, but you can see images on Sphingidae of the Americas.

Letter 7 – Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillars including possible Albino!!

 

Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar Albino?
Hello bugman,
Your site is terrific! We used it to identify these caterpillars which are madly defoliating our catalpa trees, and we checked out the link you offered as well. But, we’ve not found specific information to help us determine the nature of the very pale version. Could this be an albino of the catalpa sphinx?
Thanks!
Elizabeth

Hi Elizabeth,
Nice photo. Here is what we do know. The smallest caterpillar exhibits the normal coloration of an early Catalpa Sphinx instar. The largest caterpillar also exhibits normal coloration. There are albinos possible in all species. This could be an albino. If that is true, the adult would probably also exhibit albinism. Good find.

Letter 8 – Catalpa Sphinx

 

I live in Northeastern Ohio and I have found about a dozen of these in my yard today. I have looked all over the internet before finding your site. Can you please tell me what this is.
Lisa

Hi Lisa,
Your caterpillar is a Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae. They feed on the leaves of catalpa, or cigar tree as we called them in Youngstown Ohio. You can find photos of the adult moths on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website. We are copying Bill Oehlke on this response so he can add your data to his comprehensive species distribution information.

Letter 9 – Parasitized Catalpa Sphinx

 

Ceratomia catalpae parasitized by Apanteles congregatus
Location: Northeast Tennessee
Subject: Ceratomia catalpae parasitized by Apanteles congregatus
Location: Northeast Tennessee
October 10, 2011 9:02 pm
Or…
Catalpa Sphinx caterpillar with eggs from a parasitic Braconid wasp.
I took these at my grandparents’ house last weekend.
There was a congregation of about 6 caterpillars on the leaves of one branch of their Catawba tree. They were not moving and many had these eggs on them. Some were hanging (as if about to pupate, maybe?). Sorry they’re so blurry, my camera is really crappy:)
Love your site!
Signature: Easily Fascinated Strikes Again

Parasitized Catalpa Sphinx

Dear Easily Fascinated Strikes Again,
This is a very interesting sighting, though not really rare.  We wish your photos were clearer, but we are posting the best of them anyways.  Thanks so much for your concise personal observations.

Letter 10 – Plebian Sphinx

 

Subject: What’s this moth?
Location: Central North Carolina
July 28, 2013 7:24 am
Moth found hiding out during the day
Signature: Greg

Catalpa Sphinx
Plebian Sphinx

Hi Greg,
We believe this moth is a Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa, based on photos on the Sphingidae of the United States website and BugGuide.  We will try to get a confirmation from Bill Oehlke.

Bill Oehlke provides a correction
Daniel,
Nice picture of Paratrea plebeja, the Plebian Sphinx.
I would like permission to post. Can you help?
Bill

Letter 11 – Catalpa Sphinx

 

Subject: What type of caterpillar is this?
Location: Salina, Kansas
August 22, 2013 8:41 am
These caterpillar are consuming leaves on our Catalpa tree. Can we expect beautiful butterflies in our future? We live in central Kansas.
Signature: Expecting Butterflies

Catalpa Sphinx
Catalpa Sphinx

Dear Expecting Butterflies,
This Catalpa Sphinx,
Ceratomia catalpae, will eventually transform into a somewhat large, brown moth.  Sphinx Moths are elegant moths, though the Catalpa Sphinx is not one of the more colorful members of the family.  This is a case where the caterpillar is quite colorful, but the moth lacks the dramatic colors and markings.  You can read more about the Catalpa Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

5 thoughts on “Catalpa Sphinx Moth: Essential Facts and Tips”

  1. Hello from Northern Wisconsin! I was sitting on my deck and spotted this caterpillar in the grass-I have never seen one like this. I believe it is the Abbotts Sphinx! I would like to verify this if possible-I took pictures and a video- it would appear that this one has some mites attatched to it?

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  2. I just love these guys. We have one large catalpa tree and several smaller ones that are part of the untended brushy part of our property, and nearly all of them have been mostly defoliated this year. We had a massive number of these little caterpillars, and they must have been hungry! We had a good number of braconid wasps this year too, though I didn’t see a ton of parasitized catalpa worms I’m sure they were out there!

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  3. These pest have devoured almost all of the leaves on my Catalpa tree in 48 hrs…no joke how do I rid my trees of them?

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