Eyed Hawk Moth Facts: Uncovering the Mysteries of This Unique Creature

The eyed hawk moth is a fascinating creature that has captured the attention of many nature enthusiasts. Known for its unique appearance, this large moth boasts stunning, eye-like markings on its wings, which serve as a defense mechanism to scare away predators.

These intriguing insects are not only mesmerizing to observe, but they also play a significant role in their ecosystem. As pollinators, eyed hawk moths contribute to maintaining the balance and health of plant populations. So take a moment to discover the world of eyed hawk moth facts – a captivating journey awaits!

Eyed Hawk Moth Overview

Smerinthus Ocellatus Classification

The Eyed Hawk Moth (Smerinthus ocellatus) belongs to the Lepidoptera order and the Sphingidae family. This moth is widely distributed throughout Europe. Here are some key features and characteristics:

  • Has distinct eye-like spots or “ocelli” on its hindwings
  • Primarily active during the night
  • Larvae feed on various deciduous trees

Size comparison:

  • Moth wingspan: 70-80 mm
  • Larvae length: up to 75 mm

These moths showcase protective features, like their eye spots, to deter predators. When threatened, the moth reveals its blue eyespots, scaring away potential threats.

A brief summary of the Eyed Hawk Moth’s classification:

  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Sphingidae
  • Scientific name: Smerinthus ocellatus

The Eyed Hawk Moth has a fascinating life cycle, consisting of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult moth. The adult moths are excellent pollinators, using their long proboscis to feed on nectar from flowers, occasionally during daylight hours. The larvae feed on leaves from a variety of deciduous trees such as willows, poplars, and apple trees.

Feature Eyed Hawk Moth
Wingspan 70-80 mm
Larvae length Up to 75 mm
Active time Nighttime, occasionally daytime
Food source Nectar from flowers (adult), leaves (larvae)

Physical Characteristics

Wings and Patterns

Eyed hawk moths exhibit unique patterns on their wings. The most striking feature is the eyespots on their hindwings, which mimic owl eyes as a defense mechanism against predators 1. Other patterns include:

  • Large, rounded forewings
  • Camouflage patterns for additional protection
  • Scalloped borders on both wings

Adults have a wingspan of 65-80 mm, with males typically having a slightly smaller wingspan than females 2.

Adult Moth

General physical characteristics of the adult eyed hawk moth include:

  • Lengthy, thread-like antennae
  • Dense, scale-covered body and wings
  • Long, tapering abdomen
  • A proboscis for feeding on nectar 3


The larval stage of the eyed hawk moth goes through several transformations. Key characteristics of caterpillars include:

  • Green body with striking white lines along the sides
  • A blue eyespot on each segment
  • A horn-like protrusion on the rear end

Caterpillars eventually form pupae to transition into adult moths4.

Sexual Dimorphism

Both male and female eyed hawk moths share many physical traits, but there are subtle differences between the two:

Males Females
Slightly smaller wingspans Larger wingspans
More slender body Wider abdomen
Antennae with denser branching Less dense antennae

These differences affect their flight capability and mating behavior 5.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Range

The Eyed Hawk Moth (Smerinthus ocellata) can be found in various parts of Europe, including:

  • England
  • Wales
  • Ireland

This moth species also has a presence in parts of Asia and North Africa.

Typical Habitats

Eyed Hawk Moths are commonly found in the following habitats:

  • Woodlands: They often reside in deciduous woodland areas.
  • Gardens: These moths can be attracted to gardens with suitable host plants.

Characteristic features of Eyed Hawk Moths include:

  • Unique forewing pattern with cryptic camouflage
  • Hindwings with large, bold eyespots resembling that of an owl

Comparison Table:

Habitat Common Moth Species Eyed Hawk Moth Presence
Woodland Many species Yes
Gardens Fewer species Yes

Habitats commonly occupied by hawk moths — including subspecies other than the Eyed Hawk Moth — often contain specific host plants, such as willow, aspen, and poplar trees. These plants provide a suitable environment for the moths to thrive.

Behavior and Life Cycle

From Eggs to Pupa

The life cycle of an eyed hawk moth begins with the female laying eggs on host plants, typically in gardens. The eggs hatch into caterpillars, which have specific features:

  • Caterpillars: Green, well-camouflaged, and feed on leaves
  • Growth: They shed their skin several times as they grow

Once fully grown, the caterpillar transitions into a pupa. The pupa stage is essential for transforming into an adult moth.

Adult Moth Behavior

Adult eyed hawk moths have distinct characteristics and behaviors:

  • Arthropod: They belong to the arthropod family
  • Eyespots: Large, visible eyespots on their hindwings
  • Nocturnal: Active during the night, attracted to artificial lights

Adult moths mainly feed on nectar from flowers, using their long proboscis.

Comparison of Moth Larva and Adult:

Stage Features Behavior
Larva Caterpillar, green, well-camouflaged Feed on leaves, grow, and shed
Adult Eyed hawk moth, eyespots, long proboscis Nocturnal, feed on flower nectar

Mating and Reproduction

Mating and reproduction in eyed hawk moths involve several essential steps:

  1. Mating: Males search out females using pheromone signals
  2. Eggs: Females lay eggs on host plants
  3. Maternal: No maternal care is provided once eggs are laid

The cycle then repeats as the new generation of caterpillars hatch from the eggs and grow into adult moths.

Ecology and Conservation Status

Role in Ecosystem

The eyed hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellatus) plays an essential role in its ecosystem as both a pollinator and prey. They help in:

  • Pollination: Adult moths feed on nectar and contribute to plant pollination.
  • Prey: Eyed hawk-moth caterpillars and adults serve as a food source for various predators.

Examples of predators that feed on this moth include birds and bats.

Threats and Conservation


Eyed hawk-moths face several threats to their habitat and population:

  • Habitat loss: Woodland development reduces the moth’s natural habitat.
  • Climate change: Altered weather patterns and temperatures can impact moth reproduction and ecosystem balance.


Although the eyed hawk-moth does not have a specific conservation status, efforts must be made to maintain a stable population, such as:

  • Habitat preservation: Protecting and managing woodland areas to maintain the moth’s preferred habitat.
  • Education and awareness: Raising awareness about the moth’s ecological importance and encouraging conservation efforts.

Comparison Table

Eyed Hawk-Moth Other Moth Species
Predominantly found in woodland habitats Varied habitats depending on species
Pollinates plants while feeding on nectar Some species also contribute to pollination
Migratory behavior Varying migratory behavior depending on species

In conclusion, understanding the eyed hawk-moth’s ecological role, threats, and conservation can help support its population and overall ecosystem health.

Host Plants and Feeding Habits

Types of Host Plants

Eyed hawk moths (Smerinthus ocellata) rely on specific host plants for their survival. The caterpillars of this moth species commonly feed on:

  • Populus species (poplars)
  • Malus species (apple trees)
  • Salix species (willows)
  • Various types of scrub plants

These plants provide the necessary nutrients and protection for the caterpillars during their larval stage.

Specific Feeders

The poplar hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) is a close relative of the eyed hawk moth. Its larval food plant choices are similar, with a preference for:

  • Poplar trees (Populus spp.)
  • Willow trees (Salix spp.)

In comparison, the eyed hawk moth shows a broader range of acceptable host plants, including apple trees (Malus spp.) and diverse scrub vegetation.

Comparison between Eyed Hawk Moth and Poplar Hawk-Moth

Feature Eyed Hawk Moth Poplar Hawk-Moth
Host plant preference Poplars, Apple trees, Willows, Scrub Poplars, Willows
Larval food plants Populus, Malus, Salix, Scrub Populus, Salix

It is important to remember that the survival of these moth species relies on the availability of suitable host plants for feeding and reproduction.

Subspecies and Variations

Smerinthus Ocellatus Ocellatus

This subspecies is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It is characterized by:

  • Pale gray to greenish-gray coloring
  • Wingspan of 70-80 mm
  • Eye-shaped markings on rear wings

Smerinthus ocellatus ocellatus prefers deciduous forests and gardens.

Smerinthus Ocellatus Atlanticus

Native to the Azores, this subspecies features:

  • Darker gray coloring
  • Smaller wingspan (65-75 mm)
  • Similar eye-shaped markings on rear wings

Their habitat includes humid forests and areas with dense vegetation.

Smerinthus Atlanticus Protai

Found in Madeira, this subspecies differs in:

  • An overall darker and greener appearance
  • Wingspan of 68-78 mm
  • Slightly larger eye-shaped markings

These moths are typically found in laurel forests.

Subspecies Wingspan Coloring Habitat
Smerinthus ocellatus ocellatus 70-80 mm Pale gray to greenish-gray Deciduous forests and gardens
Smerinthus ocellatus atlanticus 65-75 mm Darker gray Humid forests
Smerinthus atlanticus protai 68-78 mm Darker and greener Laurel forests

Interesting Facts and Trivia

Famous Sightings

The Eyed Hawk Moth, scientifically known as Smerinthus ocellatus, was first described by Carl Linnaeus in his book Systema Naturae. Despite being more common than some other hawk moths, the Eyed Hawk Moth is still an impressive sight due to its beautiful markings and large size.

Evolution and Ancestors

Sphinx moths, which include the Eyed Hawk Moth, have some fascinating traits that suggest an interesting evolutionary history:

  • Sphinx moths belong to the same order as butterflies: Lepidoptera
  • They are related to hornworms, caterpillars known for their distinctive “horn”
  • They are sometimes called hummingbird moths due to their hovering behavior while feeding on nectar

Like hummingbirds, sphinx moths have a long thin proboscis used for drinking nectar. The majority of hawk moths are nocturnal and use their proboscis to feed on nectar from flowers, making them important pollinators.

Hawk moth behavior, such as their use of pheromones for communication, also points to a rich evolutionary history.

Eyed Hawk Moth Characteristics:

  • Average wingspan: 70-80 mm
  • Active season: May to July
  • Distinctive eyespots on hindwings

Comparison table: Eyed Hawk Moth vs. Common Moth:

Feature Eyed Hawk Moth Common Moth
Wingspan 70-80 mm 10-50 mm (varying)
Activity Nocturnal Nocturnal/Diurnal
Pollinator Yes Some species
Proboscis length Long, specialized Shorter, less adapted

In conclusion, the Eyed Hawk Moth is a fascinating creature with a intriguing evolutionary history. As important pollinators with unique characteristics, they continue to captivate both scientists and naturalists alike.


  1. https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hawk_moths.shtml

  2. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/sphinx-moths-hawk-moths

  3. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/moths

  4. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/MOTHS/polyphemus_moth.htm

  5. http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/Plates.shtml

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 – Eyed Hawkmoth from Sweden


Subject: Moth
Location: Sweden, Stockholm
May 23, 2016 10:14 pm
I would really like to know what kind of moth this is. It was aproximately 2.5 inches.
Signature: Lena

Poplar Hawkmoth
Eyed Hawkmoth

Dear Lena,
The Poplar Hawkmoth,
Laothoe populi, is one of the largest members of the family Sphingidae found in Europe.  According to UK Moths:  “Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hindwings held forward of the forewings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hindwings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.  Distributed commonly throughout most of Britain, the adults are on the wing from May to July, when it is a frequent visitor to light.”  According to The Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic:  “Frequents almost any damp, low-lying area, such as country lanes, open woodland rides, railway cuttings or town parks, particularly where Populus spp. but also Salix spp. are present; commoner where the former occurs. Up to 1600m in the Alps. Most emerge late at night or early in the morning, clambering up the tree trunk at the base of which the larva had pupated. Not until the following evening does the moth take flight, females quickly selecting a resting position amongst foliage from which the males are attracted at around midnight. Once paired, they remain coupled until the following evening when, after separation, the females start laying eggs almost immediately.”

Correction:  Eyed Hawkmtoh
May 22, 2018
We just received a comment from Chanda that alerted us to this misidentification.  We concur that this is an Eyed Hawkmoth which is pictured on Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic.

Letter 2 – Eyed Hawkmoth from the UK


Subject: large moth
Location: Sheffield england
May 26, 2016 8:08 am
Hi as my son played in the garden he shouted for us to look at his leg and there was this big giant like moth clung onto his trousers I uploaded the pic on another site but it says its a brown bat unless that’s the name off that type of moth I don’t think its a brown bat as it would be far to small and it was 15:00 hours when it was out can you identify what it may be
Signature: sarah

Eyed Hawkmoth
Eyed Hawkmoth

Dear Sarah,
We have identified your Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae as an Eyed Hawkmoth,
Smerinthus ocellata, thanks to the UK Moths site where it states:  “Fairly well distributed throughout England and Wales, this species has a sombre, camouflaged appearance at rest, but if provoked, flashes the hindwings, which are decorated with intense blue and black ‘eyes’ on a pinkish background.  The adults fly from May to July, inhabiting woodland and suburban localities.”  If you look closely at one of your images, you can see the “eyes” on the colorful hindwings barely visible.

Letter 3 – Eyed Hawkmoth Caterpillar from the UK


Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Cheshire uk
August 26, 2016 4:23 am
Found on an Apple tree
Signature: Bikl

Eyed Hawkmoth Caterpillar
Eyed Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Dear Bikl,
Thank you for supplying the name of the host tree.  That information helped us to quickly identify this as the Caterpillar of an Eyed Hawkmoth,
Smerinthus ocellata, and according to UK Safari:  “The caterpillars, which can be found between June and September, feed on a variety of trees including; apple, willow, and aspen. ”  According to UK Moths:  “The green caterpillars resemble those of the Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi), but have a bluish-coloured spike at the rear. They feed on sallow (Salix), apple (Malus) and several other trees.”

Letter 4 – Eyed Hawkmoth from England


Subject:  Moth Identification
Geographic location of the bug:  England
Date: 06/25/2018
Time: 10:20 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this moth in a tunnel my mother is keen to identify
How you want your letter signed:  Amy

Eyed Hawkmoth

Dear Amy,
This is a Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae, and we quickly identified it as an Eyed Hawkmoth,
Smirinthus ocellata, thanks to images on UK Moths where it states:  “Fairly well distributed throughout England and Wales, this species has a sombre, camouflaged appearance at rest, but if provoked, flashes the hindwings, which are decorated with intense blue and black ‘eyes’ on a pinkish background.  The adults fly from May to July, inhabiting woodland and suburban localities.”   According to Butterfly Conservation:  “The pink hindwings are decorated with black and blue ‘eyes’, used to flash at predators.”



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2 thoughts on “Eyed Hawk Moth Facts: Uncovering the Mysteries of This Unique Creature”

  1. I suspect that this moth may be misidentified. The wing pattern the and shapes of the wing edges look more like Smerinthus ocellatus.


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