Huckleberry Sphinx Moth: Essential Guide for Enthusiasts

The Huckleberry Sphinx Moth is a fascinating creature that piques the curiosity of nature enthusiasts and scientists alike. Belonging to the Sphingidae family, these moths are nocturnal and commonly known as hawk moths or sphinx moths.

Hawk moths have a unique appearance, with large, stout bodies often featuring vibrant colors and captivating patterns. They are known for their long, pointed abdomens and an ability to hover near flowers, feeding on nectar through their extended proboscis. This impressive feeding method allows them to resemble hummingbirds as they feed, adding to their charm and allure.

A key characteristic of sphinx moth caterpillars is the horn-like protuberance found on their posterior end, earning them the nickname “hornworms.” These large, colorful caterpillars feed on various plants, transforming into remarkable moths that continue to amaze those who encounter them.

Huckleberry Sphinx Moth Identification

Physical Features

The Huckleberry Sphinx Moth, also known as Paonias astylus, is a unique species of moth gaining attention for its distinctive appearance. Notable physical features include:

  • A robust body
  • A horn-like protrusion on the rear
  • An elongated, segmented abdomen

Wingspan and Coloration

The wingspan of this moth can range from 2½ to 3½ inches, making it a reasonably large moth species. Each forewing displays a striking yellowish-orange shade, with dark olive brown coloring along the outer edges.

Examples of Huckleberry Sphinx Moth features can be found in Wisconsin Horticulture and Entomology and Nematology Department webpages.

A comparison table of similar moth species:

Species Wingspan Coloration
Huckleberry Sphinx 2½ to 3½ inches Yellowish-orange
White-lined Sphinx 2½ to 3½ inches Tan with brown
Rustic Sphinx 3 to 4 inches Brown with white

The Huckleberry Sphinx Moth stands out from other species due to its unique physical features and coloration, making identification less challenging for entomology enthusiasts.

Life Cycle and Behavior

Larval Stage

The huckleberry sphinx moth begins its life as an egg. Once hatched, it enters the larval stage, commonly known as a caterpillar. Huckleberry sphinx moth caterpillars are typically active from March to June. During this time, they feed and grow in preparation for the later stages of their life cycle.

  • Feeds on various host plants, e.g., huckleberry and gooseberry
  • Can have one or two generations per year, depending on climate and other factors

Adult Stage

After the larval stage, the caterpillar forms a pupa within a cocoon. The adult huckleberry sphinx moth emerges from the pupa, typically during June to September. Adult moths are nocturnal, actively feeding on nectar from flowers and seeking mates at night.

  • Long, pointed wings and abdomen
  • Feeds using a long proboscis, similar to a butterfly’s
  • Wide geographical range, including parts of North America

Comparison between larval and adult stages

Feature Larval Stage Adult Stage
Appearance Caterpillar-like Moth-like, with long wings and abdomen
Activity March to June June to September
Diet Host plants Nectar from flowers
Behavior Grows and prepares for metamorphosis Mates and lays eggs for the next generation

Habitat and Distribution

Range in Eastern North America

The Huckleberry Sphinx Moth belongs to the Sphingidae family and is found in various regions of Eastern North America. The moth’s range spans from Southern Florida to Maine and extends west to Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

  • Eastern range: Florida to Maine
  • Western range: Missouri to Louisiana

Preferred Habitats

As for the preferred habitats, Huckleberry Sphinx moths can be found in a variety of wetlands. These nocturnal visitors are attracted to a wide variety of night-blooming host plants, including Vaccinium (blueberry), Prunus (fruit trees), and Salix (willow) species.

Host plants:

  • Vaccinium (blueberry)
  • Prunus (fruit trees)
  • Salix (willow)

Hostplants and Feeding Habits

Huckleberry

Huckleberry sphinx moth caterpillars primarily feed on huckleberry plants. These plants offer essential nutrients for the caterpillar’s growth and development. Some features of huckleberry plants include:

  • Vibrant red to purplish berries
  • Glossy, oval-shaped leaves
  • Support the growth of sphinx moth caterpillars

Blueberries and Cherries

Besides huckleberries, these caterpillars also feed on a range of plants from the vaccinium family, like blueberries, and the prunus family, like cherries. Both have their unique characteristics attracting caterpillars:

Blueberries:

  • Small, rounded blue-purple berries
  • Abundant in vitamins and antioxidants

Cherries:

  • Bright, rounded red fruits
  • Sweet and juicy with a distinctive flavor

Willows and Other Plants

In addition to their preferred plants, the huckleberry sphinx moth caterpillars can be found feeding on other host plants such as willows and the andromeda plant. These caterpillars are adaptable and can consume various plant species to fulfill their nutritional needs.

Willows:

  • Often found near watery habitats
  • Slender leaves with a grayish-green color

Andromeda Plants:

  • Evergreen shrubs with leathery leaves
  • Clusters of white or pink bell-shaped flowers
Plant Attraction Pros Cons
Huckleberry Primary host plant High nutritional value May not be available in all regions
Blueberries Secondary host plant Abundant in vitamins and antioxidants Competes with other species for resources
Cherries Secondary host plant Sweet and juicy fruits Limited in availability and season
Willows Alternative host plant Available in various habitats Not as nutritious as primary host plants
Andromeda Alternative host plant Aesthetically pleasing, attracts insects Requires specific growing conditions

Conservation and Threats

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is a major threat to the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth. These moths live primarily in the northern part of forests, where they rely on native plants for food and reproduction. As human development encroaches on forest habitats, these essential resources become scarce, leading to population declines. For example, deforestation and urbanization can cause the loss of huckleberry plants, which are essential to the moth’s lifecycle.

Climate Change

Climate change is another challenge facing the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth. As global temperatures rise, moth populations may be affected by:

  • Changes to plant phenology, altering the availability of food sources
  • Altered temperature and precipitation patterns, potentially disrupting moth reproduction and survival

For example, earlier springs can cause huckleberries to bloom before the moths emerge, limiting the availability of nectar for adult moths.

Range Shifts

With changing climate conditions, the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth’s range may shift to adapt to new environments. The moth’s current range is largely tied to the distribution of huckleberry plants, typically found in northern forests. As climate change alters plant distributions, the moth’s range may be forced to shift as well. This could lead to increased competition for resources within their new range, as other species may also be undergoing range shifts.

Fun Facts and Trivia

The Huckleberry Sphinx Moth is a fascinating insect with unique characteristics that set it apart from other moths and butterflies. This moth is known for its love of huckleberries, which they consume not only as a primary food source but also as a place to lay their eggs.

  • Habitat: They are commonly found in the northern parts of North America, which have an abundance of huckleberry plants.
  • Wingspan: These moths have a notable wingspan, measuring between 4 to 5 inches.

Their appearance is quite distinctive, as they have bold yellow spots on both sides of their abdomen. The caterpillar form, known as hornworms, are large and colorful with a small horn at the rear and strong stubby legs that clamp onto plants1.

In the moth world, the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth has an interesting connection to the works of Dru Drury, a British entomologist who lived in the 18th century. Drury was well-known for his book “Illustrations of Natural History,” which meticulously documented numerous insects, including some sphinx moths2.

Comparing the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth to the more popular butterflies:

Characteristic Huckleberry Sphinx Moth Butterflies
Activity Time Nocturnal Diurnal
Antennae Often feathery or comb-like Clubbed
Resting Pose Wings flat to the side Wings closed or open

Keep in mind that these moths are vital pollinators, just like butterflies. They play a key role in the ecosystem, particularly in pollinating huckleberry plants. So, next time you come across a Huckleberry Sphinx Moth, take a moment to appreciate the rare beauty and its ecological significance.

Classification and Taxonomy

The Huckleberry Sphinx Moth, scientifically known as Sphinx integerrima, belongs to the family Sphingidae and has the Hodges number 7826. This family falls under the taxonomic order Lepidoptera, which includes both moths and butterflies. As part of the subfamily Smerinthinae, the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth is closely related to other species like Sphinx io and Calasymbolus astylus.

Specifically, the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth is classified under the genus Sphinx, which consists of several other species. Formerly, the moth was known as Smerinthus integerrima Harris, which is now considered a synonym.

Some key characteristics of the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth are:

  • Moth of family Sphingidae
  • Subfamily Smerinthinae
  • Related species: Sphinx io, Calasymbolus astylus
  • Formerly known as Smerinthus integerrima Harris

In comparison to other species within the family Sphingidae, the Huckleberry Sphinx Moth has its unique features. Here’s a brief comparison table of Huckleberry Sphinx Moth (Sphinx integerrima) and Io Moth (Sphinx io):

Feature Huckleberry Sphinx Moth (Sphinx integerrima) Io Moth (Sphinx io)
Family Sphingidae Sphingidae
Subfamily Smerinthinae Smerinthinae
Hodges number 7826 Not applicable
Typical habitat Forests, woodlands Forests, woodlands
Larval host plants Huckleberry, blueberry Willows, poplars

The Huckleberry Sphinx Moth, as part of the Sphingidae family, shares many common traits with other species within the family. However, due to its unique classification, larval host plants, and habitat preferences, it holds a special place among moth enthusiasts and researchers.

Further Resources and References

The huckleberry sphinx moth belongs to the Smerinthini tribe within the sphinx moth family. These arthropods are fascinating hexapods, and if you’re interested in learning more about them, there are several reliable resources available.

The Wisconsin Horticulture website offers information on the white-lined sphinx moth, a close relative of the huckleberry sphinx moth. The site provides details on their appearance, habitat, and feeding behaviors, with pictures for better identification.

Another great source of information about sphinx moths is the UCANR webpage. This site specifically discusses the Achemon sphinx moth, which shares some similarities with the huckleberry sphinx moth, such as nocturnal habits and wing size.

For a broader understanding of the sphinx moth family, the US Forest Service website offers more general information about hawk moths or sphinx moths, which can be helpful to deepen the knowledge about this unique group of insects.

BugGuide is another valuable resource, featuring a clickable guide to aid in identifying different species of sphinx moths. It also offers guidance on rearing moths from caterpillars, including information on broods and their development. If you enjoy BugGuide, consider contributing by donating to support their services.

In summary, these resources can help you learn more about the unique features of huckleberry sphinx moths and other related species:

Footnotes

  1. Mysteries of the Sphinx Moths | Missouri Department of Conservation

  2. Dru Drury – Wikipedia

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 – Huckleberry Sphinx and Polyphemus Moth

 

2 moths for your review
Hello!
For the last 2 years fall has been ushered in with the appearance of very large, dying moths. Fortunately I can get over my fear of insects if they’re in their sluggish final days and I was able to get close enough with a macro lens to get a few detailed shots. I find myself more and more fascinated with moths and their markings, but I’m terrible at identifying them. Would you mind having a look at these pictures and identifying them for me? It may be helpful to know that we are in the central Georgia region. The first is a reddish moth, probably a good 3.5 inches with its wings expanded to the point depicted in these pictures. I believe there were eye-spots underneath the top layer of wing, but they were only visible when the wings were fully expanded. I was unable to get a good picture in this position as the poor moth needed encouragement to stretch that far in its condition. This picture was taken in the fall, and it was definitely in the final stage of its life. it sat on the sidwalk out front of our apartment for a good 2 days, and when it finally expired it did so in this same position. It was just begging to be a specimen! The second moth was so huge that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. The full wing span was at least 6-inches across, and I had no idea moths could grow so large. As you may be able to tell from the picture, the eye-spots are actually holes in the wings. We found this one dying near our apartment as well, also in the fall. It too sat sluggishly on the pavement for 2 or 3 days, and then finally disappeared. Probably carried off by an ambitious neighborhood cat. If you could help identify these moths, I would greatly appreciate it!
Thanks,
Frightened but Fascinated

Huckleberry Sphinx Polyphemus Moth


Dear Frightened but Fascinated,
We will try to alleviate your fear while encouraging your fascination. Your red moth is a Huckleberry Sphinx, Calasymbolus astylus (according to Holland but currently reclassified). It is a rather scarse species. It will not harm you since it has a proboscus, a tubular mouth design for sucking nectar from deep throated flowers. Your second moth is one of the Giant Silkworms, a Polyphemus Moth, Antheraea polyphemus. There are two generations in the South and eggs laid in the fall will winter over and hatch as caterpillars in the spring. It cn also over-winter as a cocoon. This moth does not feed as an adult since it has vestigial mouthparts and cannot feed. Neith moth has the anatomy necessary to do you any harm. You are finding dying moths in the fall since they do not survive the winter as adult. We hope you will lose your fear and expand your fascination.

Letter 2 – Huckleberry Sphinx

 

gorgeous orange moth
Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 5:19 PM
Dear Bugman,
This beauty appeared on the window screen of our maintenance facility this week (mid-June). It was there for the whole day, oblivious of photobugs (two-legged variety) and an occasional prod to determine whether it was alive (affirmative). The facility is the the midst of an oak-maple forest adjacent to an extensive salt marsh in northern Massachusetts. It was a warm sunny day. I was not able to make any headway in identification, probably because the wing pattern would be different when it opened its wings. I would love to know what it is — other than spectacular! Thanks.
Susan
Essex County, Massachusetts

Huckleberry Sphinx
Huckleberry Sphinx

Hi Susan,
First, we want to apologize  for our tardy response, but we were away for a week and the emails really piled up in our absence.  We are selecting letters to  read based on the subject line, and we are spending way more time than we should in trying to post as many older emails (while being mindful of newly arriving emails) as possible.  Sadly, many wonderful letters will go unanswered and many wonderful photos will go unposted because of time constraints.  With that said, we were thrilled to open your letter.  We believe this is a new species for our website, the Huckleberry Sphinx, Paonias astylus.  We quickly matched it to photos posted to Bill Oehlke’s fabulous website.  Bill Oehlke writes this:  “Huckleberry Sphinx females call in the night flying males with an airbourne pheromone emitted from a gland at the posterior of the abdomen. Both sexes rest with wings parallel to  the resting surface, with the upper lobes of the hindwings protruding above the forewings. The lower abdomen of the male arcs  upward toward the head, while the abdomen of the female hangs strait down on a vertical surface. ”  That would indicate that your specimen is a male due to the abdominal position.  Oehlke also indicates:  “Blueberry and huckleberry ( Vaccinium ), cherries ( Prunus ) and  willows ( Salix ) are the favorites as larval  foodplants. ”  We are going to include Bill Oehlke in our response to you as he may request permission to use your photos on his website and also because your sighting is north of what is typical for the Huckleberry Sphinx.

Huckleberry Sphinx
Huckleberry Sphinx

Letter 3 – Huckleberry Sphinx

 

Subject: WTB – crazy moth???
Location: Mid-Atlantic states
July 25, 2012 2:58 pm
Took these picks mid-July in Virginia, was sitting on my house. Bricks give a pretty good reference for the size. Looks like some supped-up fighter jet to me; the curling of the wings is also bizarre. Never seen anything like it around here, so curious what you think it might be.
Signature: T

Huckleberry Sphinx

Dear T,
Your moth is a Huckleberry Sphinx,
Paonias astylus, and your description that it resembles a souped up fighter jet has been used to describe other aerodynamically shaped members of the Sphinx Moth family Sphingidae that are frequently called Hawkmoths.  You can read more about the Huckleberry Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas website where it states:  “Both sexes rest with wings parallel to the resting surface, with the upper lobes of the hindwings protruding above the forewings. The lower abdomen of the male arcs upward toward the head, while the abdomen of the female hangs strait down on a vertical surface.”  Based on that description, your individual appears to be a male.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

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