Oleander Hawk Moth Facts: Insights into This Mysterious Creature

The Oleander Hawk Moth, scientifically known as Daphnis nerii, is a captivating and unique species. Native to regions across Europe, Asia, and Africa, this moth is admired for its vibrant colors and fascinating characteristics.

One of the most distinctive features of the Oleander Hawk Moth is its stunning appearance. Its wings display a mix of green, pink, and white hues, creating an impressive camouflage in its natural habitat. Additionally, the moth’s uncanny ability to hover while feeding on nectar, much like hummingbirds, makes it a marvel among insect enthusiasts.

Oleander Hawk Moth Identification

Appearance

The Oleander Hawk Moth (Daphnis nerii) is a striking insect known for its unique look. It has a pinkish-brown body with distinctive green markings and white spots on its wings. The underwings are mostly pink, creating a beautiful contrast. Here are some key features:

  • Body: Pinkish-brown with green markings
  • Wings: White spots and green patterns
  • Underwings: Mostly pink

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Wingspan

The Oleander Hawk Moth has a relatively large wingspan, typically ranging between 3.1 to 4.3 inches (8-11 cm). This makes it easy to spot while hovering around flowers, as it feeds on nectar through its long proboscis. To put it in perspective, here’s a comparison table of wingspans:

SpeciesWingspan (in)Wingspan (cm)
Oleander Hawk Moth (Daphnis nerii)3.1 – 4.38 – 11
Small Round Hawk Moth (for example)1.6 – 2.44 – 6

With such a sizable wingspan and vibrant colors, the Oleander Hawk Moth is an eye-catching species in the moth family.

Habitat and Distribution

Asia

The Oleander Hawk Moth is primarily found in Asia, particularly in countries like India, China, and Japan. They inhabit various habitats, such as:

  • Forested areas
  • Hillsides
  • Urban gardens

Europe

In Europe, this moth species can be spotted in the Mediterranean region and southern parts of the continent. Key examples of their European habitats include:

  • Olive groves
  • Vineyards
  • Coastal areas

Africa

The Oleander Hawk Moth has a significant presence throughout the African continent. Specifically, they are commonly found in:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Tropical rainforests
  • Savanna regions

North Africa

In North Africa, this migratory species is present in countries like Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. They typically prefer habitats such as:

  • desert fringes
  • Oasis areas

Hawaii

The Oleander Hawk Moth has also been found in Hawaii, where it has likely been introduced through imported plants. Here, its preferred habitats include:

  • Gardens
  • Agricultural zones

As a migratory species, the Oleander Hawk Moth’s distribution changes seasonally, often moving from colder to warmer areas. This helps them find optimal conditions for reproduction and survival. Overall, this fascinating moth species showcases a diverse and adaptable set of habitat choices across various geographical regions.

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Life Cycle

Eggs

The Oleander Hawk Moth begins its life as an egg laid by the adult female moth. The eggs are typically deposited on the leaves of the oleander plant, which serves as a food source for the emerging larvae. As a brief overview:

  • Eggs are oval-shaped and light green
  • Laid on the underside of oleander leaves

Larva and Caterpillar

Upon hatching, the Oleander Hawk Moth larva starts its caterpillar stage. They are known for their striking appearance and rapid growth, making them an interesting subject for lepidopterists. Key characteristics include:

  • Bright green color with a blue horn at the end of its body
  • Bright red, yellow, and white eye spots on the sides
  • Feed primarily on oleander plants

During this stage, the caterpillar encounters various predators, including ants and other insects that may try to feed on its soft body. To protect themselves, Oleander Hawk Moth caterpillars display a unique defensive behavior, rearing up their upper body to reveal the eye spots that mimic a larger, more threatening creature.

Pupa

Once the caterpillar is fully grown, it enters the pupa stage. The Oleander Hawk Moth caterpillar burrows into the soil, where it forms a protective cocoon around itself. In this brown, cylindrical casing, the caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis, a period of significant transformations. Some key points during pupation:

  • Lasts for about 20-30 days
  • Takes place in a subterranean chamber
  • Develops into an adult moth during this stage

Adult Moth

Upon emerging from the pupa, the Oleander Hawk Moth enters its adult stage. As a member of the sphinx moth family (Sphingidae), it is characterized by:

  • A large, heavy body and long, pointed abdomen
  • A forewing length of 3-4 cm
  • A wingspan of approximately 8-10 cm
  • Primarily nocturnal habits

Adult moths feed on the nectar of various flowers, using their long proboscises to reach the sweet liquid. These moths are also noted for their ability to hover near flowers, displaying impressive agility.

Sphinx Moth FamilyOleander Hawk Moth
Large, heavy body
Long, pointed abdomen
Nocturnal habits
Hover near flowers, feeding on nectar

Diet and Pollination

Nectar Sources

The Oleander Hawk Moth (Daphnis nerii) primarily feeds on nectar from various flowers. Some common sources of nectar for this moth include:

  • Nerium oleander (Oleander plant)
  • Jasminum (Jasmine)
  • Petunia
  • Lonicera (Honeysuckle)
  • Vinca

These plants provide the moth with energy to support its nightly pollination habits. Pale or white flowers with a strong fragrance are particularly attractive to the moth, as they are easily detected during the night.

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Host Plants

Oleander Hawk Moths lay their eggs on specific host plants, where their caterpillars will later hatch and feed. Some common host plants include:

  • Nerium oleander (Oleander plant)
  • Adenium obesum (Desert rose)

| Host Plant

Predators and Defense Mechanisms

Birds

Birds are one of the main predators of Oleander Hawk Moths. To mitigate the threat, these moths have developed various camouflage patterns on their forewings, which serve as their first line of defense against detection by birds. An example would be the resemblance of their wings to tree bark or leaves.

Wasps

Wasps pose a threat to Oleander Hawk Moths, particularly during the larval stage. As a defense mechanism, moth larvae might eat toxic food plants, such as those in the nightshade family, which in turn make them less palatable to wasps.

Spiders

Spiders are also potential predators of Oleander Hawk Moths. To avoid becoming prey, these moths might use a combination of camouflage techniques, like blending in with their surroundings, and rapid evasive flight when they sense a threat.

Lizards

Many lizards rely on their eyesight to find prey, like the Oleander Hawk Moths. Moths could use their wing patterns to confuse lizards, making it difficult for them to identify the moths as potential prey.

Bats

Bats are known to prey on moths, including the Oleander Hawk Moths. Some moths have developed the ability to detect ultrasonic signals emitted by bats, helping them to evade these predators. Furthermore, the moth’s eye spots might serve to confuse or startle bats, giving them a better chance to escape.

Comparison Table:

PredatorDefense Mechanism
BirdsCamouflage patterns on forewings
WaspsConsuming toxic food plants during larval stage
SpidersCamouflage techniques and rapid evasive flight
LizardsWing patterns to confuse lizards
BatsDetection of ultrasonic signals and eye spots to startle bats

Classification and Scientific Background

Sphingidae Family

The Oleander Hawk Moth belongs to the Sphingidae family, which is a diverse group of moths commonly known as hawk moths or sphinx moths. These moths are known for their:

  • Rapid and agile flight
  • Ability to hover like hummingbirds
  • Feeding on nectar from flowers

Genus Daphnis

The Oleander Hawk Moth is part of the Daphnis genus within the Sphingidae family. Its scientific name is Daphnis nerii. Some characteristics of this genus include:

  • Medium to large-sized moths
  • Colorful wing patterns
  • Preference for feeding on plants in the Apocynaceae family, like oleanders

Carl Linnaeus and Systema Naturae

Carl Linnaeus, a renowned Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician, is responsible for the modern taxonomy system. In his 10th edition of Systema Naturae published in 1758, Linnaeus introduced binomial nomenclature which is widely used today for classifying organisms.

Taxonomy RankTerm used by LinnaeusExample for Oleander Hawk Moth
KingdomAnimaliaAnimalia
ClassLepidopteraLepidoptera
FamilySphingidaeSphingidae
GenusDaphnisDaphnis
Speciesneriinerii

By placing the Oleander Hawk Moth within this classification system, it becomes easier to understand its relation to other species and its unique characteristics.

Conservation and Importance

The Oleander Hawk Moth plays a vital role in the ecosystem. As pollinators, they spread pollen between plants, enabling fertilization and plant reproduction.

Their population status directly affects native plant communities, as well as the health of other wildlife that depend on these plants for food and habitat.

  • Ecosystem services: Hawk moths provide essential pollination services for a variety of plants, including the Oleander plant from which they get their name.
  • Population balance: Maintaining a healthy population of Oleander Hawk Moths contributes to overall ecosystem stability and biodiversity.

It’s crucial to support conservation efforts aimed at protecting habitats and ensuring the survival of these incredible moths. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is an excellent example of a comprehensive approach that benefits hawk moths, as well as a wide range of other species.

ProsCons
Enhances plant reproductionMay be affected by habitat loss
Contributes to biodiversityCould be sensitive to pesticide use
Supports other wildlife indirectly 

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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.

    View all posts
  • 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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70 thoughts on “Oleander Hawk Moth Facts: Insights into This Mysterious Creature”

  1. In that photo I was relocating the little guy from my landlords “fancy plant” to something less… uh… desirable with a plumeria leaf. It seemed to like the plumeria just fine and when I checked on it in the morning the only sign he was around was a few half eaten leaves from the fallen branch I put it on.
    I was thinking the early bird got the worm until I read here that these guys do their thing in the dirt. I hope to see it in all it’s winged glory soon, if in fact that early bird ate elsewhere.
    Thanks for the ID and a very cool site.
    Aloha,
    Doug

    Reply
  2. Thank you very much for your reply and for posting the moth on your website.

    After I emailed you, I did more research and discovered that it was indeed the Oleander Moth.

    It disappeared in the evening, but is now back in my garden this morning resting on one of the wooden veranda legs 🙂 It seems very happy there, so I shall welcome it into the garden.

    Thank you again,

    Alex

    Reply
  3. I was very pleased to discover your site, two 9cm long caterpillars are devouring my desert rose and I wanted to know what they were.
    The link to other site was very interesting and has great detail.
    http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/dnerii.htm
    I shall leave the two to pupate and hope they survive.
    Trish
    Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Reply
  4. I was very pleased to discover your site, two 9cm long caterpillars are devouring my desert rose and I wanted to know what they were.
    The link to other site was very interesting and has great detail.
    http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/dnerii.htm
    I shall leave the two to pupate and hope they survive.
    Trish
    Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Reply
  5. I have found one of these such moths in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. I have never seen anything quite like this!

    Reply
  6. I believe my friend caught an OleanderHawk Moth. Its very Big. I read that they are not from here. I would like you to confirm if thats what it is. Thank You

    Reply
  7. I just saw one of the same moth on 3/24/14 on our garage wall. I was fscinated by how beautiful it look. That was first encounter of such a moth.

    Reply
  8. We found a huge Oleander Hawkmoth Caterpillar destroying one of our small Be Still plant here in Maui Hawaii.
    We want to save our plants and get rid of the pests. We also have other types of inchworm looking caterpillars devouring the crotons. Please advise…Thank you

    Reply
  9. We found a huge Oleander Hawkmoth Caterpillar destroying one of our small Be Still plant here in Maui Hawaii.
    We want to save our plants and get rid of the pests. We also have other types of inchworm looking caterpillars devouring the crotons. Please advise…Thank you

    Reply
  10. Aloha, I live in Hawaii and we’ve found this moth. We have a ton of oleander, it makes sense that we have this moth. Anyway, was wondering if this moth is poisonous to cats, as our outdoor cats are always bringing them inside and trying to eat them. Also, since oleanders give me hives, are the moths poisonous to us humans? Another thing, we’d like to bring it in to my daughter’s classroom, I’m assuming they eat oleander plants, so we’ll put some into a jar for tomorrow. But do we spritz a little bit of water too? I don’t want it to get moldy. We’re only going to keep it in the jar for maybe 15 hours. And I may be wrong in what it eats after it turns into a moth.

    Mahalo for answers you may have, since I’ve been searching and not finding much about them!
    Mia

    Reply
    • Hi Mia,
      The caterpillar of the Oleander Hawkmoth feeds on the leaves of the oleander plant, but the moth is not that particular about only taking nourishment from oleander. Moths have a tubular proboscis and they drink nectar from a variety of deep throated, nectar producing flowers. If you daughter is taking a live moth to the classroom, we would not worry about it going hungry for 15 hours. We have not read anything about the moths retaining any toxins from the plants. Many insects are able to store toxins from plants they feed upon, and we cannot say if this is the case with the caterpillars of the Oleander Hawkmoth. We will try to do additional research and get back to you, but there might not be any information available from reputable sources on the internet.

      Reply
  11. Aloha, I live in Hawaii and we’ve found this moth. We have a ton of oleander, it makes sense that we have this moth. Anyway, was wondering if this moth is poisonous to cats, as our outdoor cats are always bringing them inside and trying to eat them. Also, since oleanders give me hives, are the moths poisonous to us humans? Another thing, we’d like to bring it in to my daughter’s classroom, I’m assuming they eat oleander plants, so we’ll put some into a jar for tomorrow. But do we spritz a little bit of water too? I don’t want it to get moldy. We’re only going to keep it in the jar for maybe 15 hours. And I may be wrong in what it eats after it turns into a moth.

    Mahalo for answers you may have, since I’ve been searching and not finding much about them!
    Mia

    Reply
  12. Found these caterpillars at Kona Bali Kai Condo on Big Island of Hawaii on April 30, 2014.
    Please call as there are many more on-site. Contact phone (808)329-8176 or (808)895-8099.

    Reply
  13. Found these caterpillars at Kona Bali Kai Condo on Big Island of Hawaii on April 30, 2014.
    Please call as there are many more on-site. Contact phone (808)329-8176 or (808)895-8099.

    Reply
  14. I woke up this morning to find one of my Oleanders with all the leaves chewed off. When inspecting the other bush I found a beautiful green caterpillar almost 3″ long on it with bright blue eyes and a little yellow horn on its rear. It clung to the plant for dear life and I had to pry it off. This looked exactly like the pictures of the Oleander hawk moth caterpillar.

    Reply
  15. Just encountered one of these delightful moths this evening when coming home. Beautiful creature. Just sitting on my lanai under the light. Hope a big toad doesn’t come along and fancy it for a snack.

    Reply
  16. The moth flew into my living room. I allowed it to settle and caught it with my butterfly net. I never saw a moth like it. I took it outside to release him. It was hugh and beautiful. I live in eastern PA When I went back to check on it he was gone.

    Reply
  17. Hi my name is Carrie
    I live in Alton Is
    Yes the Mid West)
    I have one in a jar?
    Rare ?
    Please advise
    As we r having a cold summer
    Is this normal that they r here?
    Thanks
    Carrie

    Reply
  18. Hi my name is Carrie
    I live in Alton Is
    Yes the Mid West)
    I have one in a jar?
    Rare ?
    Please advise
    As we r having a cold summer
    Is this normal that they r here?
    Thanks
    Carrie

    Reply
  19. I have seen such Caterpillars on my oleanders in Novalja, island of Pag, Croatia first time this summer! On the plants they are green, one I found on soil, was brown.

    Reply
  20. Just found a Oleander Hawkmonth caterpillar on my Big Lanai in one of the plants.
    I think the 3 little sacs were not slug babies but babies of the caterpillar. ooooooppps!
    Found 4-23-2015 Hawaii Kai Honolulu

    Reply
  21. Just found a Oleander Hawkmonth caterpillar on my Big Lanai in one of the plants.
    I think the 3 little sacs were not slug babies but babies of the caterpillar. ooooooppps!
    Found 4-23-2015 Hawaii Kai Honolulu

    Reply
  22. We have beautiful Desert Rose plants and have discovered at least 6 of these creatures. They consumed my plants very rapidly.

    Reply
    • I too find these on my dessert rose plants. They are a neat spectacle to look at but definitely pests since they consume quickly. You need to remove them asap . I would admire my succulent one afternoon and wake up the next morning to a bare leaf plant, they even eat the flowers ☹️

      Reply
  23. I found an Oleander Hawkmoth caterpillar about two weeks ago and brought it to my grade 3 classroom. The next day it made it’s cocoon. My students and I have been waiting for it to open but I am worried because it is a very black color and lacks the lighter brown coloring I see on other sites for a healthy cocoon. How can I know if it is dead or not?

    Reply
  24. I found an Oleander Hawk Moth on the patio of my home in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, USA two days ago. I had never seen anything like it and, upon further research, learned that this species is seldom seen in North America. I wish there was a way to attach the pictures to this post to share with you all.

    Reply
  25. How does the caterpillar get to move around. I found one in my sons bedroom upstairs while leaving his bedroom sliding door open for some air. I dont have any trees near the window – so no idea how it got in the poor thing. Also I find they move from one plant to another very quickly – yet they move slowly?

    Reply
  26. This is an interesting information… This species is really well represented in the current year, as far north as the northern Adriatic coast (an exceptionally good year). But the younger caterpillars should not leave the oleander shrubs at all… – except, maybe, they have completely eaten them. But I hope this is not the case, and find this very improbable… Is the Oleander hawkmoth photo from there? – They can reach about 13 cm or more, but always stay well hidden on the twigs. — It could be eventually another (more rare and local) species of hawkmoth caterpillars with eyespots – like Theretra alecto or Hippotion celerio, which are much more mobile indeed… – as eating on vine species and other smaller plants, and forced to leave and change the hosts quite frequently… They can be green or brown. Are there several pairs of eyespots on their necks? – Many Thanks and curious wishes from Berlin

    Reply
  27. We have them here in the Kalamula Homestead. Our Cactus Rose is their choice of food. They also come in a brown and pink color. Not sure what do.

    Reply
  28. I found one of these today on my break at work. He was on the side of my building. I took pictures and everything. Such a beautiful creature. Never seen one before here in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland except for today.

    Reply
  29. I live in Isan Province in NE Thailand and theses delightful creatures are happily chomping away on my plants too.
    I’ve plucked them and put them onto some unused gardens close by, there’s no need to destroy them.

    Reply
  30. I live in Isan Province in NE Thailand and theses delightful creatures are happily chomping away on my plants too.
    I’ve plucked them and put them onto some unused gardens close by, there’s no need to destroy them.

    Reply
  31. Hi Kim,

    We found one of these caterpillars crawling INSIDE our house in Corfu when we came back from shopping today. It was smaller than the ones you have seen (about 10 cm) but still bigger than a catterpillar I want to meet indoors. I’m pleased we know what it is and hope future specimens stay outside!

    Reply
  32. Hi Kim,

    We found one of these caterpillars crawling INSIDE our house in Corfu when we came back from shopping today. It was smaller than the ones you have seen (about 10 cm) but still bigger than a catterpillar I want to meet indoors. I’m pleased we know what it is and hope future specimens stay outside!

    Reply
  33. Just found one on our single Oleander, here in Tremisthousa, Paphos. About 9cm long with very bright “eyes”. Happy to post photo if allowed.

    Reply
  34. Wow! – Which makes evident they develop through the winter in the region. On northern Adriatic coast (Piran) I had the same suspect, finding them very late from time to time; but we have some frosts during a usual winter. This species has no dormant stage and develops continually.

    Nice wishes,
    Bostjan

    Reply
    • Update: due to said caterpillar ignoring the abundant leaves and eating the few flowers and buds on our one and only standard oleander, plus the daily chore of sweeping up the caterpillar poo – amazing how much one daphnis nerii can produce – I have been forced to relocate him/her(?) to a secret wilderness location where there are hundreds of flowering oleanders. It took one look, went “Yippee” in caterpillar speak and crawled at an amazing pace into the abundant green foliage in search of the fastest route to the pink tips. To judge by the missing tips of a number of green leaves, I think it(?) will soon be joining up with many friends in time for settling down, fully feasted, for the winter ahead. I shall be visiting from time to time to check on its progress and well being.

      Reply
  35. Wow! – Which makes evident they develop through the winter in the region. On northern Adriatic coast (Piran) I had the same suspect, finding them very late from time to time; but we have some frosts during a usual winter. This species has no dormant stage and develops continually.

    Nice wishes,
    Bostjan

    Reply
  36. I found one on our truck in New Iberia, Louisiana, US. I’ve never seen one before, but from the other post from Breaux Bridge, LA, it seems these moths are now in the south US, also.

    Reply
  37. What is the purpose of this kind of moth? Is it not a pest to find one within a house? I found a brown reddish stain on our curtain where it landed. Will it be easy to clean up? Thank you.

    Reply
  38. Just encountered one of these gorgeous creatures on my front sidewalk. I’ve lived in The islands over 30 years and never seen one before. Our yard is surrounded by Oleander bushes. I’m sure he’s been feasting.

    Reply

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