Pawpaw Sphinx Moth: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

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The Pawpaw Sphinx Moth is a fascinating creature, standing out among its fellow moth species due to its unique appearance and habits. These moths belong to the Sphingidae family, which includes the well-known Hawk Moths or Sphinx Moths. Their distinct features and preferred habitat make them a must-know for anyone interested in the intriguing world of moths.

Dwelling primarily near pawpaw trees, as their name suggests, these moths play a crucial role in pollination. Their larvae feed on the leaves of these trees, making them an essential part of the ecosystem. With their captivating markings and colors, the Pawpaw Sphinx Moth is a prime example of the incredible diversity of moth species found around the world.

Pawpaw Sphinx Moth Overview

Species Classification

The Pawpaw Sphinx Moth, scientifically known as Dolba hyloeus, belongs to the Sphingidae family within the order Lepidoptera (the animal order that includes butterflies and moths). This moth is classified under the subfamily Sphinginae.

Description and Size

Dolba hyloeus is known for its unique appearance. Characteristics include:

  • Forewings with variable shades of grey and brown
  • Intricate patterns on wing surfaces
  • Long and narrow wings, typical of the Sphingidae family

Pawpaw Sphinx moths have a moderately large wingspan, typically ranging from 36 to 54 mm (1.4 to 2.1 inches). This size distinguishes them from the Rustic Sphinx moth , which has a wingspan of up to 120 mm (4.7 inches).

Distribution and Habitat

The Pawpaw Sphinx Moth is primarily found in Eastern North America. They inhabit areas with their primary host plant, the pawpaw tree, which provides nectar and a breeding site. Their habitat also includes deciduous forests and wooded areas.

Comparison Table: Pawpaw Sphinx Moth vs. Rustic Sphinx Moth

Feature Pawpaw Sphinx Moth Rustic Sphinx Moth
Scientific Name Dolba hyloeus Manduca rustica
Wingspan Range 36 to 54 mm (1.4 to 2.1 inches) Up to 120 mm (4.7 inches)
Distribution Eastern North America Americas, from United States to Argentina
Primary Host Plant Pawpaw tree Various plants, including moonflower and jasmine
Appearance Grey and brown forewings with intricate patterns Stout-bodied, brown with white stripes and broad tan bands on wings

Life Cycle and Behavior

Eggs and Larvae

Pawpaw sphinx moth (Sphinx prini) is known to lay its eggs on the host plant, Asimina triloba, commonly known as pawpaw. After hatching, the young caterpillars begin feeding on the plant’s leaves.

Caterpillars and Pupation

As the larva grows, it becomes a caterpillar. These hornworms have a distinct appearance, featuring a range of colors and stripes. When they become mature, caterpillars find suitable spots to pupate, often in the soil or leaf litter.

Adult Moths

The adult moths emerge from their pupal stage with a wingspan of approximately 4 inches. The moths are characterized by their large size, tapering body, and long, narrow wings. Pawpaw sphinx moth closely resembles another species, Dolba schausi, but differs in wing patterns.

Comparison table:

Feature Pawpaw Sphinx Moth Dolba Schausi
Size Large, 4 inches wingspan Similar size
Body Shape Tapering body, long, narrow wings Similar body shape
Wing patterns Distinct patterns Different patterns

Flight Season

Pawpaw sphinx moths are mainly active from June to September. The moths are known for their strong flight capability and their ability to cover long distances in search of food and host plants.

Flight Season:

  • June to September
  • Strong flight capability

Host plants:

  • Asimina triloba (Pawpaw)

Caterpillars of Eastern North America:

  • Sphinx prini (Pawpaw sphinx moth)
  • Other sphinx moth caterpillars

Feeding Habits and Host Plants

Preferred Plants

The Pawpaw Sphinx Moth (Sphinx Hyloeus) is a fascinating moth that has an affinity for feeding on Pawpaw plants. This moth, found in regions such as Florida, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma, shows a preference for:

  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
  • Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina)
  • Deciduous hollies (Ilex spp.)

Their dietary preferences can greatly influence their life cycle and role in the ecosystem.

Alternative Food Sources

Apart from their primary host plants, Pawpaw Sphinx Moths have been known to adapt to other foraging options. They will consume:

  • Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.)
  • Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
  • Other flowering plants with nectar

Example of a comparison table for preferred and alternative food sources:

Food Source Type Region
Pawpaw Preferred Florida
Sweetfern Preferred Wisconsin
Deciduous hollies Preferred Oklahoma
Blueberries Alternative Eastern US
Inkberry Alternative Eastern US

Feeding habits of Pawpaw Sphinx Moths, primarily on Pawpaw leaves, are vital to their survival, as these plants provide essential nutrients for growth and reproduction. The moth species are adaptable and seek alternative food sources to ensure survival when primary host plants are not available.

Identification and Conservation

Physical Traits and Markings

The Pawpaw Sphinx Moth, Dolba hyloeus, is a unique moth species with specific physical traits and markings. It has a wingspan ranging from 87 – 150 mm. Some key features include:

  • A brownish-gray colored body
  • White triangles on the abdomen
  • No yellow abdominal spots1

The hindwings of this moth display an interesting pattern with a mix of pink and brown colors. In comparison, the Rustic Sphinx Moth, Manduca rustica, has yellow abdominal spots and is considerably larger in size2.

Threats and Protection Efforts

This moth species often faces threats from various predators throughout their life stages. From eggs to adult moths, predators such as birds, bats, spiders, and wasps pose risks to their survival. It is important to recognize the valuable role Pawpaw Sphinx Moths play as pollinators and maintain efforts to conserve their habitat.

Conservation practices for the Pawpaw Sphinx Moth include:

  • Monitoring their range and population
  • Ensuring habitat preservation
  • Encouraging growth of host plants

During their active season, identification of this species is crucial to maintain proper conservation efforts. A helpful resource for identification is the Moth Photographers Group, which provides information and clickable guides for various moth species.


  1. Moth Photographers Group – Dolba hyloeus – 7784

  2. Moth Photographers Group – Dolba hyloeus – 7784

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, 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 – Pawpaw Sphinx


Sphinx Moths
Thanks so much for your wonderful website. A while ago you put up my picture of a robber fly eating a Japanese beetle on your site. My kids were thrilled. They check your site constantly. Last night and tonight these two moths visited some planters of impatiens on our patio. One looks like a white stripe sphinx, but I couldn’t figure out what the darker one is. If I had to, I’d guess a Nessus. Any idea? Thanks,
Baldwin, MD

Hi Andrew,
The sphinx in question is a Pawpaw Sphinx, Dolba hyloeus, a new species for our site. We identified it thanks to photos and information on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.

Letter 2 – Pawpaw Sphinx, we believe


giant moth
August 29, 2009
My daughter found this large moth in our screened in pool area. It is about 2 inches long. It has some pink when it spreads it wings. We have never seen anything like it and would love to know what it is.
Diane Nguyen
Ocala, FL

probably Pawpaw Sphinx
probably Pawpaw Sphinx

Hi Diane,
This is a Sphinx Moth, and we believe the species is the Pawpaw Sphinx, Dolba hyloeus.  Of all the moths listed for Florida on Bill Oehlke’s awesome website, this seems the best match.  There is a shot of the belly of the species on BugGuide, and that also looks close to your specimen.  We are copying Bill Oehlke on this response to see if he can verify our identification.

probably Pawpaw Sphinx
probably Pawpaw Sphinx


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. 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.

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  • 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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Tags: Sphinx Moths

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