Sphinx Moth Caterpillar Care: All You Need to Know for a Happy Pet

Caring for sphinx moth caterpillars can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. These unique creatures go through several stages of development, from eggs to caterpillars, before finally transforming into adult moths. In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know to properly care for your sphinx moth caterpillar and ensure its healthy growth.

Firstly, it’s essential to provide the right environment and diet for your caterpillar. Sphinx moth caterpillars often have a specific host plant they prefer, like tobacco, tomato, or catalpa tree. Make sure you identify your caterpillar’s preferred host plant, as this will serve as its primary source of food. Provide fresh leaves daily to ensure they have a constant supply of nourishment.

Another important aspect of sphinx moth caterpillar care is monitoring its health. Keep an eye on its growth and be aware of any potential threats, such as predatory insects or sudden changes in temperature. By following these basic guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to successfully raising a healthy sphinx moth caterpillar.

Understanding Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Sphinx moth caterpillars, also known as hornworms, belong to the Sphingidae family. They are fascinating creatures with distinct characteristics and unique care requirements.

When raising a sphinx moth caterpillar, it is important to be familiar with its life stages. Like other moths, they undergo metamorphosis, transitioning through four primary stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Each stage has specific needs, particularly during the larval stage, when the caterpillars grow rapidly and require ample food.

Some common features of the sphinx moth caterpillar:

  • They have thick, fleshy bodies that are usually patterned with stripes or spots.
  • They have a notable horn-like structure at the rear end which gives them their name.
  • Sphinx moth caterpillars feed mainly on the leaves of specific host plants.

To ensure that your caterpillar thrives, you need to provide the appropriate host plants for feeding. For example, the tobacco hornworm feeds on tobacco and tomato plants, while catalpa sphinx caterpillars prefer the leaves of catalpa trees. Knowing your caterpillar’s species is essential for providing the right food source.

Caring for sphinx moth caterpillars also involves maintaining a suitable environment. Make sure their living space is clean and well-ventilated to prevent the growth of mold or other harmful organisms.

To summarize, understanding the characteristics and requirements of sphinx moth caterpillars is key in providing proper care. It’s important to know their host plants, life stages, and necessary living conditions. With proper care and attention, you can enjoy witnessing the fascinating process of metamorphosis as they transform from larvae into beautiful moths.

Life Cycle of Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Larva Stage

The larval stage of the sphinx moth caterpillar is quite distinct due to its horn-like structures. These caterpillars are commonly called hornworms. As a caretaker, you should provide a consistent supply of fresh leaves, which they feed on during this stage. The caterpillars grow rapidly, and will molt several times throughout their development.

A fascinating feature of these larvae is their ability to resemble the ancient Sphinx when threatened. They exhibit this defensive behavior by tucking their head under and lifting their body up.

Pupa Stage

Once caterpillars have reached their final size, they will leave the host plant to pupate in the soil. They enter the pupa stage and form a chrysalis. The caterpillars may bury themselves up to 1½ to 2 inches deep in the soil to pupate. During the pupa stage, their body undergoes significant changes, preparing for their emergence as adult moths.

During the pupa stage, the caretaker should ensure that the soil remains undisturbed. Maintain proper moisture levels and adequate temperatures for successful metamorphosis.

Adult Moth Stage

As adult moths, they become significantly different from their larval stage. Featuring a large wingspan, large eyes, and a long, pointed abdomen, sphinx moths are easily identifiable. They are active primarily during the night, feeding on nectar from flowers using their long proboscis.

When caring for adult sphinx moths, provide them with a suitable environment that includes choosing plants with tube-shaped flowers. This will provide an appropriate food source and attract other sphinx moths to your garden.

In conclusion, understanding the life cycle of the sphinx moth caterpillar is essential for proper care and ensuring the continued survival of these fascinating creatures.

Diet and Feed

Sphinx moth caterpillars have a diverse diet depending on their species. They mostly feed on plants, like tomato, grape leaves, and various flowers. Some species, like the tomato hornworm, specifically target tomatoes.

Your caterpillars require proper nutrition to thrive. Providing them with their preferred host plant is essential. For instance, tomato hornworms should be provided with fresh tomato leaves.

In their adult stage, sphinx moths feed on nectar from flowers. To ensure their ecosystem stays healthy, place flowering plants that release nectar during nighttime in your garden. Plants such as sacred datura, petunias, and honeysuckle serve as an abundant nectar source for adult moths.

A balanced diet allows your caterpillars to molt and grow. Be sure to provide a variety of host plants and flowers. This contributes to a healthy ecosystem and supports their growth cycle.

In summary, consider the following points when feeding your sphinx moth caterpillars:

  • Provide their preferred host plants (e.g., tomato leaves for tomato hornworms).
  • Offer a variety of plants and flowers.
  • Ensure nighttime nectar sources for adult moths.

By following these guidelines, you create a friendly environment for your sphinx moth caterpillars to grow and develop.

Potential Host Plants to Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Sphinx moth caterpillars can be found on various host plants, depending on the species. Below are some potential host plants that you may find in your garden or surrounding areas:

Virginia Creeper and Vines: Some sphinx moth caterpillars feed on Virginia creeper, wild grape, and other vines. These plants provide the caterpillars with the leaves they need to grow and develop.

Desert Shrubs and Low, Shrubby Plants: In arid regions, sphinx moth caterpillars may thrive on desert plants like low, shrubby plants and desert shrubs. These plants are well-suited to their environment and are great sources of nutrients for the caterpillars.

Trees: Willow, birch, elm, and oak trees can all be host plants for sphinx moth caterpillars. These caterpillars will munch on the leaves of these trees, which are ample food sources for their growth.

Potted Plants: In some cases, you might even find them on potted plants or grapes in your garden. These plants provide a convenient and readily available food source for hungry caterpillars.

To sum up, here are some potential host plants for sphinx moth caterpillars:

  • Virginia creeper
  • Vines, such as wild grape
  • Desert shrubs
  • Low, shrubby desert plants
  • Trees, like willow, birch, elm, and oak
  • Potted plants and grapes

In conclusion, sphinx moth caterpillars can have various host plants, from desert shrubs to lush trees and vines. Be sure to create a diverse environment in your garden or outdoor space to attract these fascinating creatures.

Ideal Living Environment

Creating an optimal environment for your sphinx moth caterpillar is important for its growth and survival. Let’s discuss some factors to consider when setting up the perfect home for this fascinating creature.

When it comes to light, caterpillars prefer dimly lit areas, as they usually rely on hiding from predators. Ensure the container has some shaded spots to help the sphinx caterpillar feel secure.

Choose a container that provides ample space for your caterpillar to move around, such as a terrarium. A mesh lid is useful for promoting air circulation, which is crucial for preventing mold growth and maintaining a healthy environment.

Hummingbird moths, a type of sphinx moth, are known for their ability to hover like a hummingbird. Setting up an environment that imitates their natural habitat is key. In the terrarium, include elements such as:

  • Host plants for the caterpillar to feed on
  • Leaves, branches, or plants for the caterpillar to hide in
  • Moist but well-draining soil or substrate

Stick to a climate similar to what the caterpillar would experience in North America, especially if you are housing a species native to the eastern United States. This would involve monitoring and maintaining temperature and humidity levels that reflect their natural ecosystem.

In conclusion, providing the ideal living condition for your sphinx moth caterpillar is essential in ensuring its health and happiness. With the right combination of light, container, plants, air circulation, and climate, you can create the perfect environment for your fascinating little friend to thrive.

Potential Pests and Diseases

Caring for your sphinx moth caterpillar involves being aware of potential pests and diseases that may affect its health. In this section, we’ll discuss common issues caused by bacteria, fungi, pests, and diseases.

Bacteria: Bacterial infections can be harmful to your caterpillar, leading to symptoms such as lethargy, drooping antennae, or even death. One example is a bacterial disease called Flavobacterium. To prevent bacterial infections, ensure you keep their environment clean and avoid exposing them to contaminated food or materials.

Fungi: Fungal infections can cause similar issues as bacterial infections, but may also result in the appearance of mold or mildew on your caterpillar or its habitat. One common fungal infection is the Zygomycosis. To avoid fungi, make sure the living environment is clean and well-ventilated, without excessive moisture.

  • Pests: Various predators like spiders, ants, or wasps can pose a threat to sphinx moth caterpillars. To prevent predation, be watchful and remove any potential threats from the caterpillar’s surroundings.

  • Disease: Diseases can also affect your sphinx moth caterpillar. The most common disease is the Nucleopolyhedrovirus (NPV), which can cause the caterpillar to become weak, discolored, and eventually die. To minimize the risk of disease, make sure the caterpillar has a healthy diet, clean environment, and monitor for any signs of illness.

By staying informed and proactive, you can help maintain the health of your sphinx moth caterpillar and enjoy watching its growth and development. Remember to keep their environment clean and be vigilant to potential threats.

Care Tips for Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Caring for sphinx moth caterpillars is a rewarding experience. To ensure their healthy growth, consider the following factors:

Temperature: Sphinx moth caterpillars thrive in temperatures between 65°F to 85°F (18°C to 29°C). Be mindful of the environment where you keep them, avoiding extreme temperature fluctuations.

Humidity: Maintaining proper humidity levels is also essential for caterpillar health. Aim for a humidity range of 70% to 90% as these insects are generally found in humid environments.

Caring for Sphinx Moth Caterpillars: Here are some care tips:

  • Provide fresh leaves from the caterpillar’s host plants, like ash trees for the Great Ash Sphinx Moth or poplar for other species. This ensures proper nutrition.
  • Clean the caterpillar’s habitat regularly, removing fecal matter known as frass. This helps to maintain a healthy environment.

When setting up the enclosure, consider these features:

  • A large, well-ventilated container with a secure lid
  • Moist paper towels or a humidity tray to help retain humidity
  • Room for caterpillars to move and grow without overcrowding

Keeping an eye on the caterpillars’ health and making sure to follow these guidelines will help ensure that your sphinx moth caterpillars grow and develop healthily.

Sphinx Moth Caterpillar: Garden Marshals

As a gardener, you might be familiar with sphinx moth caterpillars. These little creatures play a significant role in your garden’s ecosystem. Let’s explore some of their characteristics and their impact on your gardening endeavors.

Sphinx moth caterpillars, like the tomato hornworm, are often named after the host plants they are associated with. This association highlights their importance in maintaining garden plant diversity. In your garden, you can find them on:

  • Tobacco plants
  • Tomato plants
  • Wild cherry trees
  • Huckleberry shrubs
  • Catalpa trees

While some species can be agricultural pests, they can also help your garden’s ecosystem by serving as pollinators and natural pest controllers. So, with proper care and management, you can allow these “garden marshals” to thrive.

Remember that sphinx moth caterpillars will turn into adult moths, which contribute even more to pollinating flowers. Keeping the caterpillar stage healthy is crucial for the adult moths’ success.

To maintain a healthy balance in your garden, consider the following tips:

  • Provide a diverse set of host plants to maximize their benefits for your garden.
  • Frequently inspect your plants for any signs of damage, and remove only the caterpillars that severely harm your plants.
  • Avoid using harsh chemical pesticides that can harm both the caterpillars and other beneficial insects.

By understanding and caring for these garden marshals, you can preserve the delicate balance in your garden and even improve its overall health and beauty. Happy gardening!

Interactions with Other Organisms

You may be curious about the various interactions sphinx moth caterpillars have with other organisms.

Butterflies and clearwing moths play a role in pollination alongside their sphinx moth counterparts. While butterflies prefer to feed during the day, sphinx moths are typically more active at night, providing continuous pollination for plants throughout the day and evening.

Some examples of their common predators are birds, parasitic wasps, and small mammals. These predators help to control the population of sphinx moth caterpillars, which could otherwise damage host plants.

Here’s a brief comparison of certain characteristics of butterflies and sphinx moths:

Butterflies Sphinx Moths
Feeding Time Daytime Nighttime
Pollination Role Daytime Pollinators Evening and Night Pollinators
Antennae Clubbed or rounded tips Gradually wider, often cone-shaped

To make sure your sphinx moth caterpillars thrive, remember to meet their specific needs. Provide the appropriate host plants, such as tomato, ash, or poplar leaves, depending on the species. By doing so, you’re encouraging healthy interactions with other organisms, like ensuring successful pollination and natural predator-prey relationships. Happy caterpillar raising!

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 – Sphinx Caterpillar from United Arab Emirates: Hyles livornica

 

UAE caterpillar
I have lived in the United Arab Emirates for 12 years and yesterday, I saw a caterpillar that I had never seen before. There were several off them spaced out on in the desert’s sandy/gravelly plain about 45 kms south of Dubai. Recently, we had heavy rains (unusual) and the desert turned into a green carpet of plants. I think it’s this abundance of foliage that has prompted the appearance of these caterpillars. The caterpillar has beautiful markings and was about 2″ long. I saw a photo of a similar caterpillar seen in the Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley, California. Possibly the same family? Best regards
David Lees

Hi David,
This is some species of Sphinx Moth Caterpillar in the family Sphingidae. Furthermore, we believed it to be in the genus Hyles, possibly Hyles euphorbiae, the Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth. The caterpillar is quite variable in color, and information can be found on Bill Oehlke’s great site. This species was introduced to the U.S. in 1965 as a biological control agent of the Leafy Spurge, a plant introduced from Europe. The original range of the moth is “from south and central Europe to central Asia.” We continued our research which led us to Hyles livornica on the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic Website. It looks like a perfect match.

Letter 2 – Toad Bug and Mysterious Pink Sphinx Caterpillar: Possibly Elegant Sphinx

 

Greetings from the lower rogue river
Good morning, from the black bar lodge employees…we have found these recently…one is a bug from down by the river…the other was walking across the road…we are located in southern Oregon…we are hoping that you can help us identify these both…thanks in advance for your help…
Lynnie, rusty, alisa and cassidy…

Toad Bug Mysterious Sphinx Caterpillar


Dear Black Bar Employees,
Your aquatic bug is a Toad Bug in the Family Gelastocoridae. They live on the banks of creeks, ponds and rivers and they eat small aquatic creatures. BugGuide has additional information. The pink caterpillar has us challenged. It is a Sphinx Moth, family Sphingidae, but after that it is all speculation. We spent considerable time on Bill Oehlke’s excellent Sphingidae site and are guessing, based on location and general appearance, that this might be an Elegant Sphinx, Sphinx perelegans. A second site gave us a detailed description of the larva, but does not mention the pink colortion. Many caterpillars change color from green to brown or orange just before pupation. Some caterpillars, like the Heterocampas, change pink. We are theorizing that perhaps some Elegant Sphinx Caterpillars change pink, but that is just a guess. We may try to contact Bill Oehlke to get his input. Bill Oehlke quickly wrote back to us. Here is his assessment: “Daniel, Many of the Sphingidae larvae are quite similar as are the moths. Many of them also take on the pinkish hue prior to pupation. I am more inclined to go with Sphinx chersis for this one, based on the grainy, raised dots near the head giving skin a slightly granulose appearance. I would not rule out your intitial diagnosis, but shape and colouration of spiracles also suggest chersis to me. Also there is absence of dark coloured spot on lower (leg) end, opposite side of the white striping. Do you know which county and surrounding habitat (what kind of trees and bushes nearby)? Ash, lilac, privet, cherry, and/or quaking aspen nearby would also tend toward an id as chersis. Glad the website is helpful. I wil ask Jim Tuttle if he can be even more positive on the id. Bill Oehlke”

Letter 3 – Sphinx Caterpillar from Peru may be Giant Sphinx

 

green hornworm in Lima, Peru, South America
Location: south america, Peru
April 8, 2011 12:03 pm
Well, my friend posteed this picture in facebook and said that this is a waxd moth caterpillar, but I think that this is impossible because waxed moth is onkly found in Norht America while this thing is in the south. I think that this is either an archemon sphinix or a satellite sphinix. could you tell me its real name? thanks.
Signature: shi chen

Giant Sphinx Hornworm, we believe

Dear shi chen,
We have not had any luck identifying this Hornworm, however, your best resource will probably be the Sphingidae of the Americas Peru webpage.  We do not believe it is either the Achemon Sphinx nor the Satellite Sphinx.  Can you provide the name of the food plant?

Update
April 15, 2011
An update: my friend told me that he had found three of these kinds of hornworm. Unluckly, 2 of them was gone after he returned few days later and so he only have that worm picture. He did mentioned that the other 2 have white stripes opn them. Also these worms are resting on :an olive tree, a cherimoya tree, and an unkonw green shrub (probably another fruit tree). He also mentioned that the the picture of the wormhorm that I had sent you has faded white stripes. This can be told when the contrast of the picture is risen, which that’s how he did it. This probably means that this some of pillar’s white stripes had faded away after growing to certain size. This is my upadated information. Hope you have luck in identifying the caterpillar. Thanks.
Shi Chen

Update:  July 22, 2018
The research we did because of a new Hornworm posting we made has caused us to believe this is a Giant Sphinx Hornworm, Cocytius antaeus, a species that feeds on the leaves of cherimoya and has recently been reported in Southern California.

Letter 4 – Sphinx Caterpillar, possibly Pachylia darceta Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar from Brazil
Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil
February 19, 2013 5:19 am
Hi Bugman! I found this caterpillar in Sao Paulo. I think, it’s Sphingidae caterpillar. I tried to ID it, but didn’t find anything similar.
Maybe you know, what is it?
Signature: Janet

Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Janet,
We agree that this is a Sphinx Caterpillar.  It looks very similar to the caterpillar of the Fig Sphinx, Pachylia ficus, but even though that is a variably colored caterpillar, the bright turquoise stripe on your caterpillar is something we haven’t seen on Pachylia ficus.  So, even though it is similar, there are enough differences for us to suspect this might be a different species in the same genus.  There are three members of the genus Pachylia listed in Brazil on the Sphingidae of the Americas website, and the Pachylia darceta page does not include a photo of the caterpillar, so that is a possibility.  We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if we can get his opinion.  He might ask permission to reproduce your photo on his website as well.  The description of the caterpillar on the Learn About Butterflies, Moths of the Andes pages is:  “The caterpillars of Pachylia species feed on Ficus or Artocarpus ( Moraceae ). They are described by d’Abrera ( Sphingidae Mundi, 1986 ) as being ‘variable in many colours, being blue, yellow, orange, green or grey-brown; 7 to 8 pairs of oblique lateral bands – but these running in the opposite direction to those on larvae of the subfamily Sphinginae’.”

Identification Request sent to Bill Oehlke
Hi Bill,
This caterpillar looks like
Pachylia ficus, but different enough for me to suspect it might be Pachylia darceta which is not pictured on your site.  Any thoughts?
Thanks
Daniel

Hi Daniel,
I agree with your assessment, probably ficus, but could be one of the other members of Pachylia genus.

Letter 5 – Hornworm from Ethiopia

 

Subject: Caterpillar ID
Location: Lalibela, Ethiopia (NW)
November 24, 2013 7:24 am
Found this beauty while on a birding trip to Ethiopia, specifically, in a field outside the town of Lalibela, NW ETH This last month, Oct., ’13. Elevation ca. 5-6,000’
Can you tell me what it is?? I can’t seem to get it to paste into your image spots below (other than to give address on my computer, which is no help to you), so I uploaded it to a Picasa Web Album and the following address should get you to it. I’m anxious to know and to send the ID info to my local guide there, who is working on bird and insect ID.
Signature: Romney Bathurst

Hornworm from Ethiopia
Hornworm from Ethiopia

Dear Romney,
This is a Hornworm, a caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, and we will try to identify the species later today.  It reminds us of caterpillars in the genus
Hyles.

Wow, that was fast!!!  Thanks so much – will hold off sending info to Ethiopia to see if you can come up with anything more.  Regardless, I do so appreciate your help!  Isn’t it amazing how such gorgeous caterpillars often turn into the most drab moths.  On the other hand, of course, this guy blends very, very well with his background – once we put him down in a safe place, we could hardly find him again!

Letter 6 – Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: What is this giant green caterpillar
Location: Kingston, Ontario, Canada
August 1, 2014 10:42 am
I saw this giant green caterpillar in the neighbourhood and I would love to find out what it is!
Signature: Glen

Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar
Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Glen,
This is the caterpillar of a Pandorus Sphinx, and it is a variable species with background colors of orange, brown and black as well as green.  See Sphingidae of the Americas for additional information.
  The adult Pandorus Sphinx is a beautiful green moth.

Letter 7 – Sphinx Caterpillar from Brasil: Pachylia syces syces

 

Subject: Caterpiller in Uberlandia, MG Brasil
Location: Uberlandia, Minas Gerias, Brasil
December 24, 2014 11:09 am
I just found this catepiller on the wall of my office. It is huge, 10cm to 12cm in length, with a red head. See the attached photos.
Signature: Craig Snively

Pachylia syces syces Caterpillar
Pachylia syces syces Caterpillar

Dear Craig,
This is a caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth,
Pachylia syces syces, and it does not have a common name.  According to the Sphingidae of the Americas site, the caterpillars feed on the leaves of various plants in the genus Ficus, which includes figs.

Thanks Daniel. Happy Holidays and thanks for the information.
Abraço from Brasil
Craig

Letter 8 – Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Mystery caterpillar?
Location: Palm beach, Florida
December 9, 2015 12:22 pm
Hi, my step mom just posted this caterpillar photo from her garden in Florida and I was hoping you could help us identify it!
Signature: Thanks in advance! Chais

Sphinx Caterpillar
Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Chais,
This is a Sphinx Caterpillar in the genus Erinnyas, and we are not certain if it is the Alope Sphinx,
Erinnyis alope, which is pictured on BugGuide, or the Ello Sphinx, Erinnyis ello, which is also pictured on BugGuide. Both caterpillars are known to feed on the leaves of Papaya.  We will check with Bill Oehlke to see if he can determine the species.

Letter 9 – Sphinx Caterpillar from Costa Rica

 

Subject: Suspected Eumorpha in Costa Rica
Location: Carara National Park, Costa Rica
July 23, 2016 12:25 am
Though I’m not positive, I think this caterpillar appears to be in the genus Eumorpha judging by its “tail”. I found it in Carara National Park in Costa Rica, where I saw more species of caterpillar than I could possibly count– it was wonderful.
Signature: Casey

Hornworm:  Eumorpha triangulum
Hornworm: Eumorpha triangulum

Hi Again Casey,
We agree that this is a Hornworm in the genus Eumorpha, and after searching through the Sphingidae of Costa Rica, we believe the images on that site of
Eumorpha triangulum Hornworms look the closest to your individual.

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.

4 thoughts on “Sphinx Moth Caterpillar Care: All You Need to Know for a Happy Pet”

  1. This is a Cocytius antaeus caterpillar, I suppose, at least it looks very much like one. The plant on which You have found and photographed it could be an Annona species…
    It is great to find such a spectacular species in the wild, and it is great to read the news and to see the pictures on this wonderful site!

    Nice regards and happy Easter!

    Bostjan Dvorak

    Reply
    • Dear Bostjan,
      Thanks for your comment and kind holiday wishes. We have just returned to the office and there are countless emails that have arrived in our absence. We will only be able to respond to a few and we will try to post a few new letters today.

      Reply
    • wow, i just noticed your answer like 5 years later…. my bad

      Thanks for identifying it! It does looks like a giant sphinx’s larva!

      Reply
    • wow, i just noticed your answer like 5 years later…. my bad

      Thanks for identifying it! It does looks like a giant sphinx’s larva!

      Reply

Leave a Comment