Sphinx Moth Life Cycle: An Intriguing Exploration

The sphinx moth is a fascinating insect with a unique life cycle that you might be interested in learning more about. These large, heavy-bodied insects have long, pointed abdomens and are known for their remarkable hovering capabilities near flowers, feeding on nectar via their lengthy proboscis. Their striking appearance and intriguing biology make them a captivating subject to explore.

Throughout the various stages of their life cycle, sphinx moths undergo incredible transformations. From egg to caterpillar, also known as “hornworms” due to the small horn at their rear, these creatures are voracious eaters. As they rest on a branch, their shape often resembles the mythical creature, the sphinx, which inspired their name.

Understanding Sphinx Moths

Sphinx moths, also known as hawk moths or hummingbird moths, belong to the Sphingidae family. These fascinating creatures have unique characteristics that set them apart from other moth species. Let’s discuss some of their features and behaviors.

Sphinx moths have a heavy body and narrow wings, making them agile fliers. Their rapid wing movement allows them to hover over plants and even move side to side, similar to hummingbirds. With their long proboscis, they can feed on nectar from flowers while hovering in midair.

Their life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Some common species you might encounter include the Achemon sphinx moth and the tomato hornworm. Pupae usually overwinter in the soil, inside a brownish case. When the temperature rises, they emerge as adults and begin their short, active lives.

Sphinx moths are also known for their fast flying speeds, clocking over 30 miles per hour. They are nocturnal, so you may spot them near porch lights or feeding on flowers in the early morning and late evening hours.

In summary, the Sphingidae family of moths, commonly known as sphinx moths, are unique in their flight and feeding abilities. Their agile movements and hovering behavior make them captivating to observe in their natural habitats.

Sphinx Moth Habitats

Sphinx moths, also known as hawk moths, can be found in a diverse range of habitats throughout North America. They are usually large and heavy-bodied, with a long, pointed abdomen and unique flight patterns. These fascinating creatures are most commonly found in meadows, gardens, and forests, where they have ample access to nectar-producing flowers.

During their life cycle, sphinx moths develop through four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. They generally lay their eggs on the leaves of plants, which provide nourishment for the larvae once they hatch. Some notable plants favored by sphinx moths include grapevines and Virginia creeper, both found across a wide range in North America.

Moth Habitats:

  • Meadow
  • Garden
  • Forest

In these environments, you are likely to encounter the different stages of the sphinx moth life cycle. The caterpillar stage, in particular, is known for its vibrant colors and interesting patterns. During the pupal stage, they form a protective cocoon and undergo a significant transformation before emerging as fully-grown adults.

Adult sphinx moths are more active during dusk and early morning hours, often hovering near flowers to feed on nectar with their long proboscis. Their rapid flight and feeding patterns resemble those of hummingbirds, which has earned them the nickname “hummingbird moths” in some areas.

As you explore the various habitats of sphinx moths, you will undoubtedly gain a greater appreciation for their unique characteristics and the important role they play in ecosystems across North America.

Hatching and Early Life

Sphinx moth eggs are usually laid on the upper surface of leaves, which caterpillars use as a primary source of food once they hatch. When the tiny first instars emerge, they chew a hole in the leaf and move to the lower surface, which they mainly feed on1. Your garden could be home to these little and voracious eaters.

Sphinx moth caterpillars come in many different colors and patterns, depending on the species. A common characteristic is the presence of a horn at the rear of the caterpillar, giving them the nickname “hornworms.” As they grow, caterpillars go through several stages called instars1. In each stage, they shed their exoskeleton and continue to devour leaves, increasing in size, and changing their appearance.

Let’s compare the larvae of two sphinx moth species:

Achemon sphinx White-lined sphinx
Color Varies (green, brown, grey) Varied (green, black, and yellow stripes)
Horn color Tapering dark blue Tapering red or orange

Host plants play a crucial role in the development of sphinx moth caterpillars. Specific plants determine the species and their ability to thrive. Native plants are often the primary hosts2. For example, the Achemon sphinx moth prefers grapevines and Virginia creeper1, while the White-lined sphinx moth enjoys willow weed and four o’clock plants3.

In summary:

  • Sphinx moth eggs hatch on leaves
  • Caterpillars go through stages called instars
  • They have horns at the rear end
  • Host plants are specific to species

It’s essential to recognize the early life of sphinx moth caterpillars in your garden. You can take preventive measures or simply enjoy observing their fascinating growth and development.

Growth and Development

The life cycle of a sphinx moth begins with metamorphosis. During this process, the moth transforms from a larva into a beautiful adult moth. This journey involves several key stages: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult moths.

When it comes to the sphinx moth’s adaptations, one interesting feature is their ability to pupate within the soil. This helps protect them during their vulnerable pupation period. Most sphinx moth species in California have 1 to 3 generations per year which allows them to thrive in various environments.

As the sphinx moth larvae grow and shed their skin, they prepare for the vital stage of pupation. At this point, many of them drop or walk down the plant to pupate on or in the soil. This is when they create brownish cases for protection. These are called pupae.

During pupation, the larvae undergo significant changes and eventually emerge as adult moths. For example, the tomato hornworm is a sphinx moth larva, and when it completes its pupation, it becomes an adult moth.

In conclusion, the life cycle of a sphinx moth comprises of eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult moths. Each stage showcases distinct characteristics and adaptations, enabling the moth to survive and reproduce in its environment. Remember, it’s essential to respect and admire these creatures, as they play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

Feeding Habits

Sphinx moths have a fascinating way of feeding. They are known for their ability to hover near flowers while sipping nectar using their long proboscis. This tube-like structure extends from the moth’s mouth, allowing it to reach even the deepest floral nectar chambers.

Some common flowers that sphinx moths are attracted to include trumpet-shaped or tubular flowers, which provide easy access for their proboscis. As they pollinate these flowers, they also benefit from them as a food source.

When it comes to sphinx moth larvae, they are popularly known as hornworms. A well-known example is the tobacco hornworm, which feeds on the leaves of tobacco plants. To give you an idea of how they grow, hornworms:

  • Start off small but grow rapidly
  • Can be green or brown, making them harder to spot among foliage
  • Often have a curved horn near their rear, giving them their name

During this stage in their life cycle, hornworms rely on plant material for sustenance. However, they will eventually transform into adult moths and adapt to a nectar-based diet. This change benefits both the moth and the plants, as the adult moths help in the pollination process, ensuring the survival and reproduction of various plant species.

The Adult Phase

In the adult phase, sphinx moths exhibit remarkable features that make them unique among other moth species. As you might have noticed, these moths have a sizeable wingspan, ranging from 2½ to 3½ inches. Their wings are divided into two main types: the forewings and hindwings.

The forewings are long, narrow, and triangular, whereas the hindwings are shorter in comparison. Each dark olive brown-colored forewing is decorated with a broad tan band, adding to their striking appearance. The antennae of sphinx moths have a unique structure, gradually widening and then narrowing toward the tip.

Although these moths are usually nocturnal, some species can be seen during the day hovering near flowers to feed on nectar. They use their long proboscis to access the sweet liquid.

  • Adult sphinx moth features:
    • Large wingspan (2½ to 3½ inches)
    • Triangular forewings
    • Shorter hindwings
    • Unique antennae structure
    • Nocturnal behavior

Moreover, adult sphinx moths can have multiple generations in a year depending on the species. These generations develop through the four primary life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult, ensuring the continuity of their fascinating life cycle.

Species of Sphinx Moths

White-lined sphinx moths (Hyles lineata) and hummingbird moths are some of the larger and more recognizable species of sphinx moths. You might notice their distinctive hovering style while feeding on nectar, similar to a hummingbird source.

Another common species is the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), known for feeding on tomatoes and other nightshades. Their close relative, the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), is also notable for damaging tobacco and other related plants. Both are often referred to as hornworms due to the horn-like projections on their bodies source.

The catalpa sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpae) is an interesting species, which primarily feed on catalpa trees (Catalpa spp.). In the larval stage, they have characteristic markings that distinguish them from other sphinx moths source.

Here are some common host plants for various sphinx moth species:

  • Apple: Smerinthus cerisyi and Dolba hyloeus
  • Purslane: Hyles lineata
  • Catalpa: Ceratomia catalpae
  • Portulaca: Hyles lineata and Proserpinus_proserpina
  • Virginia creeper: Darapsa myron source.

With around 28 species of sphinx moths in California alone, each has its specific preferences for host plants and habitats source. Keep in mind that the fascinating world of sphinx moths offers a wide array of species to discover and learn from.

Role in Pollination and Ecosystem

Sphinx moths, also known as hawk moths and hummingbird moths, play a significant role in the pollination of flowers and plants. You might be amazed by their ability to hover around flowers while feeding on nectar through their long proboscis.

These fascinating moths are excellent pollinators due to their unique hovering ability, which is similar to that of hummingbirds. They have a strong preference for flowers that open late in the afternoon or evening when they are most active. Some examples of flowers these moths are attracted to include:

  • Petunias
  • Honeysuckles
  • Evening primroses

As an essential part of the ecosystem, sphinx moths contribute to the health and diversity of plants by transferring pollen from one flower to another. Their long proboscis allows them to reach deep into flowers, which is beneficial for plants with tubular flowers.

Just like hummingbirds, sphinx moths are capable of both rapid and agile flight, which can reach up to 12 mph. This enables them to visit various flowers within a short period, thereby increasing the chances of pollination.

In summary, sphinx moths play a critical role in the pollination and overall health of the ecosystem. Their remarkable hovering ability, combined with their preference for certain flowers, makes them an essential asset for the maintenance and thriving of diverse plant life.

Interesting Facts

You might be surprised to learn that sphinx moths can cause damage to some plants in your garden. In particular, their larvae are known to feed on grapevines and Virginia creeper, leaving behind a trail of destruction in their wake 4. However, you don’t need to worry too much, as these occurrences are usually isolated incidents rather than widespread outbreaks.

Native Americans have had a long relationship with these moths, as they have valued them as a nutritious food source5. Their protein-rich larvae can be consumed either raw or cooked, and for many centuries, they have served as a dietary staple for several indigenous tribes in North America.

Sphinx moths are primarily active during dusk, often visiting flowers like the evening primrose1. Thanks to their long proboscis, they are perfectly adapted to extracting nectar from deep within these flowers2. Their remarkable ability to hover in a manner similar to hummingbirds has earned them the alternative name, hummingbird moths1.

To have a better look at the sphinx moths in your environment, try observing them during their resting periods5. As they are more active in the evening, daytime can provide an excellent opportunity to study these fascinating creatures up close.

Examples of various sphinx moths species in different contexts:

  • Damage: Achemon sphinx moth (Eumorpha achemon) is the most common species causing harm to grapevines and Virginia creeper4.
  • Evening Primrose: Sphinx moths are often found visiting these flowers to get their nectar1.
  • Resting: During the day, you can observe these moths resting to better study their behavior5.

In conclusion, the world of sphinx moths is full of intriguing surprises. From their unique feeding habits to their historical significance to Native Americans, these fascinating moths will undoubtedly leave you wanting to learn more.

Preventing Garden Damage

Sphinx moths as larvae can cause damage to your garden by feeding on foliage and occasionally on fruit. However, they are generally considered minor pests, and their development takes about 2 months, with 1 to 3 generations per year. In order to protect your garden, there are a few simple steps you can take:

Monitoring and Hand-picking

  • Regularly inspect your plants for signs of damage or the presence of hornworms, the caterpillar stage of the sphinx moth.
  • Hand-pick the hornworms and dispose of them, preventing damage to your plants.

Cultivate the Soil

  • After harvest, thoroughly cultivate the soil in your garden to expose any overwintering pupae, as the larvae often pupate on or in the soil.
  • Cultivating the soil can disrupt their life cycle and reduce their population in your garden.

Attract Natural Predators

  • Encourage the presence of natural predators, such as birds and beneficial insects, to help control the sphinx moth population in your garden.
  • Planting a variety of flowering plants can attract these helpful predators.

By following these simple steps, you can help protect your garden, crops, and underground plant life while maintaining a friendly environment. Remember, prevention and early intervention are keys to reducing the risk of sphinx moth damage.

Footnotes

  1. UCANR 2 3 4 5 6

  2. Missouri Department of Conservation 2

  3. Wisconsin Horticulture

  4. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/GARDEN/FRUIT/PESTS/spinxmoths.html 2

  5. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/barnesm/SphinxMoth.pdf 2 3

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 – Two Sphinx Moths from Maine

 

Two Sphinx Moths
Location: Sidney, Maine
July 19, 2011 3:31 pm
I’ve been trying to find and identify the different moths around my house, but am a bit stuck with these two. One I THINK may be a Catalpa Sphinx, while the other I have no clue on. Any hints on the mystery sphinx and am I right about the other being a Catalpa?
Signature: Steve

Waved Sphinx

Hi Steve,
We believe we have identified both of your Sphinx Moths thanks to the Sphingidae of the Americas Maine page.  The individual you believed to be a Catalpa Sphinx is more likely another member of the same genus, the Elm Sphinx or Four Horned Sphinx,
Ceratomia amyntor, based on the photos on the Sphingidae of the Americas site.  We believe your second moth is the Northern Pine Sphinx, Lapara bombycoides, which is also pictured on the Sphingidae of the Americas site.  Just to be certain, we will contact Bill Oehlke to get his opinion.

Northern Pine Sphinx

Thank you! I considered Northern Pine Sphinx, but was not sure and had not even considered that the other might be an Elm Sphinx!
Steve Lemieux

Bill Oehlke provides a correction
Hi Daniel,
The Ceratomia is undulosa (Waved Sphinx) not amyntor (Elm Sphinx).
You are correct about the Northern Pine Sphinx, Lapara bombycoides
Please ask Steve to contact me or provide his email address
Bill Oehlke

Letter 2 – Sphinx Caterpillar

 

caterpillar hissing?
Location:  houston, Tx a pocket general house
September 10, 2010 11:35 pm
my mom found this caterpillar while doing my dads laundry what kind is it its all wiggly and naked it seems harmless but they claimed it hissed at her and my sister.
Signature:  i dont know

Possibly Walnut Sphinx Caterpillar

This is one of the Sphinx Moth Caterpillars in the family Sphingidae.  Your photo does not have enough detail to make a conclusive species identification possible.  The backward facing horn and the shape of the head indicate this might be the caterpillar of the Walnut Sphinx, Amorpha juglandis.  You can compare your individual to images on BugGuide or Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.  Many Sphinx Moth Caterpillars which are known as Hornworms are capable of making hissing noises when disturbed.

Letter 3 – Tetrio Sphinx Moth from Florida

 

large gray moth
Location: Florida
November 1, 2011 11:45 am
We saw this large moth on a barrier island beach in central Florida in late August, it appeared to be resting (on a sign post), had no color that we could see even when it fluttered – maybe about 3 inches long – what could it be? Thank you.
Signature: icegull

Tetrio Sphinx Moth

Dear icegull,
This is a Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae.  We are having difficulty finding a match on the excellent Sphingidae of the Americas website despite browsing through the species reported from Florida.  It looks similar to the Catalpa Sphinx,
Ceratomia catalpae, but not exactly.  We will try to contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide a species name for us.

Bill Oehlke responds
HI Daniel,
It is a female Pseudosphinx tetrio, The Tetrio Sphinx. The female is considerably paler than the male.
Can you have the person who submitted image contact me for image use and more precise location?
Thanks.

Thank you so much and thanx for the link to the website.  I saw a Black Witch Moth in July for the 1st time, and when I saw this guy it peaked my curiosity about moths in general.  I’m already a birder so moths & butterflies & insects in general are the next frontier.  Unlike birds tho I did have to do some digging to find sources that were user friendly & helpful, then I found you guys.  I look forward to which sphinx it is.  Thanx again.

Permission to use pix granted.  It was seen August 19th this year at Ft Desoto Park within the bird sanctuary (along the beach), south Pinellas County, Florida.  Thank you so much!

Letter 4 – Sphinx Moth from Mexico

 

Subject: Moth: Satellite or what
Location: near Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Mexico
June 3, 2017 7:59 am
I first thought this was an Achemon Sphinx … then decided it was a Satellite … but still not sure. The body markings look different. Found near Lake Chapala in Ajijic, Mexico.
Signature: jwycoff

Sphinx Moth: Which Eumorpha species???

Dear jwycoff,
We agree that this Sphinx Moth is in the genus Eumorpha, and we searched Sphingidae of the Americas, and we are left with three possibilities.  It most closely resembles images of
Eumorpha anchemolus pictured on Sphingidae of the Americas, but we would not eliminate the possibility that it might be the Satellite Sphinx, Eumorpha satellitia, which is also pictured on Sphingidae of the Americas.  Eumorpha triangulum is the third species pictured on Sphingidae of the Americas that looks similar.  We will write to Bill Oehlke for confirmation.  He may request permission to post your image to his site.  Again, we are favoring Eumorpha anchemolus.  Because we will be away from the office on holiday, we are post-dating your submission to go live to our site later in the month while we are away.

Daniel … thanks for such a quick turnaround. From the three choices, I’d agree with you … and assume from the pics that it’s male.
I am happy for you and Bill and anyone interested to use the photo. And how fun to have this posted to your site. Thanks for being such a great place to explore.
Have a great holiday.
joyce

Letter 5 – Blinded Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar ID
I found this on a cherry tree outside my house in eastern North Carolina. I’m sure it’s some sort of Sphinx, and my bet is on the blinded sphinx, but I’m definitely not sure. I’m amazed at how much its pattern has adapted to the red spots on the cherry leaves.
Thanks,
Emily

Hi Emily,
Sadly, we are not sure because many caterpillars have atypical colorations and patterns. We do believe this is one of the Sphinx genus, possibly the Great Ash Sphinx, or the Wild Cherry Sphinx as well as your choice, the Blinded Sphinx, Paonias excaecatus. You could always raise it and see what emerges.

Ed. Note: Additional research on BugGuide now has us believing this is Paonias excaecatus.

Letter 6 – Possibly Obscure Sphinx Caterpillar:

 

Giant caterpillar in southwest Florida
Location: Corkscrew Swamp in Southwest Florida
December 30, 2010 2:50 pm
Hey…
I found this caterpillar in Corkscrew swamp near Naples, FL. It was late November and the caterpillar was in a tree about ten feet off the ground. It was about 5 to 6 inches long. I thought it was a branch but then it started moving. Im not sure what type of tree was feeding in. Is this some type of giant sphinx caterpillar? I’ve looked all over for his ID but cant find anything. This is probably the largest caterpillar I have ever seen.
(PS i got your book for Christmas and love it!)
Signature: Sammy

Possibly Obscure Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Sammy,
It is difficult to be certain, but we suspect this may be an Obscure Sphinx Caterpillar,
Erinnyis obscura, based on a photo posted to the Sphingidae of the Americas websiteKnowing the food plant is often a big help in caterpillar identification.  We will try to check with Bill Oehlke to see if he agrees with our tentative identification.

Possibly Obscure Sphinx Caterpillar

Letter 7 – White Plagued Sphinx Moth from Trinidad

 

Trinidad Moths
Location: Trinidad
July 10, 2011 1:35 pm
Dear Bugman,
I found your homepage by chance when I tried to identify 3 very large moths we saw two weeks ago in Trinidad.
No1 is probably a white witch (picture taken at Asa Nature Lodge); No2 should be a Rothschildia taken at the ladies restroom in the visitor Centre of the Caroni swamps. No3 is a large silkmoth (at least 10cm wingspan)we had at the Radio and Tropospheric Scatter Station at Morne Bleu (670m high in the northern range). It would be nice, if you could help me with identification and/or confirmation of the three species.
Signature: Harald (Heidelberg, Germany)

White Plagued Sphinx Moth

Hi again Harald,
Your third moth from Trinidad is a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, not a Giant Silkmoth.  Alas we could not locate it on the Sphingidae of the Americas Trinidad page.  We decided to try the Venezuelan page of Sphingidae of the Americas and we quickly found the White Plagued Sphinx,
Manduca albiplaga, a perfect match and it includes the shocking statement:  “This species has been found only once in the United States, in Kansas.”  We are going to contact Bill Oehlke and we expect he may request permission to post your photo on his excellent website as well.  He may even want your photo of Rothschildia lebeau amacurensis.

Hi Daniel,
Thank you very much for the great job! It will be a pleasure for us to give permission to post the pictures I sent you. I tried to downsize the files so if you would like to receive one of the files in a better resolution, please let me know. I will attach another picture of a second animal of the White Plagues Sphinx we took at the same location to this email. Since I did not want to flood your request form I did not include it in the request. Nevertheless, since you think the pictures might be of interest for people working in this field I am happy to share it with you.
Best regards and greetings from Heidelberg,
Harald

White Plagued Sphinx Moth

Hi again Harald,
We are very happy to include the new photo of the White Plagued Sphinx in the original posting.

Letter 8 – Silkmoth Caterpillar from Mexico: Which Syssphinx is it???

 

WHAT is this caterpillar?
Location: Alamos Sonora MX
August 5, 2011 1:09 pm
Suddenly there are many of theses large (2 inch av.) caterpillars under a large old Mesquite tree. I’m not sure if theyre falling from the tree, havent witnessed it, but, before they appeared and to this day also, there is much small green organic chunks, soft but size of dry pea, also falling from the tree and covering the ground. I’m told the chunks are casings from same.
Personally I would lose this tree if it were me if this came to pass every year. it’s too much to bear right smack in the patio outside my door.
Signature: Pepe

Pre-Pupal Syssphinx Caterpillar

Hi Pepe,
This is the caterpillar of one of the Silkmoths in the genus
Syssphinx, but there are least 19 species and subspecies in Mexico according to the World’s Largest Saturniidae website, and many have remarkably similar looking Caterpillars, so we are reluctant to attempt to identify the species.  We have contacted Bill Oehlke to see if he is able to provide more specific information.  Here is a link to BugGuide to what might be your caterpillar, Syssphinx hubbardi, Hubbard’s Small Silkmoth.  It should also be noted that the green organic chunks you mentioned are caterpillar droppings, and they are an excellent indication that Caterpillars are feeding on the leaves.  Also the coloration of your Caterpillar indicates that it is pre-pupal, and it is most likely seeking a location to bury itself to metamorphose into the pupa.  

I would say your absolutely right. That’s the guy. Maybe I’ll shovel em up and stick them on some dirt somewhere’s. ( The amount of droppings is astounding last 4/5 days)!
Thanks mucho.

Letter 9 – Whitelined Sphinx and Painted Lady

 

Subject: What kind of a moth is this?
Location: Palmdale, CA
April 4, 2013 7:24 pm
These are on my lilacs, and I can’t find any on-line that look like them.
Signature: 6614920451

Whitelined Sphinx
Whitelined Sphinx

Dear 6614920451,
We are envious of your lilacs.  We planted two varieties that were allegedly bred for Southern California, but despite a cool north facing garden, they have not bloomed in the two years we have had them.  Your diurnal moth is a Whitelined Sphinx,
Hyles lineata, and one just buzzed us in the back garden and to others are at the front door where they were attracted to the porch light, a phenomenon that happens each spring.  The butterfly is one of the Ladies, either a Painted Lady or a West Coast Lady.

Painted Lady
Painted Lady

Thanks so much. I thought the one looked like a painted lady, except that the body looked big like a moth.  Is that common?

The body of the Painted Lady is obscured by the blossoms of the lilac and we cannot see it to compare it to typical Painted Lady bodies.


Letter 10 – Recently Eclosed Elm Sphinx

 

Subject: Is this a Canadian Sphinx moth?
Location: Gardiner, Maine
June 16, 2013 5:30 am
Heya Bugman,
I saw this yesterday, and I’m pretty sure it’s a sphinx moth, but I’m a casual bug gal, so I don’t know which type. Do you?
Gardiner, Maine, sitting on the side of a building along Route 24, which parallels the Kennebec River.
It was late morning, probably 10:30 or so, on a sunny day, temps in the low 70’s, June 15, 2013. I’ve got a request out to my invert guy in Maine, but I thought you might like to see the photos too.
Just found your site, it looks great!
Signature: Lisa

possibly Poecila Sphinx
Elm Sphinx

Dear Lisa,
This is a recently eclosed Sphinx Moth and its wings have not fully expanded.  Because the wings are not ready for flight, we are uncertain of the exact identity, but we believe this is a species related to the Canadian Sphinx known as the Poecila Sphinx,
Sphinx peocila.  According to the Sphingidae of the Americas website:  “The outer wing fringes are checkered black and white on the forewing, and are almost pure white (lightly checked with grey) on the hindwing. The forewing is dark gray with diffuse black and gray wavy lines with a series of black dashes ending at the wing tip, and a white cell spot. The white cell spot readily distinguishes poecila from canadensis. The hindwing is brownish gray with a wide black border and a black median line.”  Your individual has a prominent white cell spot.  We wish the underwings were visible.  We will contact Bill Oehlke for confirmation on this Sphinx Moth.  Let us know what your invert guy has to say.

Detail of Sphinx Moth
Detail of Elm Sphinx Moth

Bill Oehlke Provides a Correction:
Daniel,
It is
Ceratomia amyntor that has not inflated its wings. They are reported
throughout Maine.
Bill Oehlke

Possibly Poecila Sphinx
Elm Sphinx

 

Letter 11 – Sketch of Sphinx leucopheata caterpillar by Dr. Bostjan Dvorak

 

Subject:  Sphinx leucopheata caterpillar by Prema
Geographic location of the bug:  Lago Atitlán
Date: 06/19/2019
Time: 05:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Prema, dear Daniel,
Many Thanks for Your nice replies. – I am attaching my sketch of this caterpillar type on the plant leaves from 2016; maybe they are similar to those of the plant on (resp. under) which You found Your caterpillar; maybe an ash species (Fraxinus, Oleaceae) or a Bignoniaceae-member like Tecoma stans (with plenty of yellow tubular blossoms), a tree from the Trumpet-tree-family.  Thank You again for sharing, and have a great celebration!
Best from Berlin,
Bostjan
How you want your letter signed:  Dr. Bostjan Dvorak

Sketch of Sphinx leucopheata by Dr. Bostjan Dvorak

Dear Bostjan,
Thanks so much for providing us with your sketch of this rare Hornworm.  Daniel adjusted the levels to saturate the image a bit to improve its appearance on the internet.  Thanks again for your assistance in identifying Prema’s Hornworm from Guatemala as
Sphinx leucopheata.

Sphinx leucopheata image by Prema

Letter 12 – Pandora Sphinx

 

What is it?
This was on a chrome bumper, or I wouldn’t have seen it. On a tree it wouldn’t get a second look. Any idea?
Thanks,
Tom Cassidy
Benton Harbor, MI

Hi Tom,
This is a Pandora Sphinx, Eumorpha pandorus, formerly the genus Pholus, and sometimes called the Satellite Sphinx. It is a beautiful olive green and pink moth that rarely flies after dark, preferring dusk to feed on flowers. The larvae feed on Virginia Creeper and grape and adults fly from June to August in the north and longer in the south.

Letter 13 – Blinded Sphinxes Mating

 

What’s this moth?
Hi! I’m trying to ID a pair of mating moths my son and I found today. Michael of wormspit.com directed me to your page of a Cerisy’s Sphynx but the underwing looks more like a Blinded Sphynx. (definite “eye” spot and a salmon/pink color) Here’s the picture we took today. They are on a gooseberry bush. Can you tell what it is?
Thank you,
Lady Eleyn Scrivener

Dear Lady Eleyn Scrivener.
A location would be helpful as there are many similar looking insects in far reaching parts of the world. If you are in the continental U.S., we believe you are correct that this is a pair of Blinded Sphinxes, Paonias excaecata. Your photo is a lovely addition to our site.

Letter 14 – Pandora Sphinx

 

moth
dear bugman
we found that on our roof in new york city tonight can you tell us what it is? it was green and very detailed and amazing- we’ve never seen anything like it thank you
kate

Hi Kate,
My, what a friendly Pandora Sphinx you have there.

Letter 15 – Pandora Sphinx

 

Big moth
Hi- I released this moth this afternoon- It has a 3+" wingasan and is quite pretty. Can you identify this for me? We are in the Indianapolis area.
Pete

Hi Pete,
People often describe the Pandora Sphinx as the Camouflage Moth because of the way the markings resemble combat fatigues.

Letter 16 – Pandora Sphinx

 


Looking at your web site I thought you might like this picture of a Pandora Sphinx Moth I took near Kansas City.
Eric

Hi Eric,
Your Pandora Sphinx photo is so nicely detailed. It is a welcome addition to our site. We received another photo today from Indiana, but it was nowhere near as nice as your image.

Letter 17 – Pandora Sphinx

 

Check out these Pandora Sphinx photos
Hi there, My seven year old son spotted this beautiful Pandora Sphinx so we proceeded to take some shots. I think they came out quite well.
DANIEL LEVY

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for sending in your lovely photo of a Pandora Sphinx. Our readers alwayls like knowing locations, and even if you provide a location in a subsequent email, we may not be able to post it.

Letter 18 – Gaudy Sphinx Caterpillar

 

could you identify this thing?
Could you identify this bug for me? It was found a few days ago in San Antonio, TX. Thanks.
James Nguyen

Hi James,
This is a Gaudy Sphinx Moth Caterpillar, Eumorpha labruscae. The caterpillar is a very effective snake mimic. The shape of the head and the illusion of eyespots help keep this species from becoming bird food.

Letter 19 – Gaudy Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Hi,
I have been scouring the internet trying to find out what this creature is that we found. If you can help me with identification, that would be great. If not, I would appreciate anything you can tell me to lead me in the right direction to find this information. What I can tell you is that this creature was found in Hillsborough County, Florida on a blackberry bush. It is approximately 2 – 3 inches in length. It appears to me that the bigger end with the “eyes, nostrils and teeth” is not the actual head, but the tail end. The other end with the smaller triangular shape, appears to be the head. This end latches onto the blackberry as if eating. This end is the end that appears to direct movement. The circle on the top of this “head” is interesting in that it appears to blink or have some type of movement like a flicker of a tongue or something. Thank you so much for your time.
Michele Petys

Hi Michele,
The Gaudy Sphinx Moth Caterpillar is a very effective snake mimic, which helps to deter birds.

Letter 20 – Banded Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Picture
Can you help with this caterpillar found in Beaumont, Texas. I’m sorry I don’t know from what vegetation it was taken.
Emmeline Dodd

Hi Emmeline,
This is a Banded Sphinx Caterpillar, Eumorpha fasciatus.

Letter 21 – Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar

 

green caterpillar with orange spots
Hi, I found this caterpillar eating what looks like grape vine leaves which was growing right next to our tomato plants in our garden. It is about 2 1/2 inches long. The picture of its head is when its head is contracted. Later, it pulled its head out, making it a few centimeters longer. any hints on what it could be? thanks,
katie
south-central indiana

Hi Katie,
Your caterpillar is a Pandorus Sphinx, Eumorpha pandorus. The caterpillar has several different color variations. We have gotten several images of adult moths in recent weeks. We are copying Bill Oehlke on this reply so he can add your sighting to his comprehensive species distribution data.

Letter 22 – Banded Sphinx Caterpillar

 

WHats this Caterpillar???
I am sure you get lots of these. I am a park ranger and have no idea what species this is. It has a slight horn on its tail. Any response would be helpful. Your website is an AWESOME resource for us! Thanks for all the hard work!!!
Ranger Jay
Saluda Shoals Park
Columbia SC

Hi Ranger Jay,
We just love helping the rangers, especially those that go the extra mile to try to get things identified for the curious public. This is a Banded Sphinx Caterpillar, Eumorpha fasciata. It feeds on Ludwigia, the water primrose. The coloration of the caterpillar is highly variable.

Letter 23 – Banded Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar
Hi
Is this either one of the hummingbird sphinx or achemon sphinx caterpillars??????
pat

Hi Pat,
This is a Banded Sphinx Caterpillar, Eumorpha fasciata. There are several different color variations. You can see them on BugGuide. Caterpillars are fond of primrose.

Letter 24 – Banded Sphinx Caterpillar

 

caterpillar
Attached is a photo of a caterpillar taken at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna, Virginia on Sept 30th, 2005. It was found on a water plant growing at the edge of a pond. We have been unable to identify it and would appreciate your help. It has retracted the front part of it’s body.
Thank you.
Diane Salman

Hi Diane,
I know our site is out of control, but we try our best to make it user friendly. We have three caterpillar pages. There is also a search engine that works quite well. This is a Banded Sphinx, Eumorpha fasciatus.

Letter 25 – Pandora Sphinx Caterpillar: Green Morph

 

+*+*+THANK YOU+*+*+
Hi there~
My two year old & I found this little guy on the driveway yesterday – she named him ‘Togan’ and has been pretty insistent that he is her “friend” – even slept with him last night (safely in a bug-box of course) 😉 . She is sure that if he just makes a nice ‘crystal bed’ (chrysalis) he’ll be a beautiful butterfly someday…. I wondered if you might be able to help us identify him so that we can get him the proper host plant… Ella discovered a swallowtail caterpillar on her 2nd birthday & saw it through to release it as a butterfly, so she is really quite intrigued by this life cycle… Any info. you could offer would be wonderful. Thanks so much~
becky (& ella too!)
We are from Wisconsin

Hi Becky and Ella,
Most Pandora Sphinx Caterpillars, Eumorpha pandorus, we see are brown, but according to Bill Oehlke’s awesome website, they also come in a green form. Primary foods are grape and Virginia creeper, though if Togan left the host plant, chances are good it is getting ready to pupate. The adult is a moth, not a butterfly.

Letter 26 – Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Large orange caterpillar
August 13, 2009
I have found many caterpillars similar to this one but they either have a spike on the end or an eye spot on the head or something thats different than ours.
I have searched the web and am stumped. I found only one pic online but it didnt have any info. It was just someones picture.
I have never seen one like this before.
It so far eats grape leaves and lilac leaves.
Stone family.
Rural south central Wisconsin.

Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar
Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Stone Family,
The Caterpillar of the Pandorus Sphinx, Eumorpha pandorus, looses its caudal horn as it molts, leaving only a button as evidenced by your image.
In addition to orange, some Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillars may be green or brown and they are pictured in our archives as well as on Bill Oehlke’s wonderful website.

Letter 27 – Metamorphosis of the Achemon Sphinx

 

Achemon Sphinx Moth
Location: Cheney Kansas
September 21, 2011 9:03 pm
I decided to raise these five caterpillars that were feeding on my grapevines…So I purchased a cheap aquarium and collected the Cats from the vine.
I then fed them new grapevine leaves each day for about a week…They one by one burrowed underground..about 6 to 8 days later they finaly pupated.
This is the results of my 2 week experiment with these catepillars.
Signature: Chris Harris

Achemon Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Chris,
We are positively thrilled to post your photos documenting the metamorphosis of the Achemon Sphinx.  Your project should inspire our readers to attempt a similar endeavor in order to learn more about the creatures around us.

Pupae of the Achemon Sphinx

Your photos are quite nice, and we especially like the image of the caterpillar of the Achemon Sphinx.

Achemon Sphinx

 

 

Letter 28 – Newly Emerged Sphinx Moth NOT Laurel Sphinx

 

Subject: Do you know what this is?
Location: Brant Lake, NY 12815
July 8, 2012 10:51 pm
Bugman,
We found this bug and Don’t know what it is.
It was found on the Beach in Brant Lake, NY 12815
Thanks
Signature: Eric

Newly Emerged Sphinx Moth

Hi Eric,
This newly metamorphosed Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth might be an even more decorative accessory than the rock on the young lady’s finger.  We believe this might be a Laurel Sphinx based on photos on the Sphingidae of the Americas website, however, since the wings are not fully expanded, we cannot be certain.  We will try to check with Bill Oehlke to see if he can confirm that identification.

Dan,
Thanks for the Info
I think she likes the ring better…lol
Eric

Bill Oehlke Cannot Confirm nor Refute
August 20, 2012
Daniel,
Sorry for delay.
I am getting caught up now with correspondence.
I do not think it is a Laurel Sphinx, but there are several other
possibilities so I cannot make a determination.
Wing colouration is wrong for kalmiae.

Letter 29 – Prepupal Poplar Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar?
Location: Idaho
August 5, 2012 4:54 pm
I was sitting outside today and felt something touch my foot, looked down to see a very large (3-4 inches long) fleshy and green colored caterpillar (hornworm maybe?) It had a horn looking thing on the butt end. I had never seen one of these here in Idaho where I live. I tried looking it up online, but with no results. Can you help me identify this?
Signature: Ashley

Poplar Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Ashley,
After first writing back to you to agree that this was a Hornworm and to inform you that we did not recognize the species, we decided to attempt an identification.  There are not many species of Sphinx Moths recorded in Idaho according the Sphingidae of the Americas website, so we quickly identified this as a prepupal Poplar Sphinx Caterpillar,
Pachysphinx modesta, on the Sphingidae of the United States website.

Prepupal Poplar Sphinx Caterpillar

Letter 30 – Prepupal Blinded Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: What kind of caterpillar is this?
Location: New Hampshire
September 22, 2012 5:29 pm
I found this is the yard and he isn’t really moving hardly….probably reading to spin a cocoon. Do you know if it will turn into a moth or butterfly? I’m guessing a moth..
Signature: Carol

Blinded Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Carol,
This looks to us to be the prepupal caterpillar of a Blinded Sphinx,
Paonias excaecata.  We have this image of a pre-pupal Blinded Sphinx Caterpillar in our own archives or you can compare to this image on BugGuide.  Blinded Sphinx Caterpillar pupate naked underground.  They do not spin a cocoon.

Letter 31 – Achemon Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillars
Location: Olathe, ks
September 25, 2013 7:05 pm
Hello, my 5 yr old son and I have been finding different caterpillars all over our new farm property in olathe, Kansas. We have been able to identify most but this one. He has one eye, we think the other was lost on a branch possibly or born w/o? He’s a brownish orange color and he would be so excited if you could tell us what kind of new friend we have! We took lots of pictures to show you. Thanks so much!!!
Alicia & Regan
Signature: Regan and mommy

Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar
Achemon Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Regan and Alicia,
This is the caterpillar of a Pandorus Sphinx, a lovely green moth.  The “eye” might actually be the caudal bump that remains when the caudal horn typical of most Sphingidae caterpillars is lost during an early molt.  True to expectations it appears to be feeding on grape or some other vine.

Correction:  September 2, 2017
Oops, we just noticed this incorrect identification.  Based on this BugGuide this is actually an Achemon Sphinx Caterpillar, a member of the same genus as the Pandorus Sphinx.

Letter 32 – Newly Metamorphosed Carolina Sphinx

 

Subject: Found in SW Ohio
Location: Ohio, USA
May 21, 2015 5:21 pm
this bug was found on a friends’s farm in SW Ohio on May 21, near Dayton. We have No idea what it is.
Thank you.
Signature: Puzzled

Carolina Sphinx Metamorphosis
Carolina Sphinx Metamorphosis

Dear Puzzled,
This is a newly metamorphosed Carolina Sphinx,
Manduca sexta, and soon its wing will expand and it will be able to fly.  Though the adult Carolina Sphinx might not be familiar to your friends, if they grow tomatoes, they are probably familiar with the large caterpillars of the Carolina Sphinx, the Tobacco Hornworm, that feeds on the leaves of tomatoes and related plants.

Thank you!
I appreciate the answer. It was found in a greenhouse where they grow tomatoes.
I will let them know, as we were all fascinated by it.
Jennifer

 

Letter 33 – Pre-Pupal Rustic Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Tucson, AZ
October 24, 2016 3:15 pm
Found this guy or gal on my front door mat, it flips and flops if you touch it. I’m in Tucson Arizona
Signature: Dianne Lopez

Rustic Sphinx Caterpillar
Rustic Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Dianne,
The pink coloration of this Hornworm indicates it is probably pre-pupal, which is also why you did not find it feeding.  We believe it is a Rustic Sphinx based on this Featured Creatures image and this BugGuide image. 

Letter 34 – Prepupal Rustic Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Phoenix, AZ
Date: 11/11/2017
Time: 10:34 AM EDT
Is this a privet hawk moth caterpillar?  We found this on our cement patio November 9, 2017. It was around 6:00pm. We placed it in the dirt. Found it dead the next morning where we left it.
How you want your letter signed:  Jill

Rustic Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Jill,
In our opinion, this looks like a Rustic Sphinx Caterpillar, a common species in Arizona, and its pink coloration indicates it is pre-pupal.  It is possible that the dirt where you placed it was too hard for it to dig, and that it has begun metamorphosis without going underground.

Letter 35 – Newly eclosed Rustic Sphinx

 

Subject:  Found on tree
Geographic location of the bug:  Southern Utah USA
Date: 11/22/2017
Time: 03:17 PM EDT
Found this on the tree in our yard. What is it?
How you want your letter signed:  Brian Shepherd

Freshly eclosed Rustic Sphinx

Dear Brian,
This is a Rustic Sphinx, and because of its rumpled wings, it appears it has recently eclosed or emerged from the pupa.  When its wings attain their full size and they harden and the moth will be able to fly.  According to BugGuide, Caterpillars of the Rustic Sphinx feed on numerous plants, including the leaves of ash trees.  Was it by chance found on the trunk of an ash tree?  Just prior to pupation, the caterpillars bury themselves and they pupate underground. 

Letter 36 – Small Eyed Sphinx

 

Stealth Bomber…or a moth!
April 18, 2010
I’ve tried on my own and I can’t identify this moth. He was so pretty and sleek.
1 1/2″, maybe 2″ August evening on Vermont/Canada border. I hope I can get the photo to upload. I did put the bruiser back out for the night!!
Jane
On my shoulder, Newport Vermont

Small Eyed Sphinx

Dear Jane,
You are not the first person who wrote to us comparing Sphinx Moths or Hawkmoths in the family Sphingidae to a stealth bomber, so we were curious what that would reveal in our search engine.  Sometimes we lose touch with our readership because we are so used to our website, so we decided to put ourselves in your shoes and attempt an identification.  We typed in stealth bomber moth and found this page:
?s=stealth+bomber+moth which produced two old posts of related but different species, one from 2004. We believe an observant person might see the family resemblance, but we would never disparage anyone for being unable to negotiate the vastness of our archives, because we have been known to search our own site for up to fifteen minutes trying to pin down some elusive memory we have of the same species or a related species, perhaps as long as ten years ago.
At any rate, this is Paonias myops, also known as a Small Eyed Sphinx which is well described on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.

Hello Daniel,
Thank you so much for identifying this fellow for me!  I had NEVER seen such a creature before the night he decided to land on my shoulder!  I’m not that “up” on the bug world but I knew this couldn’t be a butterfly so it must be a moth.  I’ll have to do more reading because to see this creature in the flesh, he looked like he was covered with fur; just so sleek!  But I don’t suppose it’s fur!
Bill Oehlke does have an excellent site; I wandered around it for quite a while.  One thing he does is show the caterpillar stage and then the “adult”.  I garden a lot in the summer (in Vermont) and see lots of interesting caterpillars.  Unless I educate myself, though, I don’t know if I’m seeing a good guy or a bad guy!!  As in, harmful versus beneficial.
I’m just so tickled that you wrote back.  You also identified my grapevine beetle that I submitted the other night.
Isn’t the internet grand?!
Sincerely,
Jane Housewright

Hi again Jane,
The moth does have a furry appearance, but the fur actually consists of modified scales.

Letter 37 – Possibly Walnut Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Hissing Caterpillar
Location: 32.558099,-94.349213
September 25, 2013 1:53 pm
Hi, I received this picture of a ”Hissing Caterpillar” a month or so ago. I have no idea what ’kind’ of worm this could possibly be. I have never seen anything like this in my life, but thought maybe you could help. We let him/her/it go but I am still curious as to what kind of worm this is. Any information would be a great help.
Thank you!
Signature: RG

Sphinx Caterpillar
Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear RG,
This is the Caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth, and caterpillars in the family Sphingidae are frequently called Hornworms because of the caudal horn.  Based on photos posted to BugGuide, this might be the caterpillar of a Twin Spotted Hawkmoth,
Smerinthus jamaicensis, but we are not certain.  We will see if Bill Oehlke can confirm the ID.

Daniel,
I favour Amorpha juglandis.
Do you have the Texas county or more precise location.

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.

    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.

    View all posts

15 thoughts on “Sphinx Moth Life Cycle: An Intriguing Exploration”

  1. Don’t give up on you lilacs yet. In Culver City it took 3 or 4 years for my Lavender Lady to bloom. Then one year we got a lot of rain and BAM! It popped with tons of blooms. Old adage – “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap” Give yours a little more time.
    Good luck
    P.S. Love your site!!!

    Reply
    • Thanks Susan,
      Lavender Lady is one of our shrubs. We believe the other is Blue Boy. Both are allegedly Southern California varieties.

      Reply
  2. Don’t give up on you lilacs yet. In Culver City it took 3 or 4 years for my Lavender Lady to bloom. Then one year we got a lot of rain and BAM! It popped with tons of blooms. Old adage – “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap” Give yours a little more time.
    Good luck
    P.S. Love your site!!!

    Reply
    • We do not recommend keeping an Achemon Sphinx indoors. Insects need to be exposed to the surrounding climate conditions so that their cycles will be aligned with “wild” relatives. Insects raised indoors may mature when there is no opportunity to seek mates or to reproduce.

      Reply
  3. Catapiller on my grapevine.one eye in middle of head and a horn. Also hissed when touched. What is it. When on green leaves turns green. When on brown branches turns brown. Any help would be appreciated.

    Reply
  4. I found the exact same kind of caterpillar. I think it was an adult wandering around for somewhere to start its metamorphosis. I found it in the parking space next to me as I got out of my car. I picked it up because I knew it would get squished if I left it there. I put it in a tupperware with some greenery while I did research on it. Ive seen this kind of caterpillar before and was wondering where would be a good place for me to return it to where it could have its natural foodsource. Anywho I couldn’t find anything on it that night so I just put it outside in my potted plant as I didn’t know if the plastic tupperware would harm it in anyway. The next morning I went to check on it and it was still in the plant soil but it was cocooned! Its been a really cool observing it so far. I was just wondering if its okay to leave it there. I’m in Tucson Az and we are in our monsoon season and have been getting really heavy winds and hard rainstorms. I don’t know if that kind of weather outside will harm it in anyway or if I should move it to one of my inside plants. I also have no idea how long it will be in that state or if there’s anything I should do to make it more comfortable. I read so far that they usually go under the soil to do this part but this one is just straight on top of the soil.

    Reply
  5. Maybe this was in summertime… since it is unusual for this moth to eclose as late – at this latitude? It is also amazing to find this species in Your area!

    Nice wishes,
    Bostjan

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Bostjan. BugGuide lists, and we frequently receive identification requests from Arizona, and the submission did indicate southern Utah. Another sign of global warming perhaps.

      Reply
  6. We live in Southeast CT and discovered our first Pandorus Sphinx Moth caterpillar, Eumorpha pandorus. We’ve never seen this caterpillar before so we were quite intrigued by it’s markings. When do they start their cocoon? It’s mid-October and we’re waiting for our first frost. Will this guy survive? Does the moth migrate?

    Reply

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