Sphinx Moth Pupa Explained: Key Insights for Enthusiasts

Sphinx moth pupae are an intriguing stage in the life cycle of these fascinating creatures. As you learn more about them, you’ll discover the unique characteristics that set them apart from other types of moth pupae.

During their transformation from caterpillar to full-grown moth, sphinx moth pupae exhibit fascinating behaviors worth observing. In this article, you’ll delve into the world of these remarkable insects and uncover the secrets behind their development. Understanding the life stages of the sphinx moth can help you appreciate the beauty and complexity of their entire life cycle.

For your backyard garden or simply as an enthusiast, having a deeper appreciation for these moths can enrich your understanding of how nature works. So, let’s take a closer look at the sphinx moth pupa and what you need to know about them.

Understanding Sphinx Moth Pupa

Sphinx moth pupa is a fascinating stage in the life cycle of these intriguing insects. To better appreciate the pupal stage, let’s dive into some key details.

The development of the sphinx moth involves complete metamorphosis, transitioning through egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages. During the pupal stage, the transformation happens inside a protective cocoon. This is when the larva, also known as a hornworm, sheds its exoskeleton and becomes a pupa.

Depending on the species, the pupa may be found in a simple cocoon or a more elaborate structure. The environment plays a crucial role in the successful development of the pupa. They may be buried in soil or found among leaf litter, depending on the species’ habitat preferences.

Throughout the pupal stage, the moth is undergoing a remarkable transformation. The larval body breaks down and reorganizes into the adult moth, gaining wings and other features essential for its adult life.

You may be curious about the process of pupating. It’s a delicate, intricate process that the larva initiates when it has reached its last instar, or larval stage. Sensing the right time and environment, the larva will spin its protective cocoon, enter it and begin the metamorphosis.

Keep in mind that the duration of the pupal stage varies among species and environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. Some sphinx moth pupae may even overwinter, emerging as adults only when conditions are favorable.

In conclusion, the sphinx moth pupa is a crucial stage in the life cycle of these unique insects. During this time, the moth is undergoing incredible transformations to become the fascinating adult that it eventually emerges as. To gain a deeper appreciation for these marvelous creatures, understanding the pupal stage is essential.

Sphinx Moths: Types and Identification

Sphinx moths, also known as hawk moths or hummingbird moths, are a fascinating group of insects with various species and unique characteristics. Identifying these moths can seem challenging, but with some knowledge of their features, you can become more familiar with these beautiful creatures.

The first thing to notice about sphinx moths is their size and body shape. They are usually large, heavy-bodied insects with a pointed, long abdomen. Their wingspan can range from 2½ to 3½ inches, making them easily recognizable. The wings themselves are often long and triangular with unique markings that can help identify different species.

For instance, the White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) features six white stripes on its furry brown body, paired with an olive brown forewing that sports a broad tan band crossed by a series of dark lines. On the other hand, some less common species like the Tomato Hornworm and Willow Hornworm display color patterns of pink, brown, white, and black.

Sphinx moth adults have several features that can assist in identification:

  • Color: Observe the moth’s body and wing colors, which may vary between species.
  • Markings: Unique patterns or lines on the wings or body can help identify individual species.
  • Wings: Pay attention to the shape, size, and margins of the wings – some may have irregular or angled edges.
  • Head: Notice the placement and shape of the head, which can differentiate certain species.
  • Body: Examine the size, shape, and any distinctive features on the moth’s body.

When trying to identify a sphinx moth, it’s helpful to compare its characteristics to those of known species. You can use resources such as field guides, websites, or even ask experts for assistance. Remember, the world of sphinx moths is vast and intriguing, so enjoy the process of discovering and learning more about these fascinating insects.

Life Cycle of Sphinx Moths

From Egg to Caterpillar

You might be curious about the life cycle of sphinx moths. It all starts with the eggs, which are laid by the female moths on host plants that caterpillars prefer to eat. These eggs will then hatch into caterpillars, which are also known as sphinx moth caterpillars or hornworms. They have an incredible appetite and will eat voraciously to grow and develop.

Sphinx Moth Caterpillar to Pupa

As the caterpillars grow, they will reach a stage where they will pupate and form a protective casing called the pupa. The sphinx moth pupa is typically found in the soil near the host plant. They will remain in the pupal stage as they transform from a caterpillar to an adult moth.

From Pupa to Adult

Once fully transformed, the adult sphinx moth will break free from the pupal casing and emerge as a fully grown moth. Sphinx moths, being nocturnal fliers and night-flyers, are most active at dusk. They are known for their unique ability to hover near flowers and feed on nectar using their long proboscis.

Sphinx Moth Mating and Reproduction

When it comes to mating, adult moths use pheromones to attract a mate. Female sphinx moths release these chemicals into the air to signal males. After mating, females will lay their eggs on suitable host plants where the next generation of caterpillars will grow and develop.

Hibernation and Overwintering

Some species of sphinx moths overwinter, or hibernate, as pupae in the ground. This ensures their survival and emergence as adults the following spring or summer, depending on the specific species. Overwintering is a crucial stage of the life cycle, as it allows the population to persist through the colder months.

Sphinx Moth Pests

Certain species of sphinx moths, such as the tomato hornworm, are known pests of tomato and potato plants in gardens across the United States, North America, and Southern Canada. While these caterpillars can cause damage to plants, it is important to keep in mind the role they play in their environment.

Sphinx Moths and Their Environment

Sphinx moths are essential pollinators in their ecosystems, particularly for tube-shaped flowers. Their behavior of hovering while feeding shares similarities with hummingbirds, earning them the nickname hummingbird moth. As part of a healthy ecosystem, sphinx moths contribute to the survival of various plants and animals.

Unique Attributes of Sphinx Moths

  • Sphinx moths are known for their incredible hovering flight capabilities.
  • They possess a long proboscis, allowing them to feed on nectar from deep within flowers.
  • Most sphinx moths are nocturnal, adding to their unique identity as night-flyers.

Protection and Predation

Sphinx moths have evolved to have unique characteristics to protect against predators. For example, they may have dark brown coloration with eyespots on their abdomen. These markings help them blend into their surroundings and deter predators by mimicking larger animals, ensuring their safety during their active hours at dusk.

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 Moth Pupa


spinx moth
Location: Marshalltown, IA
April 18, 2011 11:06 am
While pulling weeds (wild mustard) in the hoophouse today, up popped a chryslis of what I am guessing is a spinx moth of some sort. It is alive and very active. I am wanting to provide it with the proper conditions to allow it to ”hatch” and get a few fabulous photos before setting it free. What do you suggest for success?
Signature: Bugged

Sphinx Pupa

Dear Bugged,
Many moths pupate underground and the pupae look quite similar, but those with a “handle” to contain the proboscis are the Sphinx Pupae exactly as you indicated.  As a point of correction, a chrysalis is the pupa of a butterfly and the pupa of a moth is not referred to as a chrysalis.  We don’t know what a hoophouse is, but if it has anything to do with a vegetable garden, we suspect this is one of the two species of Sphinx Moths in the genus
Manduca that feed upon tomatoes.  You can try keeping the pupa in a small goldfish bowl with several inches of damp, not dry or wet, potting soil.  You can also use dirt from the garden, but that might introduce other creatures to the habitat.  Cover the opening with cheesecloth to allow for ventilation.  Good luck “hatching” your pupa.  We are post dating this posting to go live during our holiday away from the office later in the week.

Fantastic! I stand corrected about the chrysalis thing… A hoophouse is, in our case, a tubular metal framework (think quonset hut in shape), covered with plastic sheeting and is used to extend the growing season of fruits and vegetables or to grow high value or sensitive crops during the normal growing season. We did grow tomatoes in the hoop last year. In the catepillar stage, are they very similar in appearance to the tomato hornworm or are they the same creature?

The Tomato Hornworm is the caterpillar of the Five Spotted Hawkmoth, Manduca quinquemaculata.

Letter 2 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


Subject: Arizona Cocoon bug
Location: Tucson AZ
February 19, 2013 5:21 pm
What’s it? I find some hanging in trees and some buried in the ground.
Signature: karen

Sphinx Moth Pupa

Dear Karen,
This is a Sphinx Moth Pupa from the genus
Mandeca and we are guessing you found it in the vegetable patch near where tomato plants are grown.  There are two species found in your area that feed on plants in the tomato family Solanacea.  They are the Five Spotted Hawkmoth, Manduca quinquemaculatus, and the Carolina Sphinx, Manduca sexta.  The Caterpillars, Pupae and adult moths are quite similar in both species.  You may read more about the Carolina Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas website, and you can find information on the Five Spotted Hawkmoth on the Sphingidae of the Americas webstie as well.  We don’t know of any Sphinx Moths that have pupae that hang in trees, and we suspect that is an entirely different identification request.

Letter 3 – Unknown Sphinx Moth Pupa from Australia is Agrius convolvuli


never seen creature
Location: Melbourne, Australia
May 9, 2011 8:12 am
I never seen this creature in my life. I found its family in load of my mulch. It do not have any feet but moves very slowly.
Signature: Bob

Sphinx Moth Pupa: Agrius convolvuli

Dear Bob,
You have unearthed the Pupa of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae.  This is a large family with a global distribution and there are 65 species listed on the Sphingidae of Australia web page.  All of the species have pupae with a similar morphology and we are uncertain of the exact species you have found.  Each species has a different food plant or plants, and knowing what plants were growing in the vicinity of the mulching in your garden, or in the vicinity where the load of mulch was produced before its delivery to your home might facilitate the identification process.  You did not provide information on the load of mulch.  Was it newly delivered?  Though there are subtle differences in the anatomy of the various species of Sphinx Moth Pupae, they do share enough general traits to ascertain at least a family identification.  The shape of a Sphinx Moth Pupa has often been described as looking like a jug with a handle.  The handle is actually the case for the proboscis, the long tubular mouthparts that are used to sip nectar from blossoms much the way we humans drink from a straw.  Sphinx Moths have among the longest proboscises in the insect world, and the organ is coiled when not in use, and when extended during feeding it may be several inches long.  The current record for the longest proboscis is held by Morgan’s Sphinx Moth,
Xanthopan morganii, a species from Madagascar which was hypothesized to exist many years before its discovery there.  The Morgan’s Sphinx Moth has a nearly foot long proboscis, and when Charles Darwin was presented a Madagascar Orchid with a long nectary, he is reported to have written in a letter: “I have just received…a Box…from Mr Bateman with the astounding Angræcum sesquipedalia with a nectary a foot long— Good Heavens what insect can suck it”?  Curious readers may read about the evolutionary theories of Alfred Russel Wallace who supported Darwin’s initial claim by visiting the Alfred Russel Wallace website.  The casing for the proboscis in the pupae of Sphinx Moths is shorter than the actual organ, and it would be curious to know how it actually forms during the metamorphosis process.  You may decide to do additional research if your query demands a species identification for your Sphinx Moth Pupa and we would also entertain the possibility that one of our readers might be able to provide information on the actual identity of this Sphinx Moth Pupa.

Thanks to a comment from Bostjan Dvorak, we now know that this is
Agrius convolvuli, the Convolvulus Hawkmoth.  Here is a page from the Sphingidae of Australia website.

Letter 4 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


Please identify this insect pod?
April 29, 2010
Bugman, I turned up this pod in a small garden plot in my backyard in NW Arkansas. I thought it might be a pod of a Cicada, but could not find anything on the internet to identify it. Your help would be appreciated.
Charlie McKinnie
North West Arkansas (Holiday Island)

Sphinx Moth Pupa

Hi Charlie,
This is the pupa of a Sphinx Moth, most likely one of the species in the genus Manduca that have caterpillars which feed upon the leaves of tomato plants.  After gorging on leaves for a few weeks, the caterpillar buries itself an pupates.

Letter 5 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


Subject: Identify
Location: Central Texas zip code 78640
January 20, 2013 12:58 pm
Dear sir,
I was turning garden soil for early planting when I came across an unfamiliar insect stage. Coul you help me wit identification. It is brown and just under 3 inches. I placed it on the edge of a cinder block next to a ruller an took a close up photo whith my digital camera. It was found less than 6 inches underground. I am located in central Texas at zip code 78640
Signature: Richard A. McKean

Sphinx Moth Pupa

Hi Richard,
This is the pupa of a Sphinx Moth in the genus
Manduca.  There are two species that feed on the leaves of tomato plants and other plants in the family Solanacea.

Letter 6 – Sphinx Moth Pupa from the genus Manduca


Subject: Arizona Pod creature
Location: Arizona
May 2, 2017 7:12 pm
Ok, lets see if you can figure this one out. Found wriggling it’s way through the dirt in our backyard in Fountain Hills, AZ.
Signature: Dave

Sphinx Moth Pupa

Dear Dave,
This is the pupa of a Sphinx Moth, and our gut reaction is that it is in the genus
Manduca.  We were going to inquire if there were tomato plants in the vicinity where it was found, but we took a closer look at the jug-like handle, which is the sheath of the proboscis, and the groves on it look different than what we are used to seeing on the Carolina Sphinx pupa that is commonly found feeding as a caterpillar on tomato plants.  A search of BugGuide leads us to believe this is the pupa of a Rustic Sphinx.  An image of the pupa of the Carolina Sphinx pictured on BugGuide also has the grooves.  If there was a vegetable patch near the sighting, our money is on the Carolina Sphinx.

Letter 7 – Tersa Sphinx Pupa


Larva? Chrysalis?
Location: Pensacola, FL (FL Panhandle)
March 22, 2011 10:19 pm
Hi! I’ve used this website numerous times to help identify strange insects discovered here in the Florida Panhandle. I came across this one (pictured) while pulling weeds along the side of the house. It was about 11 am, and I don’t know if it was underground and I uncovered it while pulling weeds, or if it was above ground and I just happened to notice it. This was discovered on March 20th, and I am located in Pensacola, FL. The ground it was discovered in is almost continuously shaded and moist. The part resembling a point or ”stinger” moved back and forth seemingly as in a self-defense posture. At first I thought it was a cacoon or chrysallis of some sorth, but the segmented portion caused me to rethink that. Total length is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches. Thanks for your help!
Signature: Bart Macmanus

Tersa Sphinx Pupa

Hi Bart,
We cannot ever recall responding to you in the past, so the numerous times you have used our website in the past must have been unassisted usages, meaning you were able to self identify.  This is the Pupa of a Tersa Sphinx Moth.  You can see images of the entire life cycle of the Tersa Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.  We suspect this Tersa Sphinx Pupa was buried just beneath the surface and you unearthed it while weeding.  The adult moths are quite aerodynamic.  The segmented abdomen is the only part of most butterfly and moth pupae that is capable of moving.

You are correct!  I have used this website numerous times for self-identification of certain insects, but this is my first submission.  In fact, about 30 minutes after I submitted my query, I was STILL searching and finally came across one just like this and knew right away what it was.  The link you posted on that submission led me to a few pictures of the Sphinx Moth, which I gladly showed my wife.  It is now sitting in the kitchen in a container awaiting the emergence of the grown adult.  I appreciate all the work that goes into your website, and especially the quick turnaround on my question.  Incidently, the last time I used your website, it was to identify one of the various Eyed Elater species.  Thanks again!

Thanks for the update Bart.  If you are going to try to witness the metamorphosis, make sure the pupa can breath.  A large mouth bottle with some damp (not too wet but also not bone dry) potting soil in the bottom and a cheese cloth or netting cover should work fine.  Keep the pupa at approximately the same temperature as the air outside to ensure there is not a premature metamorphosis.

Letter 8 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


What is that thing?
I found this in the dirt while digging up plants in my backyard. I live in southern Florida. It looks like some sort of cocoon but the articulated part on the opposite end from the big hook can move in all directions. As you can see, it’s a little larger than a ‘AA’ battery.

Hi John,
This is a Sphinx Moth Pupa. If you found it in the tomato patch, it is almost certainly a Tomato Hornworm.

Letter 9 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


What is this?
My daughter and I found this under the ground, it was shallow in the dirt. What is it??? Is it a larva or moth, it wiggles and looks like it might have wings in there? We are dying to know what this is.
Plano, Texas

Hi Therese,
I’m guessing you two were digging in the vegetable garden near the tomato patch. This looks like a Tomato Hornworm, one of the Sphinx Moths. The pupa of many Sphinx Moths look very similar.

Letter 10 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


What is that?
I found this cocoon like thing in my backyard. I have no idea what it is. The botton part wiggles when you touch it. Any ideas. Thanks,
Gloria Rogish

Hi Gloria,
This is a Sphinx Moth Pupa. The “handle” is actually the tube that houses the proboscus, or tubelike mouthparts.

Letter 11 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


What is this thing?
Location: Tucson, AZ
March 29, 2012 4:34 pm
I dug up a dying plant in my front yard today and came across this weird bug. There was actually 2 but one got in the shovel’s way. It has a hard maroon colored shell and this tail-like thing that curls around to the top. It doesn’t have any legs but its like no worm I’ve ever seen. We live in southeastern Arizona and its spring.
Signature: Madison

Sphinx Moth Pupa

Dear Madison,
This is the pupa of a Sphinx Moth.  If you are able to identify the plant you dug up, we might be able to provide the species identity of the moth for you.

Letter 12 – Sphinx Moth Pupa


Subject: What is it
Location: South New Jersey
March 26, 2014 11:40 am
I was removing a Bush From the frount of my yard, and just at root level i found this Cocoon. It is still Alive decause its Tail moves pod and all. I put it in a Jar with holes and placed it on my Boiler to hatch it and see what comes out. I am sending you some photos of it, What do you suggest i do with it.
Please answer back Sensirly: Agatino Caruso of Wall New Jersey , Momouth County.
Signature: Agatino Caruso

Sphinx Moth Pupa
Sphinx Moth Pupa

Dear Agatino,
Was there a tomato plant near that location last season?  This is the pupa of a Sphinx Moth, most likely one of the members of the genus
Manduca that have caterpillars that feed upon the leaves of tomato and some other plants in the family Solanacea.

Letter 13 – Tersa Sphinx Pupa


What is this ??
My 6 year old daughter is fascinated with insects. She found this in our front yard and I have no idea what it is. Will you please help us shed some light on what this insect is? Thanks and we look forward to hearing from you!

Hi Dana,
Your daughter found a Tersa Sphinx Pupa, Xylophanes tersa tersa, a member of the Family Sphingidae also known as Hawk Moths or Hummingbird Moths. Here is a link that will show you the life cycle of the moth. According to the site, ” Pupae probably wiggle to surface from subterranean chambers or leaf litter just prior to eclosion.” This could explain its appearance as your photograph indicated, which will also mean the adult moth will soon emerge. You didn’t state your location, but the site also maintains the moth “flies from Massachusetts south to south Florida; west to Nebraska, New Mexico, and southern Arizona; south through Mexico, the West Indies, and Central America to Argentina. An occasional stray makes its way into Canada.”

Letter 14 – Tersa Sphinx Pupa


Can you ID this caterpillar and pupa? They were both found in the mulch
beneath a hibiscus. Thank you.
Brandon Smith

Hi Brandon,
The pupa is a Tersa Sphinx. The caterpillars are difficult to see, but do not appear to be the same species.

Letter 15 – Tersa Sphinx Pupa


Location:  port orange, FL USA
August 25, 2010 4:21 pm
hello, i found 2 larva? maybe in my backyard, and i have no idea what they could be. they are light brown/ beige in color with black spots and have no visible mouth or eyes or any other hole for that matter. one end moves and has a spike-like thing on the tip. the other end is hard. i found them both underground, and they came up when i was doing some gardening, in the afternoon. i would love to know what they are and what they will become.
the green thumb

Tersa Sphinx Pupa

Dear the green thumb,
This is the pupa of the Tersa Sphinx,
Xylophanes tersa, and you may compare your photo to an image posted to BugGuide and you may read additional information on the BugGuide information page.

Letter 16 – Tersa Sphinx Pupa


Subject: what type of chrysalis is this
Location: Wimberley, Texas
June 13, 2014 6:56 am
Found in Wimberley Texas
What is is
was hand clearing some leaves and organic debris.
It’s has movement so i know it’s alive.
would love to return it to a safe place to mature but don’t know if it was actually in the dirt or just under some leaves….
Maybe it would like a dry area of my compost area…
Signature: Emily

Pupa of a Tersa Sphinx
Pupa of a Tersa Sphinx

Hi Emily,
Chrysalis is a term that refers to the pupa of a butterfly, and this is a pupa of a moth, and to the best of our knowledge, there is not moth specific term for a pupa.  We believe this is the pupa of a Tersa Sphinx,
Xylophanes tersa, or a closely related species.  You might try keeping it is some moist, but not wet peat moss if you don’t want to try the compost pile.  You can get additional information on the Sphingidae of the Americas site.

I nested it in some leaves.. maybe I’ll put it so that it has earth contact with a blanket of leaves… where I water a plant once in a while..Thanks for the info.
Thank you so much for your service in keeping us connected with Nature

Letter 17 – Tersa Sphinx Pupa


Subject:  Need ID on chrysalis
Geographic location of the bug:  Austin, Texas 78717
Date: 02/25/2018
Time: 05:16 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi there,  I’m in Austin Texas and was cleaning up my butterfly garden today when I found this on the ground… any idea what it may be?
How you want your letter signed:  Lori in Austin

Tersa Sphinx Pupa

Dear Lori in Austin,
Do you grow
Pentas in your butterfly garden?  This looks like the pupa of a Tersa Sphinx and the caterpillars feed on Pentas.

I do (did, before winter) have pentas in my garden! Thank you!!

Letter 18 – Tersa Sphinx Pupa


Subject:  What’s this bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Friendsville, TN
Date: 08/26/2018
Time: 09:06 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Was pulling weeds and uncovered this guy under a root ball(mostly crabgrass). The white side wiggled a bit, I turned him over with a stick to get a photo of his belly. He’s about the size of an adult finger, any ideas?
How you want your letter signed:  DugABug

Tersa Sphinx Pupa

Dear DugABug,
Do you have a
Pentas vine nearby?  This is the pupa of a Tersa Sphinx moth, Xylophanes tersa, and the Tersa Sphinx caterpillars are frequently found feeding on Pentas.  Though the pupal state is generally thought of as an immobile period of metamorphosis, many pupa are quite active, as you witnessed.

Letter 19 – Sphinx Pupa


We, the kids and I (mom) are looking to identify a pupae we found under ground. It seems that is not possible, so many look the same at that stage. Anyway, we found your site and it is going on the top of my bookmarks now and forever and ever. Beautiful job you’re doing. Thank you. We decided to try for identifying this pupae anyway, hoping it’s large size and distinctive hook will help. We are in southern Indiana. This pupae was found about 3 inches underground in loose clay, yesterday.

Hi Kerra,
This is most definitely a Sphinx Moth Pupa. The hook is the case for the proboscus, the long strawlike mouthparts. In some tropical Sphinxes, the proboscus can be 10 inches long. In the adult moth, it is coiled and only unfurled during feeding, which is done while flying. We are not sure of the species, but if it was found near where tomatoes are grown, it could be a Tomato Hornworm, Manduca sexta.

Letter 20 – Sphinx Pupa


What did I dig up?
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
November 6, 2010 12:09 am
When planting some bulbs a couple of weeks ago, I dug up this pupa. It was in a weedy area with a couple of milkweed plants, among a lot of catnip and other minor weeds. It was also nearby some lilacs. It weighs 5g and I think it is still alive. The only caterpillars I’ve seen in the area have been monarchs.
Signature: Jason

Sphinx Pupa

Dear Jason,
This is the Pupa of one of the Hawkmoths in the family Sphingidae.  The Caterpillars are often called Hornworms because of the caudal horn, or Sphinxes because they assume a pose reminiscent of the Egyptian Sphinx.  We normally don’t try to identify Pupae found underground to the species level as that is really beyond our means, but since this was a garden, and perhaps there may have been tomato plants growing nearby, this may be the Pupa of a Five Spotted Hawkmoth,
Manduca quinquemaculata, which may be seen on the Sphingidae of the Americas website, or the Carolina Sphinx, Manduca sexta, which may be viewed on BugGuide. Both species have caterpillars that feed on the leaves of tomato plants, both pupate underground, and both have sheaths for their long proboscis which causes the pupa to resemble a jug with a handle.

Letter 21 – Manduca Sphinx Pupa


Subject: swallowtail crysalis
Location: Grand Junction, CO
September 30, 2013 6:26 pm
I believe I have found a double swallowtail chrysalis. I had to move it from where it was partially buried in the ground and under a stack of bricks. Where can I put it so that it will winter well? We live in the high desert in Grand Junction, CO, so we’re still watering the garden.
Signature: Em

Sphinx Pupa
Sphinx Pupa

Dear Em,
Were there tomatoes planted near the collection site?  This is the pupa of a solanaceous eating Sphinx Moth in the genus

Letter 22 – Waved Sphinx Caterpillar ready to pupate


Subject: green/pink horned caterpillar
Location: Eastern Iowa
September 30, 2014 9:06 am
This guy was found outside in the grass by a chold at the daycare I work at. He is pinkish with a green underbelly and a little horn on his abdomen. He is about two inches long. We were unable to find online what type he is and would like to know to care for him as we’d like to keep him in the classroom. Thanks!
Signature: Celie B

Waved Sphinx Caterpillar
Waved Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Celie,
This is a Waved Sphinx Caterpillar,
Ceratomia undulosa, and according to the Sphingidae of the Americas site:  “Just prior to pupation, larvae frequently take on a rosy hue.”  That means your caterpillar is probably ready to burrow beneath the soil to metamorphose into a pupa.  Provide your caterpillar with a small aquarium with several inches of moist, but not wet, dirt.  Potting soil without additives should work nicely.  Keep the terrarium cool, at approximately the same temperature as the outdoors.  You should expect eclosion, or emergence of the adult in the spring.  Keeping the terrarium at room temperature will most likely result in early eclosion, during the winter, and the individual will not be able to survive outdoors, nor will it find a mate.


  • 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.

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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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38 thoughts on “Sphinx Moth Pupa Explained: Key Insights for Enthusiasts”

  1. This is a nice photo of a fresh Agrius convolvuli pupa; this moth is a wide spread hawk moth species, and its pupa can be well distinguished by its characteristic proboscis case… As You have said, the most reliable method to distinguish the single species of Sphingidae moth pupae is to consider the shape and size of their proboscis cases. Agrius (formerly: Herse) convolvuli is a very fast flying grey hawk moth with two strings of red or pinkish spots on the backside of its body – it is closely related (almost identical) to the Agrius cinqulatus (pink spotted hawkmoth) from the New World, from which it only differs by somewhat more reddish spots. The caterpillars of both feed on the Covolvulaceae, like Morning glory (Convolvulus arvensis) or Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas); they appear in a big variety of colour forms and combinations, but can easily be recognized by their typical defense position, forming a circle by putting the head and the horned end together. The vigorous moths generally migrate in high numbers from south to north and back, and the species is even known to regularly cross the Atlantic. They are often seen feeding from certain flowers at night, and appear very elegant with their fast movements, reddish spots and long proboscis. The pupa is able to survive a winter under mediterranean conditions, ie to stay in earth for as long as a year or maximally two, without freezing temperatures, or deeply burrowed in the soil… It would be very interesting to observe the developping and flying rhythm of this species in Australia.

    Nicest wishes from Berlin,
    Bostjan Dvorak

  2. Hello,

    this is a nice discovery of Manduca pupae! As already said, the concrete species can easily be defined by the plants growing in the area, specially when You see some traces on them… According to the length and shape of the proboscis case, they could be either of Manduca sexta or Manduca rustica. The first one’s caterpillar lives on Solanaceae (jimsonweed, tobacco, pepper, boxthorn, tomato, potato and others), and the species is a beneficiary of cultivated zones in the last time – the green larvae have white stripes. a reddish horn and some blackish patterns, whereas the other’s one is green with purple, yellow, blue and white lateral stripes, and grows on Bignoniaceae (eg. Catalpa), Boraginaceae (eg. borage) and Oleaceae (eg. privet) – in Your region it is found predominantly on a plant named “desert willow” – Chilopsis linearis from the Bignoniaceae family. Both species are migrators from more southern countries, and the beautiful fast flying moths feed nectar hovering above the flowers like a humming bird. – What was the other pupa like and how deep did You find them burrowed in the soil?

    Nice wishes from Berlin, and happy Easter!


  3. That looks more like Manduca rustica to me. The moth will have only 3 orange abdominal spots on each oblique side. It will also show a lot of irregular white splotches about wings and a white, not grey ventral side.
    Their larvae are also among our larger and most beautiful hornworms.

  4. I found a pupa (tomato) today while gardening – it was in last years tomato container. Has a small hole at the end – not the end with the loop. Could it still be alive? The hole seems too small for it to get through.

  5. We found the exact same cocoon hanging in a Texas Ranger bush in Tucson, Arizona at our school on the westside of town. The caterpillars looked like hornworms. What is it if it is not a sphinx moth since it was hanging on the bush?

  6. I found what appears to be a very large sphinx pupa. It is 3.25 inches long with the hook up over its back. I was planting flowers in a pre-existing flower garden and I guess I dug it up. I grow tomatoes but they were about 30-40 ft. from this area. Is this a cocoon of a tomato hornworm? I always seem to have the hornworms that like to strip my tomato plants. Any general information would be appreciated,

  7. I find these where I live in Tucson, on my concreted back patio, that have fallen from the tree above. I was confused as to what they were because they were not found in the ground, there is no way they could find there way from buried to my fenced in back patio. But I am pretty sure they are Sphinx moths, from a Tobacco worm. I am kinda not sure what to do with the two I found now, they weren’t originally buried, but do I bury them? and where? Any help would help? Thank you.

  8. There is what I believe to be a Waved Sphinx caterpillar (live in Tucson, AZ) and it has been on the ground since Saturday. It’s been very cold at night and I saw it on Monday and I thought it was dead, but it’s not. I went to move it off of the sidewalk and it’s still alive but laying mostly on it’s side. Is it dying or getting too cold? Is there anything I can do to help it? It has that rosy purple color and from what I have read it should be going underground? Thanks!

    • You can move it to a sheltered location with soft earth and let nature take its course. Many caterpillars never make it to the adult stage because of parasitization. Cold weather does slow insects down as well.

  9. I live in Arizona, and have never seen a pupa pod like this until yesterday. It was on the ground and honestly looks exactly like the picture above. How can I tell if it is alive, and how long does it usually take for the caterpillar to crawl out? I’m very interested! I have only seen a moth pod like this on “Silence of the Lambs”! Lol!

  10. Yes, this is Manduca rustica; great pupa! And according to the darker colour, the moth will hatch soon… “Wriggling its way through” is a fascinating detail; this behaviour is presumed in literature (see Bill Oehlke) as probable for subterranean hawkmoth pupae before eclosion – and here is some evidence! Thank You very much for sharing. – Maybe there is a desert willow bush (Chilopsis linearis) close to the place. This is really a discovery site.

    Best wishes

    • Under my rose bush I inherited from previous owner lived in Washington state are three pupa wiggling I covered em up again with only a couple “ of dirt still wiggling week later
      Kay in Rio Rancho NM April 3 2020.

  11. Yes, this is Manduca rustica; great pupa! And according to the darker colour, the moth will hatch soon… “Wriggling its way through” is a fascinating detail; this behaviour is presumed in literature (see Bill Oehlke) as probable for subterranean hawkmoth pupae before eclosion – and here is some evidence! Thank You very much for sharing. – Maybe there is a desert willow bush (Chilopsis linearis) close to the place. This is really a discovery site.

    Best wishes

    • Under my rose bush I inherited from previous owner lived in Washington state are three pupa wiggling I covered em up again with only a couple “ of dirt still wiggling week later
      Kay in Rio Rancho NM April 3 2020.

  12. Hi. I found one of these pupas in Tucson after raking some leaves from a tree well. I’m not sure where it came from. I’m guessing from under the leaves or slightly buried. I hung it in a tree for a few days but noticed a bunch of ants crawling on it. It still moves and looks intact, so I ended up burying it a few inches in soft soil after reading this post. Thank you for the information! I’ll keep my eye on it so see what happens. We have hawk moths that visit our night blooming cereus flowers, so I’m guessing it’s one of these.

  13. Thank you! Saw my first sphinx moth, thinking it was a hummingbird, camping on the north side of Wheeler Mtn in northern NM and again at a nursery in the Colorado foothills only to return home to Michigan’s mitten NW little finger area to find we have them here too. Now love finding sphinx moths in my zone 5 butterflies/ruby-throat hummer garden(s) and to know what to look for and do should I find the pupa

  14. I found a nest of these in a tub I have used for growing tomatoes and cucumbers. I live in Goldtown, West Virginia, USA. What do I do to keep them from destroying my plants?

  15. Found one near Sacramento, California. About a foot down, near the edge of a garden box. On opposite side from tomato plant location.


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