Tersa Sphinx Moth: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The tersa sphinx moth, scientifically known as Xylophanes tersa, is a fascinating creature that has captivated the interest of many. These large moths can be easily recognized by their distinctive wing patterns and the hovering behavior they display while feeding on nectar from flowers.

As part of the sphinx moth family, the tersa sphinx is known for its unique larval stage, where the caterpillar displays a characteristic “sphinx-like” posture. In their adult form, the moth’s wingspan can range from 2 3/8 to 3 1/8 inches, with grayish-brown forewings that showcase a pale line extending to the tip, surrounded by darker lines.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or simply curious about these intriguing creatures, understanding the life cycle and behavior of the tersa sphinx moth will provide you with a greater appreciation for the marvels of the natural world. Keep reading to discover more about the amazing features and characteristics of this captivating insect.

Classification and Scientific Name

Species and Subspecies

The tersa sphinx moth, scientifically known as Xylophanes tersa, has two subspecies: Xylophanes tersa tersa and Xylophanes tersa chaconi. These moths belong to the class Arthropoda, phylum Insecta, and the order Lepidoptera 1.

When identifying the differences between the two subspecies, pay attention to their appearance and habitat. Here are some features to look for:

  • Color patterns
  • Geographic distribution

Genus and Family

The tersa sphinx moth belongs to the genus Xylophanes and the family Sphingidae. This family, also known as hawk moths or sphinx moths, is characterized by their unique traits and behaviors:

  • Large and heavy-bodied
  • Long, pointed abdomens
  • Ability to hover near flowers to feed on nectar

Renowned scientist Carl Linnaeus provided the scientific name for the tersa sphinx moth 2. Below is a comparison table of the moth’s classification details:

Classification Level Name
Class Arthropoda
Phylum Insecta
Order Lepidoptera
Family Sphingidae
Genus Xylophanes
Species/Subspecies X. tersa tersa / X. tersa chaconi

Remember, when studying the tersa sphinx moth, consider its unique classification and the traits that define its species, subspecies, and family.

Physical Characteristics

Adult Moth

The tersa sphinx moth is a fairly large insect with a wingspan of 2 3/8 to 3 1/8 inches. Its forewings are grayish-brown, featuring a pale line that extends to the tip. This line is made more distinct by darker lines on either side1. The moth’s hind wings have large black patches contrasted by pale spots, giving them a unique appearance.

Caterpillar Stage

Tersa sphinx caterpillars come in two color forms: brown and green2. Both types display a range of interesting features:

  • Angular shape
  • Smooth skin
  • Eyespots
  • Yellow and white striping
  • A hairy appearance in some instances

These caterpillars are known to feed on plants such as buttonplant, starclusters, and other woody plants. Take a look at this comparison table to further understand the differences and similarities between the brown and green forms of tersa sphinx caterpillars:

Characteristic Brown Form Green Form
Color Brown Green
Eyespots Present Present
Stripes Yellow and white Yellow and white
Shape Angular Angular
Texture Smooth Smooth

So now you know the primary physical characteristics of both adult tersa sphinx moths and their caterpillars in terms of color, body features, and feeding habits.

Geographical Distribution

The Tersa Sphinx moth can be found in various regions across the Americas. It is native to several countries in North and South America, ranging from the United States to Brazil.

In the United States, this moth covers a wide geographical range. You may encounter it in states such as New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts, and Arizona. This species also appears in parts of Canada.

Tersa Sphinx moths can be seen in Central American countries like Mexico, as well as the West Indies. In South America, they inhabit regions of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.

Here are some examples of the Tersa Sphinx moth distribution:

  • North America: United States, Canada
  • Central America: Mexico
  • West Indies: Caribbean islands
  • South America: Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil

Keep in mind that the moth’s presence may vary within these regions, so it might not be encountered in every single state or province mentioned.

Habitat and Host Plants

The Tersa Sphinx Moth thrives in various habitats, including gardens, fields, and forests, where its host plants grow abundantly. These moths have diverse host plants as they feed on a wide range of plants during their larval stage. Let’s explore some of these plants in your gardens and surroundings.

You can find Tersa Sphinx Moth caterpillars on plants such as:

  • Catalpa
  • Pentas
  • Manettia
  • Borreria
  • Starclusters
  • Lonicera
  • Mirabilis Jalapa
  • Asystasia gangetica
  • Hamelia patens
  • Heimia salicifolia
  • Inga vera
  • Spermacoce glabra

These plants serve as food sources for the larvae, allowing them to grow and develop into adult moths successfully.

As a gardener or nature lover, you can attract Tersa Sphinx Moths to your garden by planting some of these host plants. Adult moths feed on nectar-rich flowers, such as sacred datura, petunias, evening primroses, and honeysuckles. Including these blooming flowers can turn your garden into a haven for adult moths.

Remember to stay vigilant when caring for your plants, as some Tersa Sphinx Moth larvae, like the tomato hornworm, can be undesirable as they can cause damage to your plants. Nonetheless, these fascinating creatures play essential roles in pollination and the ecosystem, so it’s crucial to find a balance that allows you to enjoy their presence while protecting your plants.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs

During the reproduction process, the female tersa sphinx moth lays small, spherical eggs on the leaves of host plants. These eggs are typically laid individually, or in small groups. Once laid, the eggs take around 5-10 days to hatch, depending on temperature and environmental conditions.

Larval Stage

After hatching, the larvae (caterpillars) of the tersa sphinx moth begin feeding on the foliage of their host plants. These caterpillars can be found in brown and green forms, and they feed on a variety of plants such as starclusters (Pentas species), buttonplant, firebush, and wild coffee 1. As they grow, the larvae undergo several molting stages called instars, eventually reaching a length of up to 3 inches. Some distinctive features of the larval stage include:

  • A horn located at the end of the body
  • Stripe-like markings along the side
  • A lifespan of around three weeks

At the end of the larval stage, the caterpillar moves to find a suitable spot to pupate.

Pupa Stage

The tersa sphinx moth caterpillar changes into a pupa, which is a transitional stage between the larval and adult stages. During the pupation process, the caterpillar forms a protective casing called a pupal case. The pupa stage lasts for approximately two weeks, after which the adult moth emerges.

During the pupa stage, several changes or metamorphosis occur, transforming the caterpillar into the adult moth. This process includes the growth of wings, alteration of body structures, and development of adult-like features. Once the metamorphosis is complete, the adult tersa sphinx moth emerges, ready to continue the life cycle with mating and reproduction.

Throughout the season, several generations of tersa sphinx moths can emerge, each undergoing the same life cycle stages of eggs, larvae, and pupa before becoming adults and starting the process all over again.

Diet and Feeding Habits

The diet of the tersa sphinx moth varies between its caterpillar and adult stages. As a caterpillar, it feeds on the leaves of several plants. Some examples include:

  • Starclusters (Pentas species)
  • Buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra Michx.)
  • Firebush
  • Wild coffee

You may find both brown and green forms of the caterpillars munching on these plantssource.

Adult tersa sphinx moths, on the other hand, prefer feeding on nectar from flowers. These moths are particularly attracted to flowers that open at night or have strong scents. Some examples of flowers frequented by these moths are:

  • Sacred datura
  • Petunias
  • Thistles
  • Evening primroses
  • Honeysuckle

Adult tersa sphinx moths have long proboscises that allow them to reach the nectarsource.

In summary, the diet and feeding habits of the tersa sphinx moth differ between its life stages. Caterpillars focus on foliage, while adult moths feed on nectar from a variety of flowers. Understanding these habits can help you attract or deter these fascinating creatures from your garden.

Predators and Defense Mechanisms

The tersa sphinx moth has its fair share of predators, such as birds. To protect themselves, these moths have developed some interesting defense mechanisms.

Firstly, the moth’s coloration and wing patterns might help them blend in with their surroundings, making them less visible to predators.

Another fascinating behavior of the caterpillars is their resemblance to the ancient Sphinx. When threatened, they lift up the front of their body and tuck their head under. This can deter predators by making them seem less appealing or confusing them.

Although not directly harmful, the tersa sphinx moth is often mistakenly considered a threat by gardeners due to its resemblance to the tomato hornworm, a larvae of another sphinx moth species known to cause significant damage to tomato plants. However, the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar is harmless to gardens and mainly feeds on foliage of starclusters, buttonplants, firebush, and other woody plants.

Conservation and Impact

You might be wondering how the tersa sphinx moth impacts its environment and what steps are being taken for its conservation. Look no further, as we’ll explore this topic in a friendly manner.

Tersa sphinx moth caterpillars feed on various plants. In some areas, they consume foliage of starclusters and other woody plants like buttonplant, firebush, Manettia, strongbark, and wild coffee1. While these caterpillars might cause some damage to plants, they also serve as valuable food sources for other insectivores. Remember, every species plays a role in the ecosystem.

But, as with many species, the tersa sphinx moth faces challenges. The decline of biodiversity in North America2 puts many species, including moths, at risk. To help protect these creatures and their environment, it’s essential to minimize the use of insecticides. Chemicals used to control pests can harm or even kill non-target species such as the tersa sphinx moth.

Reducing the use of insecticides can be achieved by implementing alternative pest control methods such as :

  • Introducing natural predators
  • Using pheromone traps
  • Encouraging beneficial insects

In summary, the tersa sphinx moth has an important role in the ecosystem. It’s crucial to be aware of the impact we have on their environment by reducing the use of insecticides and practicing sustainable pest control methods.

References and Further Reading

To learn more about the Tersa Sphinx Moth, we recommend visiting the iNaturalist platform. Here, you can find valuable information on the moth’s habitat, distribution, and behavior. Additionally, it’s a great place to share your own observations and connect with a community of nature enthusiasts.

Here are some characteristics of the Tersa Sphinx Moth to help you identify and understand them better:

  • Distinctive wings with a pointed shape, resembling a stealth aircraft.
  • Fast and agile flyers, typically active during the night.
  • Attracted to lights, making them more visible near artificial light sources.

If you’re interested in learning about other species of Sphinx Moths, exploring scientific articles and research findings could be helpful.

Footnotes

  1. Arthropod Museum 2 3 4

  2. NC State Extension Publications 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 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: What’s this insect?
Location: Homosassa, Florida, United States
October 27, 2015 10:58 am
Hi. I found this ‘creature’ in my back yard by my deck. Can you identify it? I’m in Homosassa. Many thanks.
Melanie Ragaller

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Melanie,
This is a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar, a species that is fond of feeding on Penta, a common garden plant.  Please use our standard form by clicking the Ask What’s That Bug? link on our site for future submissions as it makes it easier for us to format postings for the web.  We will be post-dating your submission to go live while we are on a business trip later in the week.

Letter 2 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Here’s looking at ya – not
August 12, 2009
Brown with a couple of spots but two big spots looks like eyes. Bottom of him is a green color but what is strange is he has one stinger on his behind area. Looks like it could be a caterpillar but just want to make sure and see if he is poisonous.
Tammy
Meraux, Louisiana

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Tammy,
This is a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar, and we just posted a photo of the adult moth about an hour ago.  You are right about the spots as the caterpillar mimics a larger predator, like a snake, which may help prevent it from being eaten by birds or other predators that mistake it for a bigger potential threat.  The stinger is not a stinger, but a caudal horn.  It is not defensive in any way except visually.

Letter 3 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Tiger Swallowtail Catepillar?
Geographic location of the bug:  Memphis, TN
Date: 11/03/2017
Time: 11:35 AM EDT
Can you advise what this is?
How you want your letter signed:  MB

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear MB,
While it contains eyespots similar to those of the Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar, your individual is actually a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar.  They are frequently found feeding on Pentas in the garden.

Daniel,
Thanks for the quick response, so does this caterpillar morph into a large brown moth?
Mark
Hi again Mark,
The adult Tersa Sphinx is a most brown, and very aerodynamic moth.

Letter 4 – Tersa Sphinx headshot

 

Sphinx or hawk moth?
My son recently found a caterpillar. As any 6 year old boy knows, "caterpillars make the best pets, mom". So we kept the caterpillar and it cocooned. It has now hatched and we released it. Could you please tell me what we had? My son is very interested and wants to be able to tell his class. Thank you.
Diana

Hi Diana,
Tersa Sphinxes, Xylophanes tersa, are either very plentiful this year or they are always around when there are cameras ready. We are getting both adult and caterpillar photos lately. Caterpillars love Penta.

Letter 5 – Tersa Sphinx

 

I don’t know what this is…
Can you identify this bug? I have looked all over and still cannot find out what it is….this pic was taken in Bradenton, Fl. The bug was about an inch and a half long…and was reddish brown, with leaf like wings. Thanks, Kris

Hi Kris,
We checked with Eric Eaton because the wings seemed disproportionately small, though we thought it looked like a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa. Eric confirmed this identification.

Letter 6 – Tersa Sphinx

 


Hello Mr. Bugman
I found this bug in my driveway… I have no clue what it is. Hopefully, you can recognize it with just the picture.
Thanks,
Fernando

Hi Fernando,
This moth is a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa

Letter 7 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Please identify the attached flying insect
Hi,
live in Sarasota, FL & took the attached picture yesterday. What& is it? Looks like wood wings & body.
thanks,
Bill Zuk

Hi Bill,
Nice image of a Tersa Sphinx.

Letter 8 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Sphinx Moth?
I found this moth hanging on my porch screen yesterday morning. I’m guessing it’s some sort of sphinx moth? Love your website. It’s the best!
(Ed. Note: 15 minutes later)
Thanks to the link on your website to the Bill Oehlke’s moth website, I found the Sphinx moth that I sent you. Naturally, it was the last one on the page. 😉 It’s a Tersa Sphinx Moth. http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/Sphinx/xterster.htm
Sheila
Rincon, GA

Wow Sheila,
If you got through all of Bill Oehlke’s individual pages in a mere 15 minutes, you have the fastest internet provider on the planet. Your identification of the Tersa Sphinx is correct and the photo is lovely.

Letter 9 – Tersa Sphinx

 

weird looking florida moth
hello,
I took these pics outside my door. i live in SW Florida. let me know what this jet fighter moth is.
jay smith
port charlotte fl.

Hi Jay,
This streamlined, aerodynamic moth is a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa.

Letter 10 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Moth?
What’s That Bug,
Here is an image of an insect I caught a month ago in my mom’s kitchen, crawling it’s way up the wall. It made it’s cocoon in a small make-up box I kept it in and hatched some time yesterday. A friend of mine heard it buzzing around rapidly and started screaming, so I ran to my room, where I was keeping it, and was overwhelmed by the sight of the first insect I’ve kept…that didn’t die two days later. I know it’s a moth, but what kind it is, I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you. What is it? After a long time of searching, I have only found that it looks mostly like the Fig Sphinx and the Ficus Sphinx. Thank you,
Michaela C.
Florida

Hi Michaela,
Though the image quality is not the best, we believe this is another species of Sphinx Moth, the Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa.

Letter 11 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Bug Identification
Attached are some pics of a thing I saw in our garage. I actually heard it shuffling around in a box full of paper (for recycle) then it started flying around. I thought it was a roach (common here in the Houston area) until it landed and I got a good look at it. Thanks,
Dan

Hi Dan,
Your photo really shows of the sleek aerodynamic form of the Tersa Sphinx.

Letter 12 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Hello, this parked on my house.
Hello Bugman,
the area under my lamp and doorway is sort of a neat pitstop for all sorts of exotic bugs. They seem to spend the night there. I took this in October here in Houston, TX. It was cold outside and it seemed to be dormant, because I could actually "Pet" it. (Not in a Lenny from mice and men type of pet, but a gentle stroke.) It has a fine fine coat of chewbaca like hair and later that day was gone. I assume the temprature warmed up enough for it to mobilize and take off. What kind of moth is it?
Jake

Hi Jake,
This is a Tersa Sphinx Moth. The caterpillars are often found on garden Penta.

Letter 13 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Help!!
Any ideas what on earth this is?? We found it on our porch just hanging out. Thanks,
The Burtons,
Louisville, KY

Dear Burtons,
This is a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa tersa. Bill Oehlke has information on his website regarding this species.

Letter 14 – Tersa Sphinx and Grass Skipper

 

double butterfly wings on moth body
My husband captured this one of a kind bug with the camera yesterday 7/14/07 in the South Texas region. It is a cross between a butterfly (it has four regular multi colored wings) and a moth (large body). It does not look like a hummingbird moth, as we have those in our flower gardens in the summer.(attached our photos) We have not seen this new little guy before. Fuzzy yellow body, large yellow head, four multi colored yellow & black wings, similar to a butterfly. What is it? Found NO photo anywhere of this outstanding specimen, or anything even similar~is it a different species of hummingbird moth, or some strange cross breed butterfly moth?

Tersa Sphinx Grass Skipper

Your moth is a Tersa Sphinx and the butterfly is a Grass Skipper.

Letter 15 – Tersa Sphinx

 

I have no idea what kind of bug this is
My name is Kathleen and I live in Pasadena, Texas. I found this bug outside my house on a tent in the backyard. I asked friends if they knew what kind of bug it was, and none of them knew. They also said they had never seen a bug like this before. Oddly enough, I saw another one like that the other night in my backyard. If you could please tell me what kind of bug it is, I would appreciate it. Its become a mystery to us all. Thank you,
Kathleen

Hi Kathleen,
You can now impress your friends with the name of an insect that begins and ends with the letter X. This is a Xylophanes tersa, the Tersa Sphinx. We are copying Bill Oehlke on this reply so he can add your location information to his comprehensive species distribution data.

Letter 16 – Tersa Sphinx, Green Morph

 

Hey bugman, I live in Southern Georgia and my cat brought this to me from my flowers! What kind of caterpillar is this? It is devouring my pentas. Thanks,
Marcy

Hi Marcy,
The Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa, is commonly found on Penta. There is both a green and brown form to this caterpillar.

Letter 17 – Tersa Sphinx and Grass Skipper

 

double butterfly wings on moth body
My husband captured this one of a kind bug with the camera yesterday 7/14/07 in the South Texas region. It is a cross between a butterfly (it has four regular multi colored wings) and a moth (large body). It does not look like a hummingbird moth, as we have those in our flower gardens in the summer.(attached our photos) We have not seen this new little guy before. Fuzzy yellow body, large yellow head, four multi colored yellow & black wings, similar to a butterfly. What is it? Found NO photo anywhere of this outstanding specimen, or anything even similar~is it a different species of hummingbird moth, or some strange cross breed butterfly moth?

Tersa Sphinx Grass Skipper

Your moth is a Tersa Sphinx and the butterfly is a Grass Skipper.

Letter 18 – Tersa Sphinx and possibly Mournful Sphinx

 

hummingbird moth unidentified
Think I narrowed it down to Hummingbird Moth, but can not tell what kind. Our photos show very young species first sighted Aug. 2, 2005 and second multiple sighting 20 days later. Thanks! We though we were going crazy seeing a hummingbird that looked (per photos) like a moth. I thought we had a new breed of bird in our yard! It is unmistakeable moving like a hummer but when you see the photos you are in shock! It clearly looks somewhat more like a moth. (Interesting breeding, huh?) Could not identify this exact species. Can you help?? Your website however helpful did not have our little fellow pictured. Went to the US moth website and could not find ours. First noticed one August 2, 2005. Then August 22 saw two on the same flower. One was dark charcoal and shy. The other photographed and caramel brown in color, and a show-off to boot. We live in Montgomery (Lake Conroe area), Texas. This is in Montgomery, County, Texas. They visit just before dusk and love the Blue Plumbago. Photos of “baby Hummingbird” were taken Aug. 2, 2005. Photos of “2 baby Hummingbirds” were taken Aug. 22, 2005. Interesting to see the growth in 20 days… Will continue to watch, and snap more photos. 🙂
Greg

Tersa Sphinx Mournful Sphinx, maybe


Hi Greg,
First important lesson: There is no such thing as a baby moth. All moths are adults. They will not grow any larger. They grow as caterpillars and once they emerge from the pupa, they are fully grown adult moths. Second lesson. You have two different species. One is a Tersa Sphinx. The other is possibly Mournful Sphinx, Enyo lugubris, but we cannot tell for sure.

Letter 19 – Tersa Sphinx

 

moth
Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 2:26 PM
I noticed this moth on my back porch and can not find out what type of moth it is. Any ideas?
CP
Savannah, Georgia

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear CP,
This gorgeous streamlined moth is known as a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa.  We frequently get reports of the distinctive caterpillars feeding on Pentas.  According to BugGuide the caterpillar has:  “One large eyespot and six smaller ones progressing down the body, with a light stripe roughly bisecting the eyespots. Black “horn” on rear end.  Both green and brown forms are known.  In earlier instars, smaller eyespots are barely visible and striping more pronounced.”

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Letter 20 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Moth
July 25, 2009
I found what I believe to be a moth of some type. I don’t remember seeing one like before and was unable to identify it from your website. It was approx. two inches long and had the appearance of being covered with fur.
Richard
North Middle Tennessee, USA

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Hi Richard,
This is a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa
, one of the most aerodynamically engineered of the Sphinx Moths in the family Sphingidae, a family characterized by its members’ powerful flight capabilities.  You can read more about the Tersa Sphinx on Bill Oehlke’s awesome website.  We will be copying Bill on this response so he can add your sighting to the comprehensive data he is compiling on members of this family.

Letter 21 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Fur covered looking moth
August 12, 2009
This moth stayed on our front porch for two days, left and came back the other night but left again. It is so interesting I posted it to Facebook and asked if anyone knew what it was. A friend suggested I try here. Any ideas?
Curious in Clearwater
Clearwater, FL

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear Curious,
Your marvelously streamlined moth is a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa.
We also just received and are about to post a photo of a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar.

Letter 22 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Moth at the beach
October 30, 2009
Saw this moth at a rental house while at the beach. It hung out a few days so we decided to snap a picture
The Fairchild’s
Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear Fairchilds,
This is a Tersa Sphinx.  We just posted a few photos of its caterpillar, so it is nice to have the adult moth images as well.

Letter 23 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Another Yam Hawkmoth?
February 26, 2010
We saw this unusual bug on the wall at our hotel in Myrtle Beach, SC back in Sept. When I went looking to identify it, I found your site. We are from PA so the insect is totally foreign to us. Thanks for your help.
Cindy Smith
Myrtle Beach, SC

Tersa Sphinx

Dear Cindy,
This is a Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa.  Interestingly, Tina from Hawaii, who submitted the photo of Hippotion boerhaviae, which we originally misidentified as a Yam Hawkmoth, believed her moth resembled a Tersa Sphinx.  You may read more about the Tersa Sphinx on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.

Letter 24 – Tersa Sphinx

 

what is this moth or what
Location:  Galveston Texas on a jetty
October 10, 2010 7:52 pm
I saw this on a jetty while fishing in the gulf of Mexico in Galveston Island Texas
Signature:  author

Tersa Sphinx

Dear author,
Your photo is of a Tersa Sphinx,
Xylophanes tersa, one of the most aerodynamic individuals in a family known for streamlined bodies and rapid flight, earning them another common name of Hummingbird Moths, though more specifically that name refers to members of the genus Hemaris.

Letter 25 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Is this a moth??
Location: Maumelle, Arkansas
August 31, 2011 5:46 pm
This is hanging out on the wall of our covered porch. My boyfriend and I are wondering if it is a moth and if that is a stinger on its tail. It is in the upper nineties right now and we have been getting around a storm a week for the past month. It has been there all day without moving.
Signature: What In the World!

Tersa Sphinx

Dear WITW,
This aerodynamic moth is a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae.  The species is
Xylophanes tersa, commonly called the Tersa Sphinx and you may verify our identification on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.

Letter 26 – Tersa Sphinx

 

what is this?
Location: Central Florida
December 1, 2011 3:53 pm
Took my dogs out back today and immediatly my smallest one ran to the side when he saw a bug. This bug released what looked like a milky substance from its backside (a defense mechansim, don’t know). The bug still hasn’t moved it is completely still. I wasn’t able to locate any eyes.
Signature: Thank you

Tersa Sphinx

This incredibly streamlined moth is one of the Hawkmoths or Sphinx Moths, and more specifically it is the Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa.  You may read more about the Tersa Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.

Letter 27 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Moth-like creature
Location: NE Polk County, Florida
March 14, 2012 6:55 am
Photos taken March 6, 2012. On driveway of our home in NE Polk County, Florida.
Signature: John Corn

Tersa Sphinx

Dear John,
Your moth-like creature is a Tersa Sphinx, a member of the Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth family Sphingidae.  Sphinx Moths are known for their rapid flight and diurnal species are frequently mistaken for hummingbirds.  With spring upon us in the northern hemisphere, we expect to be getting numerous more moth identification requests, especially Sphinx Moths and Giant Silkmoths because of their large size.

Letter 28 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject: Strange one in AL
Location: East Alabama
September 18, 2013 8:40 am
My son found this beautiful creature on his car seatbelt in the Anniston, AL area. I’ve never seen one like this before, any ideas? I’m thinking some sort of moth/butterfly judging by the legs. Thanks!
Signature: Ann

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Hi Ann,
This aerodynamic moth is a Tersa Sphinx.

Letter 29 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject: What is this?!?
Location: Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
October 13, 2013 2:19 pm
Hi! I was just curious if you knew what this fascinating looking thing is?
Signature: Tiani

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Good Evening Tiani,
This aerodynamic beauty is a Tersa Sphinx
.

Awesome, thank you sooooo much!

Letter 30 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject: Mothra
Location: South Carolina
August 31, 2014 6:39 pm
I saw this bug in South Carolina. I didn’t think it was real until I saw it move. Is this a type of moth? What is it?
Signature: Nikon

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear Nikon,
Your moth is a Tersa Sphinx.

Letter 31 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject: Tersa Sphinx
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
October 4, 2014 8:36 am
Hello,
I believe this is a Tersa Sphinx moth. Taken on a cool early morning October 4th. Was resting under a porch light.
Signature: A Fan

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear A Fan,
Your identification of this Tersa Sphinx is correct.  In our opinion, this is one of the most aerodynamic looking Sphinx Moths in a family known for streamlined appearances.

Letter 32 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject: Sleek Moth, Perhaps a Sphinx?
Location: Coryell County, Texas
September 20, 2015 3:17 pm
Hello, we saw this beautiful and rather large moth on Tuesday, September 15th at 4 PM. Sunny and quite warm weather, 90 degrees with a light breeze, gorgeous day. This moth first flew flower to flower, and it may have been avoiding the watering hose or perhaps feeding on the purple asters. As we approached it, it landed on the flowers and stayed perfectly still until after sundown; it was gone the next morning.
Side note: I would have gotten closer to it, but we had just pulled a meter-long snakeskin from these very flowers. It’s been The Summer of the Snakes around here.
I looked at moths on your site. Is it a Tersa Sphinx (Xylophanes tersa)?
It reminds me of a balsa wood stealth jet, unreal looking, so lovely.
Thank you and best wishes!
Signature: Ellen

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear Ellen,
Your identification of this Tersa Sphinx is absolutely correct.  According to the Sphingidae of the Americas site:  “Adults begin feeding at sunset from flowers including honeysuckle (Lonicera), four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) and Asystasia gangetica. ”  It sounds as if you observation includes feeding at least three hours prior to sunset.  Perhaps the garden hose startled it into flying earlier in the day than it would typically begin flying.

Letter 33 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject: Possible Sphinx Moth
Location: Pensacola, FL
April 10, 2016 7:19 pm
Last night my husband and I were in the garage when we saw this guy on the ceiling. After doing some Internet searching I came to the conclusion that this may be a Sphinx Moth. And he is still hanging out in our garage this evening. If it is a sphinx moth I would like to know what type and any other info about this guy. So, any ideas?
Signature: Bridget

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear Bridget,
You are quite correct that this is a Sphinx Moth.  More specifically, it is a Tersa Sphinx, a species common in Florida.

Letter 34 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject: Help with moth identity
Location: Florida, USA
October 13, 2016 7:06 pm
Hello-
I saw this lovely moth on my motor home awning this morning. Looks like the whirlybird seeds that fall from trees.
Location: Holt Florida (panhandle)
Size: 2 1/2″ wingspan X 1 1/2″ body length
Signature: Matt Alexander

Tersa Sphinx
Tersa Sphinx

Dear Matt,
This very aerodynamic moth is a Tersa Sphinx.

Letter 35 – Tersa Sphinx from Texas

 

Subject: Lost in Texas or native?
Location: SanAntonio, Texas
March 19, 2017 9:14 am
I think I’ve got the same moth here in San Antonio, Texas…but what I read doesn’t list Texas for it’s home area….
Signature: Katettt

Tersa Sphinx

Dear Katettt,
This Tersa Sphinx is a native species in Texas, based on the distribution map on BugGuide.

Letter 36 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject:  Moth?
Geographic location of the bug:  Central Louisiana
Date: 09/08/2017
Time: 06:37 PM EDT
This is a very cool looking insect. What is it?
How you want your letter signed:  ROBERT McMURTRY

Tersa Sphinx

Dear Robert,
This very aerodynamic looking moth is a Tersa Sphinx.

Tersa Sphinx

Letter 37 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject:  What’s that bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Hampton roads VA
Date: 09/29/2017
Time: 07:03 PM EDT
Would like to know a little more about this bug.
How you want your letter signed:  Syed

Tersa Sphinx

Dear Syed,
This sleek moth is a Tersa Sphinx.

Tersa Sphinx

Letter 38 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject:  Sphinx Moth?
Geographic location of the bug:  Hialeah Florida
Date: 12/05/2017
Time: 10:23 PM EDT
Dec. 5, 2017 a large (body more than an inch long) critter flew lazily past me and landed on a bush. It was so mellow it walked onto my hand and let me guide it to the top of the bush to have a better photo opportunity.
I tried to ID it and the closest thing I found was a sphinx moth, so maybe it’s in that general area?
How you want your letter signed:  Hialeah Marian

Tersa Sphinx

Dear Hialeah Marian,
This is indeed a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae.  More specifically, it is a Tersa Sphinx.

Letter 39 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject:  we’ve named him ricardo….
Geographic location of the bug:  central texas
Date: 10/16/2018
Time: 11:07 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  this guy has been hanging out recently and we have admired him. can you tell me what type of moth this is?
How you want your letter signed:  aggie moth watcher

Tersa Sphinx

Dear aggie moth watcher,
Ricardo is a Tersa Sphinx.

Letter 40 – Tersa Sphinx

 

Subject:  Moth/butterfly?
Geographic location of the bug:  Punta Gorda FL 33950
Date: 11/26/2018
Time: 08:56 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This was on our lanai. Body looks like a stick. The wings look like wood. The legs were white and completely blended into the wall paint color. Was about 1- 2 inches long. Very cool.
How you want your letter signed:  Just curious

Tersa Sphinx

Dear Just Curious,
This is a Tersa Sphinx, a moth in the family Sphingidae.

Letter 41 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

crazy!
While taking care of my flowers in my landscaping, I spotted a creature about 1 inch from my hand-scared me to death because I thought it was a snake. I realized it was only about 3-4 inches long. It also has this thorn thing sticking out of the lower end of its body. The next day, I saw another weird creature in my landscaping and grabbed my camera. I did not think that it was the same type of creature because the first had a head just like a snake but this creature has a long snout. After watching it and taking several pictures, I pushed it along with a wire piece and it decreased in size and then looked just like the creature I thought was a snake. What is this thing??? OK, I found it….I feel very silly, but the first one I saw was brown. I am sending my pictures anyways……
Monica Lain

Hi Monica,
Many caterpillars, your Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar included, have markings that resemble eyes. This is a protection against birds and other predators who might be startled by a “snake”.

Letter 42 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: What’s this big?
Location: Southeast
June 8, 2014 2:04 pm
Saw this at a friends house and was wondering what exactly it is. Thanks!
Signature: Scott in SC

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Scott,
This memorable looking Hornworm is the caterpillar of a Tersa Sphinx,
Xylophanes tersa.  Tersa Sphinx Caterpillars can be either green or brown.  You can read more about the Tersa Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.

Letter 43 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Lake Jackson Texas
October 11, 2015 5:41 pm
Found this guy at the golf course in Lake Jackson Texas, couldn’t find this one in your picture file, just curious .
Thanks in advance!
Signature: Rae

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Rae,
This is a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar, and there are many images on our site of brown individuals like the one you observed as well as green Tersa Sphinx Caterpillars.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Madder Family, Rubiaceae, including Smooth buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra), starclusters (Pentas species), Borreria, Manettia; and Bignoniaceae: Catalpa. Also noted, in North Carolina, from Virginia Buttonweed, Diodia virginiana, also in the Rubiaceae.”

Letter 44 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject: Large Caterpillar
Location: North Florida
August 26, 2016 5:02 pm
Saw this huge caterpillar outside on the screen of the screened porch and couldn’t figure out what it is. Would love to find out, though!
Signature: Gecko7937

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Gecko7937,
This is the caterpillar of a Tersa Sphinx, and we are guessing that you have a penta plant nearby as that is one of its favorite caterpillar host plants.  According to Sphingidae of the Americas:  “The snake-like larva has a head and the three thoracic segments which may be retracted into abdominal segment 1, which is swollen and adorned with a pair of light-ringed eye-spots. I often get questions about these larvae due to their voracious appetites for garden penta species.  Larvae also feed on
Borreria, Catalpa and Manettia spp. and Smooth buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra) and starclusters (Pentas species). They are also recorded on joe-pie weed and Hamelia patens.”

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Letter 45 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Subject:  What kind of caterpillar/butterfly is this guy
Geographic location of the bug:  Plainfield IL
Date: 07/29/2018
Time: 12:15 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Please help us identify this guy whom gave us a bit of fright and left us questioning….what are you looking at!?
How you want your letter signed:  Baffled IL Family

Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Baffled IL Family,
This is the Caterpillar of a Tersa Sphinx Moth, and its false eyespots are very effective at scaring potential predators.  According to Sphingidae of the Americas: “Larvae also feed on
Borreria, Catalpa and Manettia spp. and Smooth buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra) and starclusters (Pentas species). They are also recorded on joe-pie weed and Hamelia patens.”  Many gardeners grow Pentas in the garden.

Wow! Quick response time. Thank you so much. Enjoy your day!

Letter 46 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Tersa Sphinx – Brown Form
Thanks Mr. Bugman for helping me identify this Tersa Sphinx in it’s brown stage! I found him in the garden yesterday, 11/10/05, and was fascinated. Here are a couple pictures if you want to post them. Thanks for a great site!
Margo,
Atlanta, GA

Hi Margo,
We love trying to identify critters for people, but we really enjoy hearing that they identified them for themselves using our site. Thank you for letting us know of your successful identification.

Letter 47 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

caterpillar ID help
Hi,
I would appreciate your help with identifying this caterpillar. It was photographed near the road at Sumatra, Apalachicola National Forest, Florida, USA, Thank you
Fero

Hi Fero,
What a nice photo of a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar.

Letter 48 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar ID Request
Dear Bugman:
I found the attached little guy eating my Pentas here in New Orleans this morning. He had two others with him. Yesterday I saw a similar one but he was more green. They all appear to be about 3 inches long. They appear to be planning to eat three medium sized bushes. They did the same thing last year but I did not catch them in the act and only had the empty Pentas to show. They just eat the leaves not the stems. They have ignored the adjacent Vincas (Periwinkles). I thought it was a Palamedes swallowtail but the internet photos didn’t quite match up. Your thoughts? Please let me know. Thanks.Best Regards
Andrew Wilson

Hi Andrew,
This is a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar, Xylophanes tersa tersa. The caterpillar is frequently found feeding on Penta. We just posted a photo of the adult moth on our homepage.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

10 thoughts on “Tersa Sphinx Moth: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. My son found a Tersa Moth on a wood pile yesterday, a cooler day in Florida. The temp was dropping into the 40’s, so he brought it into the house in a large plastic drink cup. He tried to let it go today, but it wouldn’t leave the cup. It is back in the house tonight since it is cold again. It hasn’t eaten in two days (he did give it water). What plants do they eat? Where are they from originally?

    Thank you! Linda Lu

    Reply
  2. My son found a Tersa Moth on a wood pile yesterday, a cooler day in Florida. The temp was dropping into the 40’s, so he brought it into the house in a large plastic drink cup. He tried to let it go today, but it wouldn’t leave the cup. It is back in the house tonight since it is cold again. It hasn’t eaten in two days (he did give it water). What plants do they eat? Where are they from originally?

    Thank you! Linda Lu

    Reply
  3. I have seen one of these at my grandmothers house in douglasville, Ga. I tried to keep it in closed to call someone but my mom released it while I was out of the house.

    Reply
  4. Since Hurricane Irma ripped 9 screens from my Lanai, I’ve been getting lots of bees, wasps, no-see-umms, frogs, and these “Tersa Sphinx” I must have counted over 25 but the next day I find them dead. Do they last only hours or days on end?

    Reply

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