The tersa sphinx moth caterpillar is a fascinating creature that goes through an incredible transformation to become the equally impressive tersa sphinx moth. These caterpillars are known for their distinct appearance with a horn-like tail, making them easily recognizable. Here’s what you need to know about these captivating creatures.
As a caterpillar, the tersa sphinx munches on leaves for nourishment, eventually growing to their full size. This growth marks the beginning of their journey to metamorphosis. The tersa sphinx moth itself has a wingspan of 2 3/8 to 3 1/8 inches, showcasing grayish-brown forewings with a pale line extending to the tip, contrasting against darker lines on each side.
Being familiar with the lifecycle of the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar can make observing these insects in nature all the more enjoyable. From small caterpillar to fully grown moth, the tersa sphinx is a testament to the beauty and diversity of the insect world.
The Tersa Sphinx Moth Caterpillar is a fascinating creature that belongs to the Animalia kingdom and the Arthropoda phylum. Specifically, it falls under the Insecta class and Lepidoptera order, where it is a part of the Sphinx Moths family. Its scientific name is Xylophanes tersa.
You may recognize this caterpillar for its distinctive features, such as:
- A horn-like tail
- Green or brown coloration
- Well-defined diagonal white stripes
Morphing into a beautiful moth after its caterpillar stage, the Tersa Sphinx Moth is an exciting species to learn about. Its adult stage comes with some captivating traits:
- Narrow wings
- Pointed and swept-back forewings
- Brown and white marbled appearance
Living mainly in North and Central America, the Tersa Sphinx Moth Caterpillar is especially drawn to larval host plants. Examples include:
- Smooth buttonplant
As you explore the fascinating world of Xylophanes tersa, you’ll find its life cycle, habitat, and behavior to be both remarkable and diverse. Enjoy discovering more about this captivating species and its place in the fascinating world of Sphinx Moths.
The tersa sphinx moth, Xylophanes tersa, has a fairly large wingspan ranging from 2⅜ to 3⅛ inches. Its forewings are grayish-brown with a pale line extending to the tip, framed by darker lines on each side. The hind wings display large black patches with contrasting pale spots.
In the caterpillar stage, you’ll find the tersa sphinx moth in brown and green forms. Here are some distinguishing features of the caterpillar:
- Smooth and relatively hairless body
- Large, bulbous, green or brown body
- Angular and triangular ivory-yellow markings
- Possesses a prominent eyespot
The caterpillars can be found feeding on foliage of starclusters (Pentas species) and other woody plants, such as buttonplant, firebush, Manettia, strongbark, and wild coffee.
|Feature||Brown Form||Green Form|
|Color of the abdomen||Brown||Green|
|Hairiness||Less Hairy||Less Hairy|
These characteristics will help you identify the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar more easily in both its brown and green forms.
- Moth stage: grayish-brown wings with pale lines and large black patches
- Caterpillar stage: comes in green and brown forms, with angular ivory-yellow markings and a prominent eyespot
Range and Habitat
The Tersa Sphinx moth caterpillar can be found in a variety of regions, such as North America, Mexico, and parts of South America. In the United States, it’s prevalent in areas like Florida, Texas, and North Carolina. They can also be spotted as far north as Canada and as far west as New Mexico.
These caterpillars thrive in different types of habitats, ranging from gardens to woodlands. Here’s a quick list of the places in which you might find them:
- Flowerbeds with specific host plants
In gardens, you’ll often find these caterpillars feeding on the foliage of star clusters (Pentas species). Additionally, they feed on other woody plants like buttonplants, firebush, Manettia, strongbark, and wild coffee. So, if you’re an avid gardener, don’t be surprised if you come across these critters.
By understanding their range and habitat, you’ll know where to look for these fascinating caterpillars and appreciate their presence within our ecosystem.
Life Cycle and Reproduction
The life cycle of the tersa sphinx moth begins with the egg stage. Female moths lay clusters of small, round eggs on the underside of leaves during the season. These eggs are typically found on host plants that caterpillars prefer to feed on. Within a week or so, the eggs hatch into larvae.
The larval stage, also known as the caterpillar stage, is a crucial phase in the life cycle of a tersa sphinx moth. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of plants, growing larger as they consume more foliage. As they get bigger, they may change color, often taking on a green hue to blend in with their surroundings. When fully grown, caterpillars may reach a large size, up to 80 mm in length.
During this stage, caterpillars go through several instars, or growth phases, shedding their old skin to make room for their rapidly expanding bodies. Once the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar has reached its final instar, it begins searching for a suitable location to pupate.
Pupation is the next phase in the tersa sphinx moth’s life cycle. After finding a suitable spot, usually in the soil, the caterpillar forms a loose cocoon around itself. Inside the cocoon, the larva transforms into a pupa. The pupal stage is a period of rest and transformation, during which the caterpillar undergoes significant changes.
During this time, the pupa remains dormant, protected by the cocoon. Depending on the season and environmental conditions, the pupa can remain in this state for weeks or even months before the adult moth emerges.
Upon completing the pupal stage, the fully developed tersa sphinx moth emerges from its cocoon. Adult moths have a wingspan of 2 3/8 to 3 1/8 inches, making them fairly large in size. During this phase, the moth’s primary focus is on reproduction, seeking a mate to continue the life cycle.
Mating habits of the tersa sphinx moth involve males seeking out the females, attracted by pheromones released by the female moth. After a successful mating, the female will lay her eggs and the life cycle begins anew. Adult moths typically have a short lifespan, as their primary purpose is to reproduce and lay eggs.
Diet and Predators
Tersa sphinx moth caterpillars have a diverse diet consisting mostly of different host plants. Some of the plants they feed on include:
- Smooth buttonplant
- Chinese violet
These caterpillars can be found feeding on the foliage of starclusters (Pentas species) in flower gardens and other woody plants like firebush and wild coffee.
Their diet mainly consists of leaves from their host plants, and as they grow, they can consume entire leaves. While young larvae feed on the undersurfaces of leaves, older larvae can cause more noticeable damage. It’s essential to monitor your garden for their presence and prevent potential damage.
In addition to their diet, the tersa sphinx moth caterpillars face various predators in their natural habitat. Their natural enemies include birds, spiders, and parasitic wasps, which can help control their population in the wild. When you spot these caterpillars in your garden, be cautious as inviting their predators can create a balanced ecosystem to avoid any leaf damage.
Remember that it’s important to know the predators and diet of the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar to help protect your plants and maintain a healthy garden ecosystem.
Tersa sphinx moth caterpillars exhibit some fascinating behavior patterns that make them unique. Let’s explore a few key aspects of how they live their day-to-day lives.
Compared to butterflies, which are often seen gracefully flying in open areas, sphinx moth caterpillars tend to stay in the foliage of their host plants. They feed amongst the leaves and branches, and can often be found in a sphinx position – a characteristic posture where the head is held up and the body often forms a “U” shape.
Here are the main habits of these fascinating creatures:
- Feeding: Tersa sphinx moth caterpillars feed on a variety of plants, including starclusters, firebush, wild coffee, and other woody plants. They come in two color forms, brown and green.
- Resting: When not actively eating, they tend to rest on the underside of their host plant’s leaves.
Sphinx moth caterpillars also have some intriguing habits when it comes to their growth and development:
- Burying: Before they turn into pupae, they burrow underground to create a chamber where they can safely transform.
- Emerging: Adult moths emerge from their pupae and take flight, often becoming skilled fliers with rapid, agile movements.
As for their migratory patterns, researchers are still uncovering details about this aspect of their lives. What we do know is that some sphinx moth species, like the whitelined sphinx, participate in mass migrations. These migrations may be driven by seasonal changes, host plant availability, and population density.
The tersa sphinx moth caterpillar is a fascinating creature. You might be curious about its conservation status and range, and it helps to know that this species typically doesn’t pose any harm to its environment. In this section, you’ll learn more about the conservation status, habitat, and characteristics of the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar.
The conservation status for the tersa sphinx moth is not something that’s widely discussed or reported. It’s known to have a fairly wide range, and can be found across North, Central, and South America (source). Since it’s not usually considered a threat to its ecosystem, there’s not much concern about its population numbers.
Some key features of the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar include:
- Streamlined body
- Distinct markings for camouflage
- Harmless to humans
Regarding its habitat, the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar prefers warmer climates. You’ll often find them in subtropical locations or similar environments. The adult moths are known to be active at dusk and are attracted to nectar-producing flowers.
In conclusion, while there isn’t a lot of information available about the conservation status of the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar, it seems that the species is not at risk and continues to thrive in its natural habitat. The creature’s streamlined, harmless nature and preference for warmer climates make it an interesting addition to the world of insects.
Looking to learn about the fascinating tersa sphinx moth caterpillar? You’re in the right place! Keep reading to explore some interesting facts about this unique creature.
The tersa sphinx moth caterpillar belongs to the Sphingidae family, which is known for its diverse and captivating species. As the caterpillar grows, it transforms into a beautiful moth. Don’t be surprised if you mistake this creature for a butterfly, since they share similar characteristics. However, the tersa sphinx moth is indeed a member of the moth family.
One exciting aspect of this caterpillar is its wingspan. When the caterpillar evolves into a moth, it boasts a wingspan of 5 to 6 centimeters. This feature, coupled with its patterned brown forewings and paler hindwings, makes it a sight to behold when in flight.
These creatures have a relatively short lifespan. In their moth stage, they only live for a few weeks, dedicating most of their time to finding a mate and laying eggs.
A key trait of the sphinx moth is its long proboscis—a tube-like mouthpart used to suck nectar from flowers. This curly and flexible apparatus allows the moth to feed while hovering, much like a hummingbird.
Here are some notable characteristics of the tersa sphinx moth caterpillar:
- Length: Ranges from 1.5 inches to 2.5 inches when fully grown
- Food: Feed primarily on plants from the madder family (Rubiaceae)
- Appearance: Changes color as it matures, starting green with a patterned body and becoming plain brown before pupating
In some cases, you might need to protect your plants from these caterpillars. While generally harmless, large populations can occasionally cause significant damage to trees and shrubs. If you encounter this problem, you can consider using an insecticide specifically made for sphinx caterpillars.
Occasionally, the tersa sphinx moth can be confused with other moth species, such as the five-spotted hawk moth or the luna moth. However, its distinct wing patterns and shape can help differentiate it from similar species.
Finally, you can find these captivating creatures in various North American regions like Fort Worth, Virginia, and the spring months are an excellent time to spot them flying around in search of nectar. Their unique appearance and captivating life cycle make them a fascinating subject for both enthusiasts and casual observers alike.
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 Caterpillars
Mon, Jan 5, 2009 at 4:20 AM
I thought I picked two brown caterpillars with fake eyes from my mother’s penta plant in Sun City Florida yesterday. When I opened the jar to photograph them this morning, I had two browns and two greens, all with false eyes. I never kill bugs without knowing what they are but I can’t find these in my caterpillar book.
Both the green caterpillars and the brown caterpillars are the same species. The Tersa Sphinx, like many other Sphinx Moths, have caterpillars in different colors. These different morphs probably aid in the survival of the species. Predators that notice the brown caterpillars may not notice the green individuals just inches away. To see images of the adult moth and to read more about the Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa, you can search Bill Oehlke’s excellent website.
Thank you so much! I gave the caterpillars to a friend with a lot of penta and a six-year-old grandaughter who loves bugs — she’ll take good care of them 🙂
Letter 2 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Subject: name this caterpillar please
Location: south east (North Carolina)
July 19, 2012 7:46 pm
Hi. My son and I. Found this fat little guy in our driveway in central NC. He is light green with black/brown eye looking spots. When he straightens out and starts crawling, a head comes out (like a turtle).
Signature: darla and daniel
Dear Darla and Daniel,
This is the caterpillar of the Tersa Sphinx, one of the moths in the family Sphingidae. They are frequently found feeding on Penta in the garden. Since the caterpillar was found on the driveway, we suspect it is getting ready to pupate and it was searching for a suitable location with plenty of surface debris. You can see photos of other stages of development of the Tersa Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the United States website.
Letter 3 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar: Green Morph
elephant hawk moth larvae?
I found this guy while mowing the yard in NW Florida. He looks like an elephant hawk moth caterpillar based on my internet searching, but they’re supposed to be in the UK. any ideas?
This is the green color morph of the Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar, Xylophanes tersa, a Florida resident. They feed on garden Penta.
Letter 4 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Subject: Fat Green Caterpillar with a Black horn and spots
Location: West Columbia, SC
September 9, 2012 1:52 pm
I found this today around a stump, while mowing the grass! I’ve never seen such a thing! People were telling me it sounds like a tomato or a tobacco worm, but it has no stripes like a tomato worm and has spots. What do you think?
The Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms are in the same family as this Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar, so there are certain similarities. You have mentioned the differences that can be used to differentiate the Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar from other caterpillars in the family Sphingidae. Perhaps you have penta growing nearby as that is a preferred food of the Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar. See Sphingidae of the Americas for additional information on the Tersa Sphinx.
Letter 5 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Western Tiger Swallowtail catepillar
October 27, 2009
I was wondering why the leaves of my penta plant were disappearing. Then this morning I found these “eyes” staring at me. At first I thought it was a plastic toy! What an amazing critter.
Sugar Land, TX
Though it resembles a Western Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar, your critter is a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar. The Swallowtail has one set of eyespots, while the Tersa Sphinx has numerous eyespots. The Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar does not have a caudal horn, and the Tersa Sphinx does possess a caudal horn. Sphinx Moth caterpillars are often called Hornworms. Penta is a typical food plant for the Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar.
Letter 6 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
What is this?
October 30, 2009
I found this caterpillar on my bricks in my flowerbed. I am having a hard time identifying it. please help. Found 10/30/2009 in Houston TX
This is a Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar. We get numerous reports of them feeding on Penta.
Letter 7 – Tersa Sphinx Caterpillars
Subject: What are these caterpillars
Geographic location of the bug: Selma, texas
Time: 05:02 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I found these caterpillars on a potted plant I had. They have eaten almost all the leaves that I can’t remember what kind of plant it was. I’m almost sure it was an Impatien. I think they’re the same caterpillar but not sure. What are they?
How you want your letter signed: Delia
These appear to be the caterpillars of the Tersa Sphinx, which occurs in both green and brown forms. Are you sure the plant was Impatiens? A preferred food plant for the Tersa Sphinx is Pentas, according to Sphingidae of the Americas.
Daniel, thank you for your quick response. You’re correct, these were Pentas. I just couldn’t remember what kind of plant it was
Letter 8 – Tersa Sphinx Metamorphosis
I followed this from caterpillar to chrysalis to moth. I wish I had taken some snaps of the caterpillar but I thought it might be a Palamedes Swallowtail (though it had a single horn that the swallowtail doesn’t). I was pretty surprised at what came out. I think that I have identified it as a Tersa Sphinx. I live in northeast Florida.
Richard Kevin Sharbaugh
Your Tersa Sphinx, Xylophanes tersa, metamorphosis images are a welcome addition to our site. Here is a list of larval food plants from the USGS site: Smooth buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra), starclusters (Pentas species), Borreria, Catalpa, and Manettia species.
Letter 9 – Tersa Sphinx with Parasite
Subject: Tersa Sphinx Moth
Location: Apopka, FL
August 16, 2017 1:31 pm
Found this moth on my house, took this picture then noticed something on it that seemed to be eating into it’s side. I destroyed the thing and the moth few up to the ceiling where it is now. My question is what is the thing?
We suspect this might be a Dipteran parasite, perhaps a Tachinid Fly, on this Tersa Sphinx. It is possible the infestation occurred while this moth was still a caterpillar. We are currently searching unsuccessfully, for evidence of Tachinid Flies using Sphinx Moths as hosts. The Moth Photographers Group has a nice parasite page.