Waved Sphinx Moth: Quick Facts for Curious Minds

The waved sphinx moth (Ceratomia undulosa) is a fascinating member of the Sphingidae family. These fascinating creatures are known for their distinct and beautiful patterns, as well as their interesting behaviors.

You’ll often find these moths inhabiting forest areas and consuming nectar from various flowers. Their forewing is usually pale gray to yellowish-brown, with dark, wavy lines running across the wing. A white reniform spot adds to the unique patterns found on their wings.

Understanding the waved sphinx moth is important for appreciating the incredible diversity found within the natural world. By learning about their habitat, appearance, and behavioral traits, you can gain a deeper appreciation for these amazing insects and their role in the ecosystem.


Species Detail

The Waved Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia undulosa) belongs to the family Sphingidae, which is known for its hawk moths or sphinx moths. This family falls within the order Lepidoptera, and it is part of the class Insecta. Furthermore, the moth is a member of the animal kingdom, specifically within the phylum Arthropoda. Here’s a simple representation of their classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Sphingidae
  • Genus: Ceratomia
  • Species: Ceratomia undulosa

Now that you know the scientific classification for the Waved Sphinx Moth, let’s explore some of its characteristics.

The forewings of this moth are pale gray to yellowish-brown, with a distinct white reniform spot and several dark wavy lines crossing the wing completely. Their hindwing is brownish-gray, featuring three darker lines crossing the wing, along with a white and dark outer margin. These moths are generally large and heavy-bodied, with a long, pointed abdomen. They are known to hover near flowers, feeding on nectar through their long proboscis, which serves as their mouth tube or “tongue.”

Here’s a quick summary of the Waved Sphinx Moth’s key features:

  • Pale gray to yellowish-brown forewings
  • Distinct white reniform spot
  • Dark wavy lines on the wings
  • Brownish-gray hindwing with three darker lines
  • Long, pointed abdomen
  • Long proboscis for feeding on nectar

Enjoy observing and learning about this unique moth species and their importance in our ecosystem.

Physical Characteristics

The Waved Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia undulosa) has some unique and interesting features that can make it stand out among other moth species. Let’s dive into the physical characteristics of this fascinating creature.

Its adult body displays a range of colors, including shades of pale gray, yellowish-brown, and white. The most striking feature on the moth’s wings are the dark wavy lines that can be found crossing them completely. Additionally, there is a distinct white reniform spot on the forewing and a checkered fringe along the edges of the wings source.

When it comes to size, the Waved Sphinx Moth is fairly large. Its forewings have a unique design, with a pattern that lacks a black basal dash. This is an important distinction between this moth and other species. On the other hand, the hindwing features brownish-gray coloration with three darker lines crossing the wing source.

When observing the moth’s head, you’ll notice lateral stripes on both sides. Moreover, the moth’s body has a mix of red, green, black, and white hues, providing an interesting visual contrast. The caterpillars, which will eventually turn into adult moths, are known as hornworms due to the horn-like structure found on their body.

So, when you come across a Waved Sphinx Moth, pay attention to its unique physical characteristics such as the wavy lines on its wings, the white reniform spot, and the checkered fringe. This beautiful specimen is certainly a marvel of nature’s design.

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the waved sphinx moth consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Let’s dive into each stage briefly.

Egg Stage:
When a female waved sphinx moth lays her eggs, she carefully places them on the leaves of her host plants, which usually belong to the walnut or hickory tree family. The eggs are oval and small, waiting to hatch into hungry little caterpillars.

Larva Stage:
When the eggs hatch, caterpillars emerge and start feeding on the host plant. The larvae, also known as hornworms, have a distinctive horn-like structure at their tail end. Growing through five instars, these caterpillars change their colors and patterns, eventually reaching a length of about 3 to 4 inches.

Pupa Stage:
When the larva is fully grown, it will leave the host plant and search for a suitable location to pupate. In this pupal stage, the caterpillar forms a protective cocoon around itself and starts its transformation into an adult moth. Some waved sphinx moth caterpillars may overwinter as pupae, waiting for favorable conditions in the spring.

Adult Stage:
Finally, the adult waved sphinx moth emerges from the pupal case. With a wingspan of about 3 to 4 inches, these moths are known for their beautiful patterns on their wings. As adults, the main goal is to find a mate and continue the life cycle. They feed on nectar from flowers, using their long proboscis to reach the sweet treat.

Now you know the essential stages of the waved sphinx moth life cycle. From eggs to adults, each stage is fascinating and vital for their survival.


The Waved Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia undulosa) can be found in a variety of habitats throughout North America. In the United States and Canada, these moths are known to inhabit regions with forests.

Now let’s explore the range and habitat preferences of the Waved Sphinx Moth in a bit more detail:

  • Range: These moths are widespread in North America, ranging from southern Canada to the United States.
  • Habitat Preferences: They are well adapted to forests in various regions, making them a common sight in wooded areas.

In their habitats, Waved Sphinx Moths play a crucial role as pollinators. As you explore these forests, keep an eye out for these fascinating creatures. They are a great example of the diverse and complex ecosystems found in North America’s forests. So, the next time you find yourself in a forested region, remember to appreciate the incredible Waved Sphinx Moth.

Diet and Predation

As a waved sphinx moth, your diet primarily consists of nectar from various plants. Throughout your life, you’ll encounter different host plants to feed on, such as oak, hawthorn, and privet. During your larval stage, you’ll need to consume leaves to grow and develop. Some of your favorite types of leaves include oak and hawthorn.

When it comes to flowers, you’ll prefer those with abundant nectar as they’ll provide the necessary sustenance for your adult life. While flowers are essential for food, they also serve as important host plants for laying eggs. The more host plants you locate, the better chance your offspring will have in finding proper sustenance.

Of course, with a diet rich in plant material, you need to be weary of predators. As a sphinx moth, some of the primary predators you’ll encounter include bats and spiders. These animals are masters of hunting in the darkness, just when you’re most active.


  • Your diet mainly consists of nectar from plants like oak, hawthorn, and privet.
  • Leaves of host plants are crucial for your larval stage.
  • Nectar-rich flowers provide sustenance and act as host plants for egg-laying.
  • Be cautious of predators like bats and spiders during your nighttime activities.

Remember to stay vigilant and adaptable in your search for food, while also keeping an eye out for predators. Embrace your friendly, waved sphinx moth nature, and enjoy the beauty of the flowers and plants you visit along your journey.


The Waved Sphinx Moth is known for its unique habits and behaviors. One of the most fascinating aspects is its hovering behavior near flowers to feed on nectar. They use their long proboscis for this purpose and are often mistaken for hummingbirds due to their hovering and feeding style1.

When threatened, the larval stage of the moth, the caterpillar, lifts up the front of its body and tucks its head under, resembling the ancient Sphinx. This posture contributes to the origin of the name, Sphinx Moth2.

Some features of the Sphinx Moth’s behavior include:

  • Hovering while feeding on nectar
  • Resembling a hummingbird while feeding
  • Caterpillars taking on a Sphinx-like posture when threatened

The Waved Sphinx Moth is just one of many sphinx moth species, with each exhibiting their own distinct features and behaviors3.

Factors of Distinction

The Waved Sphinx moth, belonging to the Sphingidae family, has some unique characteristics that set it apart from other moths and butterflies. With impressive wingspans and fascinating features, it’s no wonder these creatures capture our attention.

One feature that makes the Waved Sphinx moth stand out is its wing pattern. Their wings often have intricate designs and patterns which help distinguish them from other moths in the Sphinx family. The forewings showcase a mix of wavy lines and patches, while the hindwings usually display a band of orange or pink coloration. This vibrant contrast gives the Waved Sphinx moth a striking appearance.

In addition, here are a few key factors that further set them apart:

  • They have a unique wingspan ranging from 3 to 4 inches.
  • Sphinx moths possess a tubular proboscis that helps them feed on nectar from flowers.
  • They have a special hearing organ called “ears” located on their abdomen, which helps them evade predators such as bats.

Here’s a comparison between Sphinx moths and butterflies which highlights their differences:

Feature Sphinx Moths Butterflies
Wingspan Typically larger (3-4 inches) Smaller wingspan
Flight Pattern Swift and agile, hummingbird-like More delicate, fluttering flight
Feeding Long tubular proboscis for nectar Coiled proboscis for nectar
Ears Have ears for predator detection Do not have similar structure

In summary, the Waved Sphinx moth is a fascinating creature with its distinctive wing patterns, larger wingspan, and unique features. Their abilities to navigate through the night and feed on nectar with their specialized proboscis make them an essential part of our ecosystem. Keep an eye out for these beautiful and captivating moths during your next nighttime stroll.

Economic and Environmental Impact

You might wonder about the economic and environmental impact of the waved sphinx moth. This fascinating creature plays an essential role in both aspects, so let’s dive into how it affects them.

Waved sphinx moths are known to feed on various plants, including ash and green ash trees. These trees are common host plants for the moth larvae, making them an essential part of the species’ life cycle. By feeding on the trees, these moths actually contribute to the overall health and balance of the forest ecosystem. They help regulate plant populations and support biodiversity.

Not only do they assist in maintaining the natural order of the forest, but they also play a crucial role as pollinators. Plant pollination is vital for maintaining plant life, which in turn offers numerous benefits, such as:

  • Supporting food sources for other wildlife species
  • Contributing to clean air and water
  • Helping control soil erosion

Additionally, waved sphinx moths can be considered eco-friendly because they encourage the growth of diverse plants and promote environmental sustainability. Though they might not have a significant direct economic impact, their indirect contributions to the ecosystem are noteworthy.

When we think of the waved sphinx moth, it’s essential to acknowledge its role in preserving the environment. By participating in the forest’s ecological balance, it not only supports other plant and animal life but also contributes to a more sustainable planet for future generations.

Caring as Pet

When considering a waved sphinx moth as a pet, it’s essential to know their needs and requirements. This ensures the moth will thrive in your care.

The waved sphinx moth, like other sphinx moths, needs an appropriate habitat. This should replicate their natural environment as closely as possible. Set up an enclosure with:

  • Plants: provide host plants for the caterpillar stage, such as grapevines.

  • Space: a spacious enclosure with enough room for the moth to spread its wings and fly short distances.

During the caterpillar stage, provide an ample supply of their preferred host plant leaves. Keep an eye on the caterpillars as they grow and molt, ensuring they are healthy.

As the caterpillars enter the pupal stage, remember that they no longer eat. The pupae will need a safe and dark place to rest. Regularly check on their progress and make sure their environment is free of pests and diseases.

Once the adult moth emerges, their diet changes to nectar. Offer them artificial nectar or add flowering plants to the enclosure. This will keep them well-fed and healthy during their short adult life.

Some key points to remember when caring for your waved sphinx moth pet:

  • Maintain the right temperature and humidity levels in the enclosure.

  • Proper sanitation is crucial to prevent diseases and infections.

  • Observe your pet’s activity and overall health.

Taking care of a waved sphinx moth can be an interesting hobby where you can observe their intriguing life cycle. Just ensure you follow the proper guidelines and provide a safe environment for your pet to thrive.

Host Plants

The Waved Sphinx Moth, like other sphinx moths, relies on various host plants to lay their eggs and for the caterpillars to feed on. In this section, you will learn about some popular host plants that cater to the needs of Waved Sphinx Moths.

Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) is one such host plant for Waved Sphinx Moth caterpillars. It is a common deciduous tree that provides an ample supply of leaves for the caterpillars to munch on. Another popular host plant is the lilac (Syringa spp.), known for its fragrant and colorful flowers.

Crataegus or hawthorns, are another group of host plants that the Waved Sphinx Moth caterpillars feed on. These trees and shrubs are characterized by their attractive flowers, appealing fruits, and thorny branches. Quercus, commonly known as oaks, also serve as host plants for Waved Sphinx Moths. They are large, long-lived trees that provide a suitable habitat for the caterpillars to grow and thrive.

Ligustrum, also called privet, is a genus of shrub that is frequently used as a host plant for Waved Sphinx Moth caterpillars. These plants are known for their dense, evergreen foliage and appealing clusters of white flowers. Lastly, Paratrea plebeja, or the Plebeian Sphinx Moth, is another species from the sphinx moth family that shares some host plants with the Waved Sphinx Moth.

By providing a range of host plants, you can increase the chances of attracting Waved Sphinx Moths to your garden. However, remember that different moth species have varying preferences for host plants, so it’s essential to offer a diverse selection to cater to their needs.

Related Species

The Waved Sphinx Moth belongs to the family Sphingidae, which includes a variety of fascinating species. One notable relative is the White-lined Sphinx Moth, also known as the hummingbird moth.

This species is famous for its hovering behavior and shares several features with the Waved Sphinx Moth, including:

  • Belonging to the Animalia kingdom
  • Classified under the phylum Arthropoda
  • Part of the class Insecta
  • Members of the order Lepidoptera

Both species share an impressive ability to hover near flowers, using their long proboscis to feed on nectar. The common moth, another relative, significantly differs in appearance and patterns. One common aspect across these species is the presence of hornworms during the caterpillar stage and a larval diet that often includes Chionanthus leaves.

Comparison Table:

Feature Waved Sphinx Moth White-lined Sphinx Moth Common Moth
Kingdom Animalia Animalia Animalia
Phylum Arthropoda Arthropoda Arthropoda
Class Insecta Insecta Insecta
Order Lepidoptera Lepidoptera Lepidoptera
Hovering Behavior Yes Yes No
Patterns Wavy Lines White Lines Varies
Caterpillar Stage Hornworm Hornworm Varies
Feeding on Chionanthus leaves Yes Yes Varies

In conclusion, the Waved Sphinx Moth, White-lined Sphinx Moth, and Common Moth are all part of the diverse and fascinating world of moths. Each species has its unique patterns, behaviors, and characteristics, contributing to the biodiversity of the Lepidoptera order.

Identification Guide

When you’re trying to identify a Waved Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia undulosa), it’s helpful to know the distinct features of its appearance. To make this process easier, let’s break down the key features of this moth:

  • The forewing of a Waved Sphinx Moth is generally pale gray to yellowish-brown in color.
  • It has a unique white reniform spot on its forewing that sets it apart from other species.
  • A series of dark wavy lines can be found crossing the entire wing.

Now, here’s a comparison of the Waved Sphinx Moth with a related species, the Rustic Sphinx Moth (Manduca rustica):

Feature Waved Sphinx Moth Rustic Sphinx Moth
Forewing Color Pale gray to yellowish-brown Gray-brown
White Reniform Spot Present on forewing Absent
Dark Wavy Lines on Wings Completely crossing wing Partially crossing wing
Black Basal Dash on Forewing Absent Present

Remember to also pay attention to the hindwing of the Waved Sphinx Moth, as it has its own defining traits:

  • The hindwing is brownish-gray in color.
  • Three darker lines cross the hindwing.
  • It features a combination of white and dark markings.

By using this guide, you should be able to successfully identify a Waved Sphinx Moth and differentiate it from similar moth species. Don’t forget to enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of these fascinating insects. Happy moth spotting!


  1. Hawk Moths or Sphinx Moths – US Forest Service

  2. Sphinx Moths (Hawk Moths) | Missouri Department of Conservation

  3. Sphinx moths. Managing Pests in Gardens: Fruit: Invertebrates: sphinx moths – UCANR

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 – Waved Sphinx


Colorado Moth
Location:  Denver, Colorado
September 4, 2010 12:49 pm
I found this moth in Denver, Colorado in July. It seems to resemble the dagger moth and the underwing moth but the secondary wings look just like the ones on top. Moth measures 2 inches. Any help is appreciated.
Signature:  Colorado moth lover

Waved Sphinx

Dear Colorado Moth Lover,
We believe this is a Waved Sphinx,
Ceratomia undulosa, based on photos and information posted to Bill Oehlke’s excellent website, however there are several other similar looking species found in Colorado.  We are going to copy Bill Oehlke with our reply so that he can incorporate your sighting into the comprehensive database he oversees, and perhaps he will be able to confirm our identification.

Hugely helpful!!  Thank you so much!!
Julie Groves

Bill Oehlke Confirms Identification
Denver, Colorado Sphingidae is Ceratomia undulosa.
Bill Oehlke

Letter 2 – Tobacco Sphinx and Waved Sphinx


Sphinx, methinks
Thanks for confirming my Cecropia silkmoth yesterday. It’s by far the most impressive moth I’d ever seen. Today, I have a couple of new ones (my wife Carol seems to have a knack for spotting unusual insects and bugs in her garden). Based on a photo from your site, I think the first is a tobacco sphinx moth. It’s about 3.5 inches from wingtip to wingtip as shown (I estimate 4 – 5 inches if fully extended). I believe that the second is also a variety of sphinx moth, but I wasn’t able to find a match on your site. As shown, it’s about 2 inches wingtip to wingtip (estimate 3 – 3.5 extended). The abdomen is a mottled gray above with no distinctive markings. The underside is a lighter gray with a series of dark spots of varying sizes along the midline. I was unable to get the moth to show me its hind wings without it fluttering around out of control. My family and I would appreciate an ID if you can. Many thanks, and a great site.
Union Bridge, MD

Tobacco Sphinx Waved Sphinx

Hi again Larry,
You are absolutely correct on the Tobacco Sphinx or Tomato Hornworm, Manduca sexta. That is a Grapevine Beetle lurking in the background. Your second Sphinx we believe to be the Waved Sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa. We located it on this Moths of North America site. It feeds on ash, oak and hawthorn and other trees.

Thanks for your reply and the link to the super NPWRC site. I noted that their site doesn’t list any confirmed sightings in my county for any of the moths you helped me identify, so I’m forwarding my photos to them as well.
Thanks again.

Letter 3 – Waved Sphinx


Large moth
August 7, 2009
I saw this big moth clinging to a cedar tree in my yard last June. It was about 4 inches long.
Phil Norton

Waved Sphinx
Waved Sphinx

Hi PHil,
This is a Waved Sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa.  You may read about it on Bill Oehlke’s wonderful website.

Letter 4 – Waved Sphinxes in Pennsylvania


Sphinx Moths meet Hello Kitty
Location: Southeastern Pennsylvania
July 26, 2011 4:32 pm
Dear Bugman,
Late the other night (7/21/2011), here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, I was delighted to find four Sphinx Moths flying around my floodlight. My question is: Are they Manduca sexta (Carolina Sphinx) or Manduca quinquemaculata (Five-spotted Hawkmoth)? I just can’t tell! I sure did enjoy getting up close and personal with them, though–it was hard getting them off of me! I think they like Hello Kitty! Thanks so much for your help!
Signature: Diane Cameron, insect enthusiast

Waved Sphinxes

Hi Diane,
Your confusion over the identity of these Sphinx Moths is understandable.  They are actually very pale Waved Sphinxes,
Ceratomia undulosa, and they are in the same tribe, Sphingini, as the Carolina Sphinx and the Five Spotted Hawkmoth.  Our favorite way to identify Sphinx Moths is to begin with the Sphingidae of the United States website, and then go to the state listing for Pennsylvania, and then click through the possibilities until we find a match.  That is where we found the Waved Sphinx which is part of the Sphingidae of the Americas website.

Letter 5 – Waved Sphinx from Canada


Subject: Is this beauty hawk moth and why do they shake their wings?
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
June 11, 2014 9:16 am
Hi guys. I’ve previously found a blinded sphinx hawk moth in the same area where just today I saw this unassuming beauty. It was sleeping? When I brushed up against it by accident with my lens, it fell into my hands, started walking on my arm,and then it’s wings shook like it was trying to fly, but couldn’t. Was it cold, and needing to warm up to flee the scene – or was it a warning? It looked in perfect health. I put it gently back on the wall, and it continued its wing shaking. Thank you kindly in advance.
Signature: Maggie M.

Waved Sphinx
Waved Sphinx

Dear Maggie,
We believe we have correctly identified your Hawkmoth as a Waved Sphinx,
Ceratomia undulosa, thanks to images posted to the Sphingidae of the Americas website.  We have observed the behavior you describe, though we cannot provide a definitive answer regarding why moths flutter. 

Thank you so much for the quick reply.  You guys rock. 🙂

Letter 6 – Waved Sphinx from Canada


Subject: Moth
Location: Winnipeg, canada
July 6, 2016 12:05 pm
Signature: Chris

Waved Sphinx
Waved Sphinx

Hi Chris,
Your moth is a Waved Sphinx.

Letter 7 – Waved Sphinx


Subject: Large moth
Location: Saskatoon, sk
July 6, 2016 8:09 pm
This guy fell out of our tree in our yard, he was not alive when i seen him fall and because he is so large from other moths in our area I am curious to find out what kind he is.
Signature: Cara

Waved Sphinx
Waved Sphinx

Dear Cara,
This appears to us to be a Waved Sphinx.  You may read more about the Waved Sphinx on the Sphingidae of the Americas site.

Letter 8 – Waved Sphinx, we believe


Subject:  What’s that Moth?
Geographic location of the bug:  Northern Indiana
Date: 08/11/2019
Time: 09:36 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Can you tell me what this moth is? We have looked around at many options but can’t quite place it. Might be a Catalpa or a Northern Pine?
How you want your letter signed:  Joshua

Waved Sphinx

Dear Joshua,
We actually believe this is a Waved Sphinx,
Ceratomia undulosa, which is in the same genus as the Catalpa Sphinx.  See images on Sphingidae of the Americas.  We will attempt to contact Bill Oehlke for confirmation.

Waved Sphinx

Thank you for such a quick response! We were definitely curious and several of us were searching the web for photos to identify. Thanks for the link to the specific page as well!

Letter 9 – Waved Sphinx Caterpillar


large green and purple caterpillar
Location:  Southern Utah
September 29, 2010 4:18 pm
We found this caterpillar in the garage in southern utah in September. Its green and purple banded with a green tail.
Signature:  Crystal

Waved Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Crystal,
According to Bill Oehlke’s website Sphingidae of the Americas, the caterpillar of the Waved Sphinx,
Ceratomia undulosa, changes color:  “Just prior to pupation, larvae frequently take on a rosy hue.”  Sphinx Moth caterpillars are often called Hornworms because of the prominent caudal horn found on the caterpillar of many species, including the Waved Sphinx.

Letter 10 – Waved Sphinx Caterpillar


Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Oneida, WI
August 18, 2014 6:52 pm
I found this caterpillar on my back porch after a rain storm on 8-18-14 in Oneida , WI. From what I can see from photos online I think it might be a waved sphinx but wanted your opinion.
Thank You,
Linda Stevens
Signature: Linda

Waved Sphinx Caterpillar
Waved Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi Linda,
Based on the images posted to the Sphingidae of the Americas website, we agree that this is a Waved Sphinx Caterpillar,
Ceratomia undulosa.


  • 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.

5 thoughts on “Waved Sphinx Moth: Quick Facts for Curious Minds”

  1. Hiya

    Moths vibrate their wings to warm up their muscles to the temperature at which they can begin to fly, so you’ll see them doing this when it’s a cold day or they’ve been inactive for a while.

  2. Hiya

    Moths vibrate their wings to warm up their muscles to the temperature at which they can begin to fly, so you’ll see them doing this when it’s a cold day or they’ve been inactive for a while.

  3. I am in Southern Utah also and irronically just found the same horn worm/Sphinx in my garage. It is predominately green with ligher strips decending from the top of it back down its sides sloping towards the tail. 3.5 inches long and very thick and strong. Perhaps someone can tell me where to put it so it can best evolve. it would be great to monitor and experience the change.


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