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White-Lined Sphinx Moth

July 28, 2014

By Matt Marine

The Sphinx Moth is sometimes called the Hummingbird moth (or Hawk moth) due to its size and rapid wing movement and people often mistake them for hummingbirds.

The Sphinx Moth lives throughout the southwest desert regions and is common in southern Arizona. They are usually seen in the summer months, especially after a good rain. The adult moths feed on nectar and can be seen hovering over flowers (another reason they are mistaken for hummingbirds.) while they collect the sweet, sugary nectar. They use this food source since the rapid beating of their wings requires a great deal of energy.

Adult moths emerge from their underground hiding places and try to mate right away (nothing like a great start to your adult life). The moths can be seen from dusk to dawn feeding on flowers. Females lay a huge clutch of eggs on the underside of plants. The eggs hatch within a few days. Males and female moths die shortly after their part of the mating is finished (bummer).

Larvae (caterpillars) can grow to be five inches long and come in a wide variety of colors, from solid green, to yellow , to yellow and black. Some have stripes, while others can be mostly solid in color. Most have a large horn at the rear of their fleshy body. When alarmed, they rear up their heads in a threatening sphinx-like posture and can spit up green substance from their mouths.

The moths are one of the largest flying insects of the southwestern desert and can have wingspans over five inches long! They are typically brown with white and tan stripes. Their feeding tubes (proboscis) can be over 10 inches long. When beating their wings, they can also sound like a hummingbird

Rumor has it that concentrations of larvae (caterpillars) can be so dense that they have closed roads - the roads can become slick with the crushed slime from car tires squishing them.

Personal Experiences with the Sphinx Moth

In our old house, we used to have a couple of flower beds in the back yard in which these moths would come to feed. Our Maine Coon cat would head out at night to catch them. That's not so bad, except that he would then bring them in through the pet door and release it into the house.

If you didn't read the above description, these suckers can be big (hummingbird sized). Now we had a small bird sized moth flying around inside the house with a 25 pound Maine Coon trying to catch them.

The house had 17 foot ceilings and the moth would fly up as high as he could to escape the cat. I would have to get the ladder and try to catch the guy. After the first few times, our catch and release program started getting old. Especially since he would catch up to five a night. But the biggest problem would be when he would catch them when we were sleeping and release them after coming onto our bed.

Even though I'm not afraid of insects, imagine waking up in the dark to a loud thumping of wings as the moth flew by your face, only to be following milliseconds later by a large furry cat bounding after it. Needless to say, I think this cost me a few years of my life. We started locking the cat inside at night during "moth season".

We also had one house sitter who had this unfortunate experience while she was house sitting for us. She was terrified of these big guys. And, no, she never sat for us again.

My youngest daughter and I recently found thousands of the larvae crossing a side road near our house. I brought out my camera at dusk and tried to take pictures of them. They were moving fast (I have never seen caterpillars move so quickly - maybe they knew they were on a road). We tried to pick a few up from the road and move them to safety, but were met by opposition. .

When we got near them, they would rear up in an aggressive manner like a snake trying to strike. When we grabbed them (as gently as possible), they puked up a thick green substance on our hands. One even bit my finger. If you're not ready for this, it can come as a great surprise (like it was for us). I don't think I've ever been bitten by a caterpillar before. It didn't hurt, more like a pinch, but it surprised the heck out of me and a few choice words flew out of my mouth. I thought my daughter was going to pass out from laughing so hard. That was until I tried to wipe the green caterpillar vomit on her!

Below are some pictures from our latest encounter with these awesome creatures.

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Photos of the White-lined Sphinx Moth in Larvae Form (Caterpillar)