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Family Sphingidae - Sphinx Moths

Hummingbird moth? - Hemaris diffinis Snowberry Clearwing - Hemaris diffinis wild cherry sphinx moth caterpillar - Sphinx drupiferarum Titan sphinx moth - Aellopos titan Pink-spotted hawkmoth - Agrius cingulata Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa - Ceratomia undulosa Which of the Clearwing Moths ? - Xylophanes tersa Paonias excaecata ? - Paonias excaecata
Show images of: caterpillars · adults · both
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Bombycoidea (Silkworm, Sphinx, and Royal Moths)
Family Sphingidae (Sphinx Moths)
Other Common Names
Hawk Moths (adults)
Hornworms (larvae)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Sphingidae Latreille, 1802
Explanation of Names
Sphingidae from the type genus Sphinx (Linnaeus), for "the fancied resemblance of the larva, when in repose, to the Egyptian Sphinx." (1)
Common name "Hornworm" due to the stiff pointy dorsal extension near the end of the abdomen of most larvae.
There are 124 described species found in America north of Mexico.(2)
Wingspan 28-175 mm.
Adult - medium to very large. Body very robust; abdomen usually tapering to a sharp point. Wings usually narrow; forewing sharp-pointed or with an irregular outer margin. No ocelli or tympanal organs. Proboscis usually well developed, extremely long in some species that feed in flowers with deep calyxes. Antennae gradually thicken along length, then become narrower toward tip.
Larva - naked except for a few scattered hairs. Most have a prominent dorsal horn at the tip of abdomen (thus the name, hornworms).
Throughout North America.
Year round in the south
Larvae feed both day and night on many kinds of woody and herbaceous plants.
Adults feed on nectar and some are important pollinators.
Life Cycle
Usually pupate in soil, though some form loose cocoons among leaf litter.
Some are active only at night, others at twilight or dawn, and some, such as the clearwings (e.g. genus Hemaris - not to be confused with the Clearwing family, Sesiidae) feed on flower nectar during the day.
Some larvae (hornworms) do serious damage to crop plants (e.g. tomato, tobacco, potato). Hornworms are often attacked by braconid wasp parasitoids.
The caudal horn is suggested to have originated by the fusion of especially strong bristles at the end of the abdomen. Its function is not clearly understood, yet. Carcasson (1968) believes that the horn has a sensory function and may help distract attacks away from the head like in the tails of butterfly wings.
Print References
Brou V.A., Jr. & C.D. Brou. 1997. Distribution and phenologies of Louisiana Sphingidae. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 51(2): 156-175.
Covell. C.V. 1984. Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Moths. Houghton Mifflin Company. (2)
Hodges, R.W. 1971. Moth of North America North of Mexico Fascicle 21.(3)
Kitching et al. 2018. A global checklist of the Bombycoidea (Insecta: Lepidoptera). Biodiversity Data Journal, 6: e22236. (4)
Selman, C.L. 1975. A Pictorial Key to the Hawkmoths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) of Eastern United States (except Florida). Ohio Biological Survey, Biological Notes No. 9., Columbus, OH. 31 pp. (5)
Rothschild, W. & K. Jordan. 1903. A Revision of the Lepidopterous Family Sphingidae. p. 1-972, pl. 1-67
Internet References
Moth Photographers Group - living photos of most North American species.
Sphingidae of the Americas - Bill Oehlke,
Sphingidae of the United States - subset of site above
Moths of Southeastern Arizona, Sphingidae - Bruce Walsh, U. of Arizona
Bombycoidea of Canada - J.T. Troubridge and J.D. Lafontaine (CBIF)
Moth Photographers Group - pinned plate of most North American species.
Terra Naturalist. Mimicry in Sphinx moths. Video
Works Cited
1.An accentuated list of the British Lepidoptera, with hints on the derivation of the names.
Anonymous. 1858. The Entomological Societies of Oxford and Cambridge.
2.Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Moths
Charles V. Covell. 1984. Houghton Mifflin Company.
3.The Moths of America North of Mexico Fascicle 21 Sphingidae
Ronald W. Hodges. 1971. The Wedge Entomological Research Foundation.
4.A global checklist of the Bombycoidea (Insecta: Lepidoptera)
Kitching, I., R. Rougerie, A. Zwick, C. Hamilton, R. St Laurent, S. Naumann, L. Ballesteros Mejia, A. Kawahara. 2018. Biodiversity Data Journal, 6: e22236.
5.A pictoral key to the hawkmoths of eastern United States (except Florida)
Charles L. Selman. 1975. Ohio Biological Survey, Columbus. 31 pp.