Sunday, May 27, 2012

White Lined Sphinx Moth

The larkspur has been blooming for almost a full month now.  Luckily I can see most of them from the kitchen table, so for the last week or so, I've been entertained by several white lined sphinx moths (Hyles lineata) feeding at them almost nonstop;  I've seen as many as 3 feeding at one time.  Unlike the hummingbirds coming in to the bottle feeders hanging nearby, the sphinx moths don't seem to mind sharing the largesse with others of their kind.  Their large size and habit of hovering in front of the flower to feed even have me checking twice occasionally to see whether it's a sphinx moth or a hummingbird that I'm seeing.  They definitely earn their alternate common name, hummingbird moths.


Yesterday, while Greg was being productive in the gardens, I took the camera outside and tried to catch a little bit of the feeding action.  There was only one sphinx moth feeding, but it certainly didn't seem bothered by my presence.  Having only recently discovered the sequence function on my camera, I took a couple series of shots.  This left me with a plenitude of photos.  Luckily, quite a few of those were reasonably decent, so I thought I'd share a couple of the more interesting ones....

In this shot, my moth seems to be imitating an owl.  Take a look at that impressive eye and stern expression!


There is something about this photo, taken head on, that amazes me.  Look at how heavy that moth body is! How can those relatively small wings keep it aloft...and maneuver so adroitly?  And look at how far above the flower the moth hovers - that proboscis looks like a boom being lowered during an Air Force refueling operation!


In this shot it became suddenly obvious to me that butterfly and moth wings are damaged by other things besides birds chasing them.  Look at how the left wing is folded forward by the branch, even during the middle of precise hovering.


And I love both the bright eye and the partially uncurled proboscis in this view....


Last of all, look at how damaged that left wing is!  It is amazing to me that this moth can do the intricate maneuvering it does while missing such a large portion of what already seem to be very small wings in proportion to its body.  It's truly amazing.  (I didn't realize this moth's wing was so damaged until I started looking at the photos last night.)


The good news about these pretty moths is that, although related to tobacco and tomato hornworms, white lined sphinx moths rarely cause problems even as caterpillars.  They eat a wide variety of foliage, including quite a few weeds, plants ranging from evening primrose to grape, purslane to four o'clocks, elm to apple.  When you factor in their role as pollinators, I definitely think the scale balances in their favor.

Keep your eyes open this summer - white lined sphinx moths fly through early fall and are relatively common.  They nectar at a wide range of flowers; I've photographed them later in the summer on summer phlox, but I've seen them at many flowers throughout most of the growing season.  Best of all, it's not unusual to see white lined sphinx moths feeding during the day (like mine on larkspur), so night photography isn't necessary.  Here's hoping that at least a couple of these beauties come visit your gardens one of these days soon!

12 comments:

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

We have Sphinx Moths here and I love watching them.
thanks for visiting my blog, look forward to reading more of your posts and getting to know you too.
My sister (also married an Army officer) lives in Kansas. :-)

Gaia Gardener: said...

It's a small world, Janet! Thanks for stopping by.

greggo said...

yes, they are amazing. I had two on the same garden plant the other night. Black and blue salvia.

Gaia Gardener: said...

I've put in 3 Black & Blues, but they are young yet and just starting to put on a few buds. Truthfully, I probably ought to pinch those back to bush the plants out...but I'm not sure I will!

Rebecca said...

I'm a "blue flower" person so I'm looking past the moth to the salvia.

Thanks for helping me with the plant name. I'm pretty sure that's right.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Rebecca, the flowers in the post are actually (annual) larkspur. But if you don't have Black & Blue salvia and you love blue flowers, I'd sure try to find some! Thanks for stopping by!

Melanie said...

For some reason, these moths look different than hummingbird moths I have seen in the past. .wondering if there is more than one variety. I have had a number of them on my larkspur as well as the fragrant honeysuckle. In the past, I first noticed them in my garden when I had a patch of four o'clocks. Now, when I see them go by on the fly, I catch myself wondering. .was that a hummer?? or just another moth :-)

NellJean said...

Great capture on the moth! I'm hoping not to see many so there will be fewer caterpillars on my Daturas and tomatoes.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and the kind words about my patchwork greenhouse floor.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, hummingbird moth can be used for an entire family of moths that are also known as sphinx moths or hawk moths. All of them are strong flyers and I'm pretty sure that all hover in front of the flowers they feed on. I learned recently that they are called sphinx moths (and caterpillars) because of the defensive posture that the caterpillar takes, rearing the front end of its body up so that it looks rather like a sphinx!

Gaia Gardener: said...

NellJean, Thank you for stopping by! I suspect the caterpillars on your tomatoes are tomato or tobacco hornworms, a related species. Another sphinx moth, but with different wing and body patterns as an adult moth.

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

What great shots! That continuous shooting option on a camera is great but boy can one fill a card fast. Ha! I need to remember to use it to take photos of the hawk moths too. We enjoy watching them feed on our flowers as well.
Do you only have purple larkspur? I laughed at your comment on my tour photo about the pink and white ones because I pulled out the pink ones in the front garden since everything there is purple, white and yellow. I just let them do whatever in the back.
You have been busy. I'm getting around to all the blogs a little at a time.

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, Yes, I have mainly purple larkspur. I got the seed from my mother - it's primarily purple with some pink mixed in. I've been pulling the pink some years (LOL!) to maximize the purple because that's the color I crave in my garden, especially in the spring!