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!