Nature Notes – The White-lined Sphinx Moth

By Jim Gilbert

I get many questions from people concerning a hummingbird-like animal that hovers in front of hosta, petunia and other flowers, and extends a straw-like tube into them.
In most cases it’s the white-lined sphinx moth, the most common of the sphinx moths that people are seeing. They can be observed in the evening well after sunset but also are active in bright sunlight. This wonder of nature is found in areas from southern Canada to Central America.
Sphinx moths, hummingbird moths, hawk moths and hornworms are all names for the same family of moths.
These moths have spindle-shaped bodies that are large enough to accommodate the powerful wing muscles, and each is important as a pollinator with its long proboscis. The white-lined sphinx has a wingspread of about three inches, the forewings are long, narrow and pointed, and the hind wings are relatively small.
The moth is brown with white lines on head, thorax and wings, and a rosy-colored band across the middle of each hind wing.
Carl Linnaeus, the famous eighteenth century Swedish biologist, gave the name sphinx to this family of moths because of the habit their caterpillars have of resting, or sometimes threatening, with their heads drawn in and the front segments of their bodies elevated in a way to resemble and Egyptian sphinx.
Another interesting name for this group of insects is hornworm, which refers to the thick-bodied caterpillars that have a conspicuous horn or spine-like protuberance on the rear of their bodies.
White-lined sphinx caterpillars are generally recognized by their green bodies with yellow spots. They are leaf eaters, consuming leaves of many broad-leaved plants.

What’s happening outdoors now?
The first Honeycrisp, our official state apple since 2006, and McIntosh apples are ripe.
Crocus and daffodil bulbs can be planted for bloom next spring. Chrysanthemums of many varieties have begun blooming and telling us that summer is sliding into autumn. Dahlias and garden roses have very showy flowers. Black walnuts have been dropping in numbers.
Between now and the end of the month, sumac shrubs are truly in their autumn splendor, displaying much red, in many tones, and some yellows. Gray squirrels are making leafy nests.
The velvet on white-tailed deer antlers has disappeared. Some ruby-throated hummingbirds are still here; most leave the southern part of the state by Sept. 25. Be sure to keep the sugar water feeders up until all have left which could be into October.

On Sept. 19 a year ago
We had a partly cloudy day with a low of 56 and a high of 76 degrees F. Drought conditions persisted.
Tomato, pepper and squash plants were doing fine in the gardens. Sweet corn was still being picked. The grape harvest was nearly complete. Farmers worked to finish harvesting their fifth crop of alfalfa, and were chopping corn.
Poison ivy shrubs had leaves showing much red and yellow fall colors. Waves of yellow-rumped warblers continued to migrate through our yards. Honey bees gathered much nectar from blooming wild asters. Last year the first frost came on Sept. 23.

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