White-lined Sphinx Moth

The white-lined sphinx moth is a fascinating creature.  It’s a member of the moth family Sphingidae which has over 1400 species worldwide and 115 in North America.   The white-lined sphinx moth is widespread and abundant.  It can be found throughout Central America, the United States, and into southern Canada.  It’s a large moth having a 2-to-3-inch wingspan. It has a furry brown body with forewings that have a thick tan line that extends to the tip of the wing with thin white lines crossing the thicker line.   It has vertical white strips on its thorax and pink bands on its back wings which are visible only when it’s flying.   All members of the Sphingidae family are called sphinx moths for the resting pose of its caterpillar.  They are called hawk moths in reference to how fast they fly around.  And they are called hummingbird moths for their size and ability to hover while they feed.  They move their wings really fast – 41 times per second – to hover making a fluttering buzzing sound as they move. 

This moth is both nocturnal and diurnal.  White-lined sphinx moths have a keen sense of smell and excellent vision.  They have three spectral receptors that are sensitive to blue light, green light and ultraviolet light that enhance their visual acuity.  They feed on different flowers depending on the time of day.  During the day they choose brightly colored flowers to feed on while at night they choose white or pale-colored flowers which are easier to see in the dark.  They pollinate a large variety of wildflowers and garden plants, but they aren’t as efficient at moving pollen around as bees.  This is because they don’t land on the flowers as they drink nectar.  They aren’t collecting the flower’s pollen on their body, instead they pick up and carry pollen on their long proboscises or tongues from flower to flower.  As night pollinators they visit and pollinate flowers that daytime pollinators never visit – filling an important ecosystem role.

They do more for the ecosystem than pollinate plants. The moths are food for birds, bats, frogs, other insects, and many other critters.  Their caterpillars have a high nutritional value and are a prized food source.  Birds feed them to their young.  Even bears will hunt for and feed on these caterpillars.  The caterpillars have been, and in some places, still are gathered and roasted for eating by Native Americans with leftovers stored whole or ground up after being dried.

Unfortunately, these moths are drawn to bright lights at night. Moths drawn to light are not pollinating plants.  Under the light they will die due to increased predation or exhaustion before daylight.  Let’s help these amazing moths thrive by protecting dark skies so that they can continue to play their important role in the ecosystem.

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