Bug of the Day: Riddle of the Sphinx (Moth)

Written by: Vilheim Piwowarek

Hornworms are a problem many who grow tomatoes will encounter. Many people loathe them for their habit of eating loads of plant material at a time (though¬†I don’t understand¬†how anyone can hate something so cute).

Tomato hornworm

The name Hornworm often refers to a large green caterpillar pest, named for a harmless “horn” at the end of their bodies. These caterpillars are not simply pests however, because their chubby, voracious caterpillar state is only temporary. These larvae are destined to transform into Sphinx Moths.

Five spotted hawk moth

Sphinx Moths are a family of moths (Sphingidae) that includes about 1,450 discovered species, including your average Tomato Hornworm. You may find Tomato Hornworms, the Five Spotted Sphinx Moth, on your plants, or perhaps the closely related Tobacco Hornworm, both species in the genus Manduca. Either way however, you are likely to encounter a number of other species, many of whom are not pests, all of whom are remarkable.

Sphinx moths are distinguished by their large size and whose fast flight makes them resemble hummingbirds. These moths are good pollinators, and some are even the sole pollinators for a plant species. They also have characteristically little feathering on their antennae, unlike many moths. Quite a few species are colorful, and some diurnal species mimic bees or hummingbirds. In the DOT Garden, and across New Mexico, White Lined Sphinxes are quite common. You may see one of these elegant moths sleeping on random surfaces, or hovering around flowers, feeding.


Written by Vilheim Piwowarek, resident entomologist of the DOT Garden. As an insect enthusiast and insectivore, he is very passionate about understanding insect roles in the Garden, alternative pest management, undercutting insect-related misconceptions, and staring at insects for hours at a time. He is starting his Senior year high school.

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