Carolina Sphinx Moth

At this time of the year I’m often watching butterflies more than birds, because it’s a kind of quiet and in-between time for birds. Today, on a very sunny, hot and humid first day of September, I was looking, but there seemed to be very few butterflies around our own yard or in the rest of the neighborhood. In a three-mile walk, I found only one Sleepy Orange, one Gulf Fritillary, several beautiful Tiger Swallowtails, a few Buckeyes, Fiery Skippers and Sootywings. 

When I got back home though, a very large, interesting moth was hovering over the yellow blooms in a big lantana bush, looking like a dark-brown version of a hummingbird moth. But its coloring was not the more colorful black and yellow, or red of the Snowberry Clearwing or Hummingbird Clearwing. This one was a Carolina Sphinx Moth, I believe.  

I watched it for several minutes as it moved through the lantana. It did not stop to rest and was never still. Looking very closely, I could see subtle dark patterns in the wings and bands around the body. And I watched its very long proboscis, delicate and curved as it went down to the blooms. 

Several species in the family of moths known as Sphinx or Hawk Moths (Sphingidae) are known for flying during the day and for their hummingbird-like behavior. From a distance they can easily be mistaken for hummingbirds as they drift from flower to flower, sipping nectar with their long mouthparts. The Carolina Sphinx Moth is very common. Its caterpillar is the tobacco or tomato hornworm, a large, bright green caterpillar, which we’ve sometimes found feeding on our tomato plants, though it has never seemed to do a great deal of damage – and it’s easily seen and removed.

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