Hawk moths, Carolina sphinx and five spotted sphinx

Carolina sphinx. Photographer: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Creative Commons License

There are a number of hawk moths or sphinx moths that visit flowers, mostly at night. Some of them are truly spectacular and it is a real treat to see them visiting your morning glories or moonflowers, coming back to your garden on subsequent days again and again. The Carolina sphinx can have a wing span as big as 5”. It hides during the day. Its colors blend well with the bark of trees. And it flies at dawn or dusk, visiting flowers which are generally large, white or cream colored, with a trumpet or tubular shape and with a strong scent. It has a very long tongue that can reach the nectar hidden inside this kind of flowers. The five spotted sphinx is very similar but it has five golden spots on its abdomen, instead of six. The lines on the wings are not as pronounced and are not separated by white lines as those of the Carolina sphinx. The five spotted is even a little larger, with a wingspan of up to 5 ½”. They both visit the same kinds of flowers and have a similar schedule.

Five spotted sphinx. Photographer: Shawn Hanrahan. Creative Commons License

Another name for these moths is tobacco and tomato hornworms, referring to the horn at the rear end of the caterpillars and to the fact that they feed on the mentioned plants. They can be as thick and long as your small finger. They are green and hide very well in the foliage. They are hated by gardeners and farmers because they can cause serious damage to the mentioned plants as well as potatoes and other related ones.

Habitat. Gardens, dawn or dusk. Most of the United States, but primarily the East.

Season. May to October.

Flowers. Morning glory, moonflower, petunia, Datura, four-o-clock.

Hornworm: friend of foe

Back to guide

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

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