Lakeside Nature Center

Critter Corner - Sphinx Moth
(Hyles lineata)


Sphinx moths are also known as hawk moths.  They are often mistaken for hummingbirds because of their rapid wing movement and habit of hovering in front of flowers while feeding. 


Like all butterflies and moths, the sphinx moth is a caterpillar before it becomes an adult moth.  As a caterpillar, it feasts on plants, especially Virginia creeper and grape leaves.  As an adult, it hovers in front of flowers and uses its long tongue, or proboscis, to sip the nectar.  The sphinx moth proboscis, which is like a hollow tube, rolls up when it is not in use.


Mother sphinx moth lays several eggs near a food source, like Virginia creeper.  A caterpillar (larval stage) emerges in a few days and begins eating.  Over several weeks, the caterpillar sheds its skin five times, each time growing larger.  It then crawls to the ground and digs in a few inches.  The larva pupates in the ground.  There it passes the winter and emerges as an adult moth the next spring.


The sphinx moth may be found in woodlands in parts of North America, including Missouri.  It is most active at dusk as it visits flowers.  The adult moth is most commonly found from mid-May through September.


As a caterpillar, it can pull its head into its body.  As an adult, the sphinx moth is a rapid flier, clocked at speeds as high as 30 miles an hour.  The coloration and patterns on the body and wings are fantastic camouflage.


  • The caterpillar often rests with the head and thorax reared up in a sphinx-like position -- thus the nickname.

  • About 800 species of sphinx moths are found around the world.  Each has distinctive markings.

(Photo credits: Portrait, Missouri Department of Conservation; Moth in Hydrangea, Gene McDaniel in Missouri Wildlife photos on Missouri Wildlife page; Caterpillar and moth in monarda, FNAL (Fermi Lab) )

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