Sphingidae (sphinx moths)
Adult sphinx moths tend to be large, heavy-bodied moths with a long, pointed abdomen. The Virginia creeper sphinx moth has the top of the forewing with broad bands of dark brown, tan, gray, or olive green. Also note a dark dot positioned approximately in the middle of the forewing. The hindwings are orange or rusty; they are often covered by the folded forewings.
Larvae are “hornworms,” with a pointed taillike “horn” at the end. Young caterpillars are slender and yellowish with a seemingly large horn. Mature larvae are green, pink, tan, or brown, with 7 pairs of slanted lines on the sides; on each side, these merge into a wide line near the back. The body is swollen at the first abdominal segment (a little way back from the head).
Nearly sixty species of sphinx moths have been recorded from Missouri.
Wingspan: 1¾–2½ inches.
Common in woodlands and brushy areas. Consistently found at lights and also seen feeding on nectar from flowers.
Larvae feed on the foliage of grape vines, Virginia creeper, viburnums, raccoon grapes, and related plants. Adults hover around flowers drinking nectar in a manner reminiscent of hummingbirds.
Common resident species.
Adults fly from mid-April into September. A multibrooded species in Missouri. Eggs are laid in small numbers on the undersides of host-plant leaves. Cocoons are made of silk and dried leaves, and pupation takes place in soil or leaf litter.
The caterpillars can be a pest on vineyards. Sphinx moths are named for their caterpillars’ habit of resting, motionless, in a reared-back, head-up position. Long ago, this posture must have reminded people of the sphinxes of Egyptian mythology, such as the monumental Great Sphinx in Giza.
The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on vegetation. The adults serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for predators. Caterpillars of many sphinx moths are commonly parasitized by wasps, which lay eggs directly on the caterpillars.
Butterflies, skippers, and moths belong to an insect order called the Lepidoptera — the "scale-winged" insects. These living jewels have tiny, overlapping scales that cover their wings like shingles. The scales, whether muted or colorful, seem dusty if they rub off on your fingers. Many butterflies and moths are associated with particular types of food plants, which their caterpillars must eat in order to survive.