Sphingidae (sphinx moths)
Adult sphinx moths have protruding heads, large eyes, a large “furry” thorax, and a conical abdomen that extends well beyond the hindwings when the moth flies. This species, the white-lined sphinx, has the top of the long forewing dark olive brown with a narrow tan band running from the base of the wing to the tip and with light tan streaks along the veins.
Larvae vary; they range from bright yellow-green to bluish-black with rows of whitish to yellow spots or dots and veinlike tracings. The caudal horn, which looks something like a tail, is yellowish green or black.
Similar species: More than 50 species of sphinx moths live in Missouri, all with the distinctive body shape, but none with the same pattern of lines on the wings as in this species.
Wingspan: 2½–3½ inches.
Seen in woodlands, fields, gardens, and suburbs. The adults often fly during daylight hours as well as in the night and are often found at lights. Because this moth can hover and visits flowers, many people mistake it for a hummingbird.
Larvae feed on a great variety of herbaceous plants, of which purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is probably the favorite in Missouri. The adults visit a great variety of flowers, including honeysuckle, columbine, moonvine, lilac, jimsonweed, larkspur, and petunia.
Common to abundant, widely distributed, resident species.
Adults fly from early April into November. Larvae burrow underground in order to metamorphose into adults.
In the Southwest, where this species sometimes swarms, at least one American Indian tribe used the larvae as a food source.
The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on vegetation. The adults serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for predators.
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.