White-Lined Sphinx

Hyles lineata


White-Lined Sphinx Moth
The white-lined sphinx moth sometimes confuses people because it flies, hovers, and eats from flowers like a hummingbird.
Donna Brunet

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.


Image of a white-lined sphinx larva
White-Lined Sphinx Caterpillar
The caterpillars of sphinx moths usually have pointed tail-like appendages, which is why they're often called hornworms.


A white-lined sphinx moth sips nectar from a purple locoweed flower
White-Lined Sphinx Visits Locoweed
A white-lined sphinx moth visiting a locoweed bloom at Star School Prairie.
Habitat and conservation

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.

image of White-Lined Sphinx
Distribution in Missouri



Common to abundant, widely distributed, resident species.

Life cycle

Adults fly from early April into November. Larvae burrow underground in order to metamorphose into adults.

Human connections

In the Southwest, where this species sometimes swarms, at least one American Indian tribe used the larvae as a food source.

Ecosystem connections

The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on vegetation. The adults serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for predators.