My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Methinx it's a Sphinx!

Sounded a little like a combination of William Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss for a second there, didn't I? :-) 

I'm not talking about the Great Sphinx of Giza, but of a pair of White-lined Sphinx moths (Hyles lineata) who have been flitting and feeding amongst our beautiful blooming bee balm in the front flowerbed the past few evenings. The first evening we noticed them as we sat on our front porch enjoying the cool temps of twilight, we thought they were hummingbirds. They are about the same size as hummingbirds and feed in the same manner, and so are often called hummingbird moths. As it happens, there was also an actual hummingbird in the mix that first evening - which rather confused things for a bit! But he took off over our roof and hasn't been seen since. Apparently the moths have staked out the bee balm for themselves, at least when the sun goes down.

I took a bazillion photos, most of which were crap - these are the best of the bunch, and aren't as ideal as I'd have wanted (it was dusk, after all, and they do flit fast, the flighty little farts!), but they'll give you a good idea, I think…

Pretty sure the pair is a male (R) and female (L)

Most of my photos are of the male, he was the one feeding the most (surprise, surprise! lol) The Sphinx moths (there are about 1200 species, 60 in North America - our White-lined Sphinx being the most common) get their name from the sphinx-like rearing posture the Sphinx moth caterpillars assume when alarmed.

In addition to hovering like a hummingbird, they can swoop & dive like hawks - hence their other nickname, hawk moths. And they can fly 30 miles an hour! (See why getting good photos was such a challenge?!)

This photo of the female is really blurry, but I wanted you to see her curled proboscis (tongue). Sphinx moths are important pollinators that typically feed on flowers with abundant nectar at the base of elongated tubes (like orchids), and so possess a 10-11 inch proboscis. No other insect has such a feature. Interestingly, flowers that have evolved to attract hummingbirds usually have no scent (since hummingbirds can’t smell), while moth-pollinated flowers often emit a strong, sweet scent as the sun sets. 

In most of my photos, the moths' wings - which beat about 50 times a second - were an indistinct blur, so my favorites were these few that captured their colorful wings frozen in motion. I especially love the wing position in this one.

A day or two after I took those evening photos, I was burying chopped organic banana peel at the base of our rosebush (works like a charm as a rose fertilizer) when who should I catch snoozing inside the rose branches but one of our Sphinx moth friends! Repose in the roses by day, belly up to the bee balm bar by night - doesn't sound half bad! :-) 

Beyond Bones (blog of the Houston Museum of Natural Science): Sphinx Moths 
Silkmoths: Hyles lineata lineata
Butterflies and Moths of North America: Attributes of Hyles lineata
ButterflyZone: Moths with Longest Proboscis 

And finally, here's wishing my dear friend Joanne ("AdventureJo" in Interwebz Land) a very happy birthday on Monday! Jo and I have been friends for 32 years - longer than some of my blog readers have been alive! :-)

Happy birthday, Jo - you are indeed a ray of sunshine! Eternally youthful sunshine! :-)


  1. Oh my, oh my. The little things are huge in my world - and I loved seeing this stunner. Thank you. So much.

    1. Most people don't even notice "the little things," and they're missing out big-time! :-) Glad I could share these beautiful and interesting little guys with you - am betting you have some sphinx moth species of your own there in Aus!

  2. What beautiful moths and thank you for the information on them - most interesting.

    1. You're very welcome, jabblog, one of the things I love about blogging is all the things I learn from my own posts! :-)

  3. Somehow, I never think of moths as being beautiful. Butterflies are beautiful in my world. But then I've never seen such an exquisitely beautiful mothy creature.

    1. Totally understandable, most moths are understated little creatures we hardly see or notice. These guys are definitely the Grand Master Flashes of the moth world. :-)

  4. Beautiful moths! They're a very rare sight around here and you're so lucky to have seen AND photographed them!

    1. It's funny, ever since I took and posted these, we've not only been seeing our moth friends by day as well as by evening, but sightings have been reported in various locations around town, including among the hanging baskets of petunias on Main Street!

  5. Amazing photos! This moths are really beautiful!

    1. Thank you - they really are lovely critters, and fun to watch as they flit from flower to flower!

  6. We have these in our yard, I also thought they were hummingbirds the first time and then I was, "what the hell?" You are more ambitious then I am, looking up all that great information. I think the photos turned out great.

    1. I would think that your amazing yard would attract every kind of critter, so I'm not surprised that these are among your visitors. They really are tricksters, aren't they? I wonder what hummingbirds think when they see one! Your reported reaction to your first sighting made me laugh. :-) Btw, we did have another hummingbird visitor yesterday, but he didn't stop to feed - just hovered over the bee balm and catmint for a moment or two, and he was off to redder/pinker/purpler pastures!

      The first time we ever saw a sphinx moth was in Taos, NM and we were astounded. We thought it was the most exotic creature we'd ever seen! So imagine our surprise when one showed up among the flowers on our patio at our place in Big Horn the penultimate summer we lived there! We hadn't seen any since, till now!

    2. PS Thanks, I'm glad you thought the photos turned out so well - I had to trash so many of the ones I took, I was feeling like a failure!

  7. Awesome shots of the pretty moths.

  8. First of all my sincerest apologies for not making to your post yesterday to see my very punctual yet belatedly viewed birthday wish!! The work girls took me to lunch AND I left an hour early so there was no time for post viewing during the day and I was the recipient of multiple birthday calls all evening.
    It was a fun surprise. I was totally engrossed in learning about the Sphinx moth that I didn’t see that ending coming at all!! It was such a sweet sentiment! I wish I always brought sunshine wherever I went but I’m happy to have you think I do MOST of the time!!!  Thanks for your kind thoughts, not to mention the goodies that came in the mail last week, the pretty card I opened yesterday and the gift yet to arrive in the mail!!
    But now back to these amazing moths. I was really engrossed in learning about them. The link to the white lined sphinx had the video which helps explain why they are called hummingbird moths and why you thought they were hummingbirds at first. And that makes it all the more amazing that you were able to get such great shots of them! Even your “blurry” photo was awesome. They are absolutely gorgeous. I actually have two favorites. I really liked the one with the female sticking its tongue out. Incredible they can be 10” long!! I am so impressed you captured it on film! And my second favorite is the first photo since you captured both on the same shot making it easy to compare the differences between male and female.
    That was a really awesome and informational post and fun birthday surprise. Thanks!

    1. Well, it may be a day late but your wonderful comment was worth every minute of waiting! :-) I'm glad you enjoyed such a fun-filled birthday (and early departure!) :-) I can't wait to hear what goodie is (was? It feels like it's taken me forever to have time to respond to all the wonderful comments on this post) that you ordered! And yes, you are a true Leo and child of August - mostly sunny with the occasional severe but brief thunderstorm, followed by rainbows. LOL

      I'm really glad you enjoyed this post so much! I thought of Missy at times while I worked on it, thinking this sort of thing is (or was at one time) right up her alley! But I didn't realize you'd find it enthralling and I'm thrilled that you did! Thank you for your compliments about my photos, they were really a challenge, even for the Amazing Rebel! I always love when you tell me your favorite photos in a series like this - I wish the one of the female's proboscis had been clearer, but was happy to have captured that moment at all. They curl it when not feeding, and since those times were so brief - the time it took her to flit from one flower to the next - it was amazing that I caught it (completely by accident, mind you - I couldn't even see it till I downloaded the photos!) And it took several shots to get that one of them together, so again I was grateful to get that one - so glad they're your favorites! Now you'll have to keep your beady little eyes peeled for them there in your neck of the woods, and plant sweet-smelling flowers around Cranberry Lodge to attract them! :-)

  9. Excellent photos!! I am always enthralled when I get to see a Sphinx moth in action -- be it real or in great photos like yours. thanks for posting these -- loved them -- barbara

    1. Thank you, Barbara! I'm so glad you enjoyed them! They are indeed enthralling to see, I enjoyed seeing all the various photos of them as I looked up the info about them.


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  • INFERNO ~ Dan Brown
  • ONE SUMMER: AMERICA, 1927 ~ Bill Bryson
  • THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL ~ Daniel Stashower
  • THE SHADOWS, KITH AND KIN ~ Joe R. Lansdale
  • THE TIPPING POINT ~ Malcolm Gladwell
There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"