Carolina Sphinx Moth

 (Manduca sexta)

This content is contributed by Des from Florida, USA.

I'm a biologist.  I became interested in moths and butterflies after working in the butterfly garden at MOSI for four years.  I learned about the different types of plants to attract butterflies and host plants for caterpillars.  I worked in the nursery raising the caterpillars.  We would take cuttings of the host plant and stick them through the holes of the lid of a yogurt cup filled with water.  Then we'd put the caterpillars on top and set them in a ten gallon tank.  When they would pupate we'd put them in separate clear boxes so the public could watch the change. We'd then release the butterflies into the display once they had emerged.

Pentas were one of the nectar plants we had outside and one day I found a huge green caterpillar on one. I knew it was a moth of some type but wasn't sure what.  Since we didn't raise moths I took it home in a box to raise myself.  I fed him out on Penta leaves and when he became an adult I learned he was a beautiful Tersa Sphinx.  I'd read about these moths but never seen one.  The Sphinx and Hawk Moths look like hummingbirds.  I love hummingbirds as well but had never been able to attract any to my yard.  I figured attracting the moths might be easier and I became interested in them.  These moths are now my favorites.

The species I'm holding in my hand is a Carolina Sphinx.  One funny thing that happens when they feed from the feeder is that they drink and drink for a very long time.  They don't get this much nectar from flowers.  They fill up so much that they fly around drunkenly and have to land to sleep for the night. It's at this stage that they can be picked up. It's funny to watch them struggle to stay on the feeder then slowly hover to a branch to rest. 

The picture of the one with the long proboscis (tongue or feeding tube) is a Pink Spotted Sphinx.  These are the shiest and hardest to coax onto the feeders.  So I really enjoy feeding the adults and raising the caterpillars. 

Manduca sexta

When I started gardening in 2004 I got a big caterpillar on my tomato plants.  I knew right away it was a hornworm of some sort.  I've always read that these are bad pests but I knew that from what I'd learned about raising caterpillars they didn't have to be pests for me.  I knew something beautiful would come from that big green caterpillar. Although I find the caterpillars to be big soft and cute.  So I took him inside and set up a tank for him. Whenever I found one I'd take it in and take clippings from the leaves of the tomatoes, not the branches that produced fruits.  I always had plenty to go around for the caterpillars and still got my tomatoes at harvest time.  Once the moths emerged I'd let them go at dusk in the backyard.

Manduca sexta

After moving into my first house I was thrilled to find that the previous owner planted with hummingbirds in mind.  Not only did I finally have my  beloved hummingbirds but he'd left the plants called Four 'O Clocks.  These open in the evening, have a wonderful fragrance and stay open all night.  Perfect for the sphinx moths that are attracted by scent more than by sight.  I had a hummingbird feeder and thought that if I put the Four O'clock flowers in the feeding ports I could get the moths to feed from my hand.  After much coaxing I finally got one to come on.  It takes patience but it can be done and is a lot of fun to do.  All the species that I have identified in my backyard here in Florida are:

Carolina Sphinx, Banded Sphinx, Guady Sphinx, Tersa Sphinx, Rustic Sphinx, and Pink Spotted Sphinx
So now I have moths that look like hummingbirds
and also real hummingbirds. 
I'm quite happy.


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