Created/dedicated as per personal communication with Paul Johnson
Updated as per James P. Tuttle's The Hawk Moths of North America, September 3, 2008
Updated as per personal communication with Dave Gaban, April 14, 2013

San Benito County, California


Euproserpinus phaeton see note at bottom of page, San Benito County
Pinnacles National Monument, March 18, 2004, Paul Johnson; NPS photo

This page is dedicated to Paul Johnson (PJ) of San Benito, California. Paul has been recording Sphingidae sightings and has sent me images of and/or info about larvae and adult moths from this family.

Proserpinus clarkiae, Pinnacles National Monument, San Benito County, California,
nectaring at chia (Salvia columbariae), courtesy of Paul Johnson.

Thirty-two Sphingidae species are listed in the USGS for California. Not all of the species are reported by USGS (three species: Arctonotus lucidus, Proserpinus clarkiae and Hyles lineata) or anticipated in San Benito County.

It is hoped that this checklist, with the thumbnails and notes, will help you quickly identify the moths you have encountered.

A WO" after the species name indicates that I have no confirmed reports of this species in San Benito County, but I (William Oehlke) expect that this moth is present.

A USGS indicates the moth is reported on the USGS website and/or in Moths of Western North America, #2. Distribution of Sphingidae of Western North America, revised, an excellent little booklet available through Paul Opler.

Please help me develop this list with improved, documented accuracy by sending sightings (species, date, location), preferably with an image, via email to ill Oehlke.

Sphinginae subfamily

Sphingini tribe:

Agrius cingulata WO

This species has not been reported in San Benito County, but may be there as a very rare stray.

The moth is a very strong flier and is frequently encountered far north of its usual range.

Manduca quinquemaculatus WO, the Five-spotted Hawkmoth

This large bodied moth flies in tobacco fields and vegetable gardens (potatoes, tomatoes) and wherever host plants are found.

Manduca sexta WO/EB/PJ, the Carolina Sphinx

This species is now recorded in San Benito County.

If you grow tomatoes, you have probably encountered it.Larvae get very large and can strip a tomato plant.

Manduca sexta larvae on Datura wrightii, September 2, 2008,
courtesy of Eric Brunnemann, via Paul Johnson

Sphinx chersis WO, the Northern Ash Sphinx or Great Ash Sphinx

The upperside of the forewing is soft dark-gray to blue-gray with a series of black dashes, one reaching the wing tip. Note grey thorax with narrow black lines.

Sphinx perelegans PJ, the Elegant Sphinx

Sphinx perelegans adults fly in montane woodlands and mixed chaparral-type vegetation as a single brood in the north, with adults mainly on the wing in June and July.

It flies from dusk until after midnight. Note dark thorax.

Sphinx sequoiae WO, the Sequoiae Sphinx

This species is not recorded in San Benito County.
Adults fly as a single brood in the desert and in pinyon-juniper woodland from May to August.

Smerinthini Tribe:

Pachysphinx occidentalis PJ, the Big Poplar Sphinx

This one is quite similar to Pachysphinx modesta, with modesta being smaller and darker.

Moths should be on the wing from June-early September.

Pachysphinx occidentalis , Bitterwater-Tully School,
September 2, 2008, courtesy of Candace Brewen, via Paul Johnson.

Smerinthus cerisyi PJ/DG, the Cerisyi's Sphinx or One-eyed Sphinx,

Larvae feed on poplars and willows.

Flight would be from late March-May-July as a single brood.

Smerinthus cerisyi: Dave Gabon, Hollister, reports male, pair and subsequent ovipositing on willow on March 23, 2008.
Smerinthus cerisyi: 20:30; Dave Gabon, Hollister, April 13, 2013

Macroglossinae subfamily

Dilophonotini Tribe:

Hemaris thetis PJ, the Thetis Clearwing or Bee Hawk Moth,

The moth flies along forest edges and in meadows, gardens and brushy fields. Day-flying adults nectar at lantana, dwarf bush honeysuckle, snowberry, orange hawkweed, thistles, lilac, Canada violet, etc.

Philampelini Tribe:

Eumorpha achemon WO, the Achemon Sphinx

This moth is not recorded for San Benito County, but it should be present wherever grapes are found.

Fight would be from June to August. Larvae feed on grape foliage.

Macroglossini Tribe:

Arctonotus lucidus USGS/PJ, the Pacific Green Sphinx Moth or Bear Sphinx

This species is confirmed in San Benito County.
It tends to be an late winter-early spring flier, on the wing in the early evening. It comes to lights at night.

Euproserpinus euterpe, the Euterpe Sphinx, WO unlikely, see below

Euproserpinus euterpe adults fly in pastures and fallow fields as a single brood from late January-February-April. They nectar at flowers of filaree (Erodium) and Nemophila during the warm parts of the day. This species is listed as "threatened" in its known range.

Euproserpinus phaeton, the Phaeton Primrose Sphinx, WO/PJ

Adults nectar at flowers during the warm parts of the day.
Euproserpinus phaeton adults fly swiftly and close to the ground over dry washes and flat areas in deserts as a single brood from February-April.

Euproserpinus phaeton, Pinnacles National Monument, March 18, 2004,
courtesy of Paul Johnson.

Hyles lineata WO//PJ, the White-lined Sphinx

Adults usually fly at dusk, during the night, at dawn, and during the day. Moths nectar at salvia and oviposit on Epilobium cana (California fuchsia) and Hooker's Evening Primrose in nearby LA county.

Hyles lineata, March 16, 2007, Pinnacles National Monument,
courtesy of Paul Johnson

Proserpinus clarkiae USGS/PJ, Clark's Sphinx,

Adults fly in the afternoon from April-June in oak woodland and pine-oak woodland in foothills, nectaring from chia, heartleaf milkweed, golden currant, bluedicks, fairyfans, vetches, thistles, hedgenettles, etc.

Proserpinus clarkiae, March 16, 2007, Pinnacles National Monument,
courtesy of Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson of San Benito County, California writes (June 3, 2005):

"Here are the species I've found at Pinnacles, from San Benito County:

Arctonotus lucidus
Hemaris diffinis
Hyles lineata
Proserpinus clarkiae
Smerinthus cerisyi
Sphinx perelegans

"There is a specimen of Pachysphinx occidentalis from Pinnacles in the 1950's or 1960's in our museum.

"Finally, the Euproserpinus here appears to have characters of both phaeton and euterpe, and thus I'm leaning toward calling it a new species. It appears to also be found in San Luis Obispo County. Not sure what you want to do with that."

Paul also indicates that there is at least one tomato feeder in the county. I suspect both Manduca quinquemaculata and Manduca sexta are present.

March 17, 2007, Paul writes, "Today I spent the better part of the day studying a population of Euproserpinus sphinx moths at Pinnacles National Monument in San Benito County, CA. Because of the low rainfall, I thought this would be a poor year for them. I was wrong. For 10 days now I've been marking individuals and keeping track of where they spend the night. Before today, I had seen only males (14 different individuals). Today I saw about 9 individuals, including several females ovipositing. I'm very interested to hear of other sightings of this genus.

I also saw two Proserpinus clarkiae, just a few feet from where a Euproserpinus had flown past me minutes earlier. And a few Hyles lineata, including one that hovered so close to my head that I felt the wind from its wings. There's one outside on the window beside me as I type."

On September 2, 2008, Paul writes, "I have a confirmation of one of your suspected species for San Benito County, plus some host plant information. I checked the online Lep host database and it doesn't look like I have anything new, but I thought you might be interested nonetheless.

"For years I've been asking locals to bring me hornworms from their gardens, with no success. Last year that all changed. I got them on my tomatoes, and two other folks brought me some from their tomatoes and peppers. And ironically, just after that I found a large 5th instar larva walking across a road mid-day. This was nowhere near human habitation, and the only solanaceous plant I could find in the area was Datura wrightii.

"I just recieved the attached photo from Eric Brunnemann. In his yard in San Benito Co. he has Manduca sexta larvae feeding on Datura wrightii.

"Here is the list of plants for which I have records of this species feeding in this county: Datura wrightii, tomato, jalapeno pepper and serrano pepper."

Manduca sexta on Datura wrightii, San Benito County, California,
September 2, 2008, courtesy of Eric Brunnemann, via Paul G. Johnson.

Enjoy some of nature's wonderments, giant silk moth cocoons. These cocoons are for sale winter and fall. Beautiful Saturniidae moths will emerge the following spring and summer. Read Actias luna rearing article. Additional online help available.

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