San Diego County, California
Sphingidae Adults

Manduca sexta, July 17, 2005, National City, San Diego County, courtesy of Douglas Aguillard.

Thirty-two Sphingidae species are listed in the USGS for California. Not all of the species are reported by USGS or anticipated in San Diego County (eighteen species recorded).

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 these species in San Diego County, but I (William Oehlke) expect that these moths (Sphinx chersis [now confirmed by Steve Alexander, June 10, 2015], Eumorpha fasciata (as a stray) and Proserpinus clarkiae may be 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.

This page is inspired by and dedicated to Doug Aguillard. Doug sent me the image of the Manduca sexta adult at the top of the page. The larva feed on tomato foliage, and can probably be found on garden tomatoes within its range.

A special thanks also goes to Don Doerfler for the following image of Smerinthus saliceti.

Smerinthus saliceti male, Encinitas, northern/coastal San Diego County, California,
August 21, 2007, 5:00pm, courtesy of Don Doerfler, Digital Camera: Olympus 5060, 8MP

Larry Trame sent me the Hyles lineata image at bottom of page.

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

Many thanks to Steve Alexander for his data for Ramona, San Diego County:

Manduca quinquemaculatus ... common, March, April, July
M, sexta ...ommon, June, July, August
Erinnyis obscura ... (2), May 20, April 24
Erinnyis oenotrus ...(1), September 11
Erinnyis ello ... (1), August 31
Proserpinus lucidus ... (1) March 4
Pachysphinx occidentalis ... (2) May 17, September 1
Smerinthus ophthalmica or cerisyi ... (4) August 19, 21, April 12, June 25
Eumorpha achemon ... (1) May 23
Hyles lineata ... common, March - May
Sphinx perelegans ... common, March 20, 28, July 17, August 24

All specimens taken at MV or UV lights on my porch at 1130 San Vicente View, Ramona, San Diego county, Ca. Elev, 1600 feet. Dates are all this year, 2014.

On June 10, 2015 Steve sent me the following data:
Agrius cingulata, (1), June 8, 2015
Sphinx chersis, (1), June 8, 2015
Manduca rustica, (2) Dec 2, 2014 & Jun 9, 2015

Visit San Diego County Sphingidae Larvae: Caterpillars; Hornworms

Visit California Catocala: Underwing Moths

If you are travelling, you can find active Sphingidae checklists for all countries in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbbean via the links at North, Central, South American Sphingidae checklists

Sphinginae subfamily

Sphingini tribe:

Agrius cingulata USGS/SA

This species is enountered in San Diego County and in other southern California counties.
The moth is a very strong flier and is frequently encountered far north of its usual range.

Agrius cingulata (1), Jun 8, 2015, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Manduca quinquemaculatus USGS/SA, the Five-spotted Hawkmoth

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

Manduca quinquemaculatus, common, March, April, July, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Manduca rustica USGS/SA, the Rustic Sphinx

This species is recorded in San Diego County. It does not range much further north, however. Look for three large yellow spots on each side of the abdomen.

Manduca rustica, (2) Dec 2, 2014 & Jun 9, 2015; Ramona, Steve Alexander

Manduca sexta DA/ USGS/SA, the Carolina Sphinx

This species is recorded in San Diego County. If you grow tomatoes, you have probably encountered it.

Larvae get very large and can strip a tomato plant.

Manduca sexta, July 17, National City, Doug Aguillard
Manduca sexta, common, June, July, August, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Sphinx chersis WO/SA, 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 of which reaches the wing tip.

Sphinx chersis (1), June 8, 2015, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Sphinx perelegans USGS/SA 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.

Sphinx perelegans, common, March 20, 28, July 17, August 24, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Sphinx sequoiae USGS, the Sequoiae Sphinx

This species is reported in San Diego County.

Adults fly as a single brood in the desert and in pinyon-juniper woodland from May to August.

Smerinthini Tribe:

Pachysphinx occidentalis USGS/MdL/SA, 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-August.

Pachysphinx occidentalis, San Diego, June 28, 2010, Miriam de Leon
Pachysphinx occidentalis, May 17, September 1, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Smerinthus cerisyi USGS, the Cerisyi's Sphinx or One-eyed Sphinx,

Larvae feed on poplars and willows.

Flight would be from late May-July as a single brood. more likely to be S. ophthalmica

Smerinthus ophthalmica WO/SA, Larvae feed on poplars, aspen and willows. Note different shape of double arced forewing pm line compared to the straighter pm line of cerisyi, directly above. S. ophthalmica has smoother scalloping of the fw outer margin.

Smerinthus ophthalmica or cerisyi, 21, April 12, June 25, August 19, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Smerinthus saliceti USGS/DD, the Salicet Sphinx, flies in valleys and along streamsides from Mexico City north to west Texas, southern Arizona, and extreme southern California. Larvae feed on poplars and willows.
Flight would be from late April-September, probably as a double brood.

Smerinthus saliceti, Encinitas, August 21, 2007, Don Doerfler

Macroglossinae subfamily


Dilophonotini Tribe:

Aellopos clavipes USGS, the Aellopos Sphinx.

The body is dark brown with a wide white band across the abdomen. Wings are dark brown. The forewing has a black cell spot and 3 white spots near the pale brown marginal area.

Erinnyis crameri, the Cramer's Sphinx, USGS

This species is more likely to occur as an occasional stray rather than as a breeding resident.
As a migrant stray it would be seen later in the season, July-August.

Erinnyis ello, the Ello Sphinx, USGS/SA. The abdomen has very distinct gray and black bands. Adults nectar at dusk so you may see them in the garen at that time.

Erinnyis ello, (1), August 31, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Erinnyis obscura, the Obscure Sphinx, USGS/SA. During the night adults nectar at flowers, including bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis) and Asystasia gangetica beginning at dusk. July and August are flight times in the southern states.

Erinnyis obscura, (2), May 20, April 24, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Erinnyis oenotrus, SA. The Oenotrus Sphinx sometimes strays into southern Texas and southern Florida. Steve Alexander's sighting in southern California is a surprise. August-September are flight times in the southern states as a rare stray.

Erinnyis oenotrus, (1), September 11, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Hemaris thetis USGS, 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 USGS/SA, the Achemon Sphinx. This moth is reported for San Diego County, and should be fairly common.

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

Eumorpha achemon, (1) May 23, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Eumorpha fasciata WO, the Banded Sphinx

This moth is a very strong flier and is often reported far north of its normal range.

It would be a rare stray to San Diego if it is at all present.

Macroglossini Tribe:

Euproserpinus phaeton, the Phaeton Primrose Sphinx, USGS. 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.

Hyles lineata USGS/SA, White-lined Sphinx. Adults usually fly at dusk, during the night, at dawn, and during the day. Moths nectar at salvia and other flowers and oviposit on Epilobium cana (California fuchsia) and Hooker's Evening Primrose, and others.

Hyles lineata, Imperial Beach, April 14, 2008, May 18, 2008, Larry Trame.
Hyles lineata, Coronado Beach, December 13, 2012, Dan Decaro via Nancy Jean Marshall.
Hyles lineata, Ocean Beach, a block from the ocean, April 6, 2014, Victoria Pak.
Hyles lineata, common, March - May, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Proserpinus clarkiae WO possibly, 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 lucidus USGS/KS/SA, Pacific Green Sphinx Moth or Bear Sphinx. This species is confirmed in San Diego County.
It tends to be an late winter-early spring flier, on the wing in the early evening. It comes to lights at night.

Proserpinus lucidus, tourmaline dig, Lake Henshaw Resort, Pala District, January 18, 2012, Katie Schultz
Proserpinus lucidus, (1) March 4, Ramona, Steve Alexander

Hyles lineata, April 14, 2008, Imperial Beach, courtesy of Larry Trame.

Hyles lineata, May 18, 2008, Imperial Beach, courtesy of Larry Trame.

Larry writes, "These are all over my flower garden in Imperial Beach - look like mini hummingbirds!

"Thanks for looking at these!"

I was surprised to receive the following mid December image, taken by Dan Decaro, from Nancy Jean Marshall, but lineata probably broods continuously as long as the weather is warm enough.

Hyles lineata, Coronado Beach, December 13, 2012,
courtesy of Dan Decaro via Nancy Jean Marshall.




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