Inspired and dedicated as per personal communication with Jodi Willis, October 7, 2010; October 10, 2010
Updated as per James P. Tuttle's The Hawk Moths of North America, October 10, 2010
Updated as per Butterflies and Moths of North America, formerly USGS, October 10, 2010

Lowndes County, Georgia
Sphingidae Larva

For care of "found larvae/caterpillars" visit Manduca sexta larva, central Texas, August 21, 2008, Trina Woodall.

This page is inspired by and dedicated to Jodi Willis and her class of Second Grade students, who submitted the Xylophanes tersa caterpillar find in Lowndes County Georgia. It is great to see teachers making the extra effort to inspire and educate their students. Many thanks to the students, also, who reported the larva to their teacher. Hope they have success.

Jodi writes, October 7, 2010, "My name is Jodi and I teach second grade in South Georgia. Some of our students found a Tersa Sphinx caterpillar at the school today. We would love to see it go through all the stages and become a moth. The problem I have is that I do not know what to feed it, or what kind of habitat I need to keep it in to allow it to grow and thrive. Could you please help me. I saw some pictures of various stages online. Some of the caterpillars were green and some were brown. Ours is brown. The spots are very defined. I look forward to hearing from you soon."

I reply, "Here is URL for a larval thumbnail page for Escambia County, Florida. The larvae you are likely to encounter in your area of Georgia are probably pretty much the same.
Some food plants are listed with the tersa thumbnail, and additional ones can be seen by clicking on the tersa link to visit the species file. Also near top of the page listed above is a link to care of found larvae. The same procedures can be followed with your larva.

"Best of luck with your project. I am retired now, but taught school for 32 years.

"If you can send me a digital picture of your tersa caterpillar and let me know your Georgia county, I will create a similar page for you and the students."

Jodi writes, "Thank you so much for contacting me. I have put the larva in an airtight jar along with some food plants. He does not seem to be too interested in eating. I don't know if he just does not like what I've gotten for him or if he is about to pupate. I did find him burrowed under the dead grass that was in the container housing him. We used the dead grass because that is where he was found. I've tried 2 different kinds of food and he has not eaten anything. I do not see white spots, so hopefully we don't have a fungus or wasp eggs or whatever happens to them. He still wiggles when I touch him.

"We are located in Lowndes County, right on the Florida border. Still pretty warm here. Hopefully he will go through all the stages before winter.

"Thanks again for your time. Hopefully I'll be able to give my 2nd graders a science experience they will never forget."

I reply, "I suggest you remove the dead grass. In an airtight container, the decomposing grass will give off gases that might smother the larva. That is why, when it is ready to pupate, and it is based on where you found it, that I recommend in the article about care of found larvae that you put it in a pupation tub with just a paper towel, no foliage or grasses or anything else that will decompose.

"On Monday I will work on the website for Lowndes County.

"Larvae need very little oxygen at this time, and it should still be fine, but I recommend you remove the grasses."

Jodi clarifies, October 13, 2010, "Well, we are doing something right!! "Dottie" began to pupate last night. I guess that's why she would not eat. The kids were so excited. About how long will we have to wait before we see a moth? I have no idea how long each stage lasts. I would like to ask also that you include 3rd grade in our website. The teachers there are Mrs. Bice and Mrs. Reams. They are as excited about this as well and it was actually their class that found the caterpillar. Again, thanks again for your help. I will try to take a picture and get it to you so you can add those. Talk to you again soon."

I reply, "Congratulations. If you had found "Dottie" in June, I would have predicted the moth would emerge within two to three weeks of pupation, within as few as nine days if your weather was really warm and humid. If, in your area, you still have two months of warm weather, enough time for another brood, then you will likely see a moth within two to three weeks. Be sure to reread the article linked from top of this page about an emergence container so the moth can climb and hang when it first breaks forth from the pupal shell. This is very important so that the wings can inflate properly.

"Since you have found the caterpillar so late in the season, it is possible that this pupa will overwinter and not yield a moth until spring. In southern Florida and southern Louisiana there have been flights of Xylophanes tersa recorded as late as November, but you may be too far north for that to happen. The larvae have a remarkable ability to take cues from the environment (length of photo period, temperatures, possibly foodplant quality) to determine whether or not they will produce the enzyme to put them in a state of diapause (hibernation) during the cooler months.

If "Dottie" produced the overwintering enzyme, then she would probably not emerge until the natural photo period again begins to increase. It is also going to be hard to predict because the larva and pupa have been and are experiencing extra artificial light and warmth.

"Use a storage emergence container that will maintain a high relative humidity while you are waiting. You may or may not have a long wait."

Thirty-six Sphingidae species are listed for Georgia on the U.S.G.S. website. Not all of the species are reported or anticipated in Lowndes County (No species are reported on U.S.G.S. as of October 10, 2010). It is hoped that this checklist, with the thumbnails and notes, will help you quickly identify the Sphingidae larvae you are likely to encounter.

A "WO" after the species name indicates that I have no confirmed reports of this species in Lowndes County, but I (William Oehlke) expect that this moth and its larvae are present or might be present.

Please note the above comments are not intended as a criticism of the USGS website. Their mandate is documented accuracy. My goal is to assist people in identifying what they are likely to find. The USGS website has proven to be a great resource in that undertaking, and I use it, sightings submitted by others, and James Tuttle's book to make interpolations.

A "USGS" indicates the moth is reported on the USGS website and/or in Lepidoptera of North America, #1. Distribution of Silkmoths (Saturniidae) and Hawkmoths (Sphingidae) of Eastern North America, 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 electronic image, via email to Bill Oehlke.

The night-blooming moon flower will attract many Sphingidae at dusk and into the night.

Sphinginae subfamily

Sphingini tribe:

Agrius cingulata, WO Pink-spotted hawkmoth,

Larvae feed on plants in the Convolvulaceae family, especially Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato) and in the Solanaceae family, especially (Datura) (jimsonweed) and related plants in the Americas. There is also a brown form. Look for very large, dark spiracular circles.

Ceratomia amyntor WO, the Elm Sphinx or Four-horned Sphinx

Larvae feed on Elm (Ulmus), birch (Betula), basswood (Tilia), and cherry (Prunus). There are both green and brown forms. The four horns near the head are diagnostic.

Ceratomia catalpae WO, the Catalpa Sphinx

Young caterpillars feed gregariously on Catalpa species (Catalpa bignoniodes and C. speciosa) in the Bignoniaceae family, skeletonizing the foliage.

Larvae are mostly white in early instars.

Ceratomia undulosa WO, the Waved Sphinx

Fraxinus, Ligustrum, Quercus, Crataegus and Chionanthus virginicus are listed as hosts.

In the fifth instar, the spiracular ovals are decidedly red and the anal horn is off-white to pinkish laterally.

Dolba hyloeus WO, the Pawpaw Sphinx
Larvae feed on pawpaw (Asimina triloba), littleleaf sweetfern (Myrica aspleniifolia), possum haw (Ilex decidua), and inkberry (Ilex glabra) as well as Tall Gallberry Holly (Ilex coriacea). Louis Handfield reports larvae probably feed on Ilex verticellata in Quebec.

Isoparce cupressi WO, Cypress or Baldcypress Sphinx. Larvae feed on needles of baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) at night and pupate in shallow underground burrows where second generation overwinters.

Lapara coniferarum WO, the Southern Pine Sphinx

Larvae feed upon various pine species, including loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and longleaf pine (P. pinaster).

They are well camouflaged and are without an anal horn.

Manduca jasminearum WO, the Ash Sphinx

Larvae feed on ash in the Fraxinus genus. Syringa and Ulmus have also been reported.

Note the black anal horn.

Manduca quinquemaculatus WO, the Five-spotted Hawkmoth

The caterpillars are called Tomato Hornworms and each has a black horn at the end of the abdomen. Larvae feed on potato, tobacco, tomato, and other plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).

Manduca rustica WO, the Rustic Sphinx
The caterpillar has numerous white nodules on top of the thorax and seven pairs of oblique, blue-gray stripes along the side of the body. The horn is white at the base and blue-gray at the tip. Many hosts are utilized.

Manduca sexta WO, the Carolina Sphinx

Tobacco Hornworms, equipped with a red-tipped horn at the end of the abdomen, are true gluttons and feed on tobacco and tomato, and occasionally potato and pepper crops and other plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).

Paratrea plebeja WO, the Plebeian Sphinx

Preferred hosts are common trumpetcreeper (Campsis radicans), Florida yellow-trumpet (Tecoma stans), lilac (Syringa species), and passionflower (Passiflora species).

The anal horn is blue, preceded by a yellow dash.

Sphinx franckii WO, Franck's Sphinx Moth

Larvae feed exclusively on various species of ash (Fraxinus).

Raised, pointed bumps, especially near the head and thorax give this caterpillar a reptilian appearance.

Sphinx kalmiae WO, the Laurel Sphinx

Laurel Sphinx larvae feed primarily on lilac and fringe.

Larvae have also been found on privet.

Smerinthini Tribe:

Amorpha juglandis WO, the Walnut Sphinx

Amorpha juglandis larvae feed upon Walnut and butternut (Juglans), hickory (Carya), alder (Alnus), beech (Fagus), hazelnut (Corylus), and hop-hornbeam (Ostrya).

Pachysphinx modesta WO, the Modest Sphinx or Poplar Sphinx

Larvae feed on poplars and cottonwood.

Paonias astylus WO, the Huckleberry Sphinx

Blueberry and huckleberry (Vaccinium), cherries (Prunus) and willows (Salix) are the favorites as larval foodplants. This appears to be an uncommon species.

Paonias excaecata WO, the Blinded Sphinx

Larvae accept willows, birches, and cherries. I have also found them in the wild on oak in eastern Canada.

The skin is very granulose.

Paonias myops WO, the Small-eyed Sphinx

The larvae depicted is probably third instar.

There may be more red spotting on the sides as larvae mature.

Smerinthus jamaicensis WO, the Twin-spotted Sphinx

Larvae feed upon many forest trees including birches and cherries, but are expecially fond of poplars and willows. Red markings on sides vary greatly from specimen to specimen.

Macroglossinae subfamily

Dilophonotini tribe:

Enyo lugubris, the Mournful Sphinx, WO

The body and wings are dark brown. The forewing has a large black patch covering most of the outer half of the wing. There is a pale tan cell spot (dark inner pupil), and a fairly straight median line to the inside of the cell spot. Some larvae have extensive reddish brown areas.

Hemaris thysbe WO, the Hummingbird Clearwing

There is also an orangey-pink prepupal form. The lateral line runs from S1 to the blue horn.

Hemaris thysbe larvae feed on viburnum and related plants.

Hemaris diffinis WO, the Snowberry Clearwing or Bumblebee Moth
Larval host plants include Snowberry (Symphoricarpos), honeysuckle (Lonicera), Coralberry, viburnums, Blue Dogbane (Apocynum) and dwarf bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera). Horn is black with a yellow base.

Hemaris gracilis WO, the Slender Clearwing or Graceful Clearwing

Larval foods are blueberries including low bush blueberry (Vaccinium vacillans), and laurel (Kalmia), all in the heath family (Ericaceae). generally more easterly

Philampelini tribe:

Eumorpha achemon WO, the Achemon Sphinx

Larvae feed upon Grape (Vitis), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and other vines and ivies (Ampelopsis).

Larvae occur in both a light (green) form and a darker (tan/brown) form. Note six "segmented" oblique lines.

Eumorpha fasciatus WO, the Banded Sphinx
Larvae feed upon primrose-willow, Ludwigia (water primrose) and other plants in the evening primrose family. This hornless larva is highly variable.

Look for large, dark spiracular circles and a dark line in the center of the back.

Eumorpha intermedia WO, the Intermediate Sphinx. Eumorpha intermedia larvae feed upon peppervine, Ampelopsis arborea. Possibly they will also accept grape (Vitis species), but so far no records of that host have been reported to my knowledge. They like to remain well hidden within tangle of vines and probably feed mostly at night.

Eumorpha pandorus WO, the Pandorus Sphinx

If you have Grape or Virginia Creeper nearby, then you might encounter this species.

Note the five large white ovals. There are orangey-brown and green forms also.

Macroglossini tribe:

Amphion floridensis WO, the Nessus Sphinix

In additon to Virginia creeper larvae accept Grape (Vitis), ampelopsis (Ampelopsis), and cayenne pepper (Capsicum).

Larvae are green until the final instar.

Darapsa choerilus WO, the Azalea Sphinx

Larvae feed on Azalea and Viburnum and progress very rapidly. The larva to the left on Viburnum cassinoides is getting ready to pupate. Color change from green to light burgundy-brown indicates pupation is imminent.

Darapsa myron WO, the Virginia Creeper Sphinx or the Grapevine Sphinx

If you have the foodplants indicated in the common names, you probably have this species nearby. The lower wings are orange. Larvae feed on Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Grape (Vitis), Ampelopsis, and Viburnum.

Darapsa versicolor WO, the Hydrangea Sphinx

Larvae turn a deep chocolate brown just prior to pupation, and the "horn" on the tail also turns downward as pupation draws near. Darapsa versicolor larvae feed on Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and waterwillow (Decodon verticillatus).

Deidamia inscriptum WO, the Lettered Sphinx

Grape (Vitis), ampelopsis (Ampelopsis), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus) all serve as larval hosts.

The alternating yellow and greyish-green rings across the back distinguish this larva.

Hyles lineata WO, the White-lined Sphinx

Larvae are highly varied and feed on a great diversity of plants including willow weed (Epilobium), four o'clock (Mirabilis), apple (Malus), evening primrose (Oenothera), elm (Ulmus), grape (Vitis), tomato (Lycopersicon), purslane (Portulaca), and Fuschia.
All larvae seem, however, to have the red/black swellings split by dorso-lateral lines.

Proserpinus guarae USGS, the Proud Sphinx

Larvae feed on (Onagraceae) including evening primrose (Oenothera), gaura (Gaura), and willow weed (Epilobium). rare, generally more westerly

Sphecodina abbottii WO, the Abbott's Sphinx

Larvae feed at night on grape (Vitis) and ampelopsis (Ampelopsis) and hide on the bark of their host plants during the day. Virginia creeper would also be a suitable host.

There is also a dark form without the green patches. Note the "raised eye", replacing the anal horn.

Xylophanes tersa JW, the Tersa Sphinx

Larvae also feed on Borreria, Catalpa and Manettia spp. and Smooth buttonplant (Spermacoce glabra) and starclusters (Pentas species). They are also recorded on joe-pie weed and Hamelia patens and on Hedoydis nigricans. The green form may be more common.

Xylophanes tersa larva, October 7, 2010, Jodi Willis; Second Grade class; Mrs. Bice and Mrs. Reams; Third Grade class

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Please send sightings/images to Bill. I will do my best to respond to requests for identification help.