Created/dedicated as per personal communication with Sabrina England, July-August 2010
Updated as per Butterflies and Moths of North America, formerly USGS, August 8, 2010
Updated as per James P. Tuttle's The Hawk Moths of North America, August 8, 2010

Whatcom County, Washington
Sphingidae Larvae

Smerinthus ophthalmica larvae, Ferndale, Washington, August 7, 2010, courtesy of Sabrina England.

This page is inspired by and dedicated to Sabrina England and her daughter, for their appreciation of nature. Sabrina has given me permission to post her images and our back and forth correspondence. There is a thumbnail checklist for Whatcom County Sphingidae larvae below our correspondence.

July 12, 2010

Sabrina writes, "I located your name online while searching for information about a moth that my daughter is presently holding in a butterfly treehouse. We live in Ferndale, Washington, and her grandparents (my parents) found this moth in their backyard. Knowing that my daughter loves moths, they captured it, and we brought it home. It has been in captivity for about 24 hours now, and I would typically insist that my daughter release it now, but we would like your advice. It appears that SHE has laid eggs. (see pictures) However, they are stuck to the mesh sides of the treehouse, so I am worried about hurting them as I pull them off. I was trying to put them in an airtight ziplock container as you suggest, but was only able to easily pull some of them off. Should I stop or continue? Also, can you identify this moth for us? It has two distinct eyes on its wings when they are fully extended and there are hints of pink. It looks somewhat similar to the polyphemus moth, but darker.

"Any advice is most appreciated."

Smerinthus opthalmica female, Ferndale, Whatcom County, Washington,
July 12, 2010, courtesy of Sabrina England.

Smerinthus ophthalmica eggs, Ferndale, Whatcom County, Washington,
July 12, 2010, courtesy of Sabrina England.

I replied "Your moth is Smerinthus cerisyi (corrected to S. ophthalmica). My Whatcom County Sphingidae pictoral checklist for adult moths is at

"Yes, those are ophthalmica eggs. Release the moth. Egg shells will likely be tougher now than they were yesterday, and you should be able to roll most of them off without rupturing them so continue doing that. No need for fruit or moisture in with this species as they have no mouth parts, nor do they have a feeding tube. They live off fats stored from caterpillar days. Additional pics and info from the links on the page above. This species also flies here on PEI.

"Best of luck with them.

"Also read

"Same principles apply.

"This (S. ophthalmica) is an easy species to rear also."


July 20, 2010 2:04 AM: Day 8 & we have hatchlings!

Sabrina writes, "Now we really need your advice! I think I have read your webpage about feeding and caring for the hatchlings at least five times, but what I am not clear on is how much space these little (soon to get bigger) hatchlings need. Right now they are in a small container, but I am predicting that we'll have at least 20 hatchlings by the time they are done. I think our container is not adequate. Would they be better off being released on a nice willow tree somewhere outside? (Not my willow tree, mind you!) Or, maybe a big, old cherry tree? I can find something in a remote location, and the weather is mild this week... no rain, not too hot, not too cool. We have done the butterfly rearing (from the caterpillar stage), so I'm okay with not watching it this time. I think I'm intimidated by their eventual size and numbers! Or, do you think we need to finish what we have started here, and provide appropriate food and containment?"

I replied, "Three to six of them would likely be quite manageable in a gallon jar. Release the rest or all of them on poplar or willow."

Sabrina replied, "We will release all but three of them on a poplar tree very close to where the mother moth was found. It's probably nothing new for you, but we're very fascinated by them! Thank you again for all your advice!"


August 07, 2010 3:00 PM; Our caterpillars have grown!

Sabrina writes, "Just wanted to give you an update on our moth rearing. The caterpillars are big and fat! The stems are from my willow tree, and we have found that they like that best. They didnít really care for the cherry. One more question I have is, what do we do to facilitate their cocooning? Do they need anything different in the container? How and where do they attach themselves, or will I just find them on the branches and stems as I do now?"

I replied, "Congratulations on success so far. These caterpillars are members of the Sphingidae family. They do not spin silken cocoons like the luna moths.

"Under natural conditions, they would crawl or drop to ground when done feeding and then excavate subterranean chambers in which to pupate and spend the winter.

"There are instructions for care of prepupal larvae on the Smerinthus cerisyi file.

"I would like permission to post your image of larvae, credited to you, to Whatcom County larva thumbnail that I will create? Please send it or larger individual pictures as jpg attachments.

"I would also like permission to include our back and forth communication on the page as it may help others who find female moths and wish to rear larvae?"


Sabrina replied, "Yes, you may use any of our correspondence or my pictures on your site! Attached are some of our recent photos.

Smerinthus ophthalmica larvae, Ferndale, Washington, August 7, 2010, courtesy of Sabrina England.

"Unfortunately, I have been reading about rearing silk moths over the last month, but I just located the more appropriate rearing instructions for the Smerinthus ophthalmica. You say in 3-4 week they will leave the food. Ours hatched 20 days ago. Will it be an unmistakable event when they ďleaveĒ the food? Or should I just give them the appropriate medium sometime this week without their prompting? Also, what about the frass? Presently, Iím cleaning it out about twice a day (every morning and every night). Am I disturbing them too much for them to begin this process?"

I responded, "As long as you have foodplant in the container with the larvae, their departure from the foodplant should be quite evident. Instead of clinging to a stem and feeding, they will be crawling around the bottom of the container (often at great speed initially) and will no longer show any interest in the foodplant.

``You can put the ones that have left the foodplant in a sandwich sized tupperware or gladware type plastic container, five or six to a container, lid on tight and no air holes. There should be a folded paper towel on bottom of plastic tub. Within a day or so they will crawl under the towelling or between the folds.

"The paper towel will become limp as it absorbs some of the moisture from the "sweating" larvae. This is natural and there will be some shrinkage to the larvae. They will have stopped crawling and their legs will become quite stumpy in preparation for pupation, which they should do within four to six days of leaving the foliage.

"Cleaning the frass out of the rearing container once a day should be sufficient. This species is very hardy and you wil not be disturbing them too much is you are cleaning frass twice a day.

"They might thrash about quite a bit when you first pick them up, so do not be alarmed.

"I suspect they will leave the foliage some time this week."

On August 15, Sabrina writes, "Over the last three days, our larvae have at individual times left the foodplant to start wandering. They are all now resting in paper towel folds in sandwich containers. My question now is about timing. It is mid August. Is this an appropriate time of year for pupation? We still have 45 days until October when they are to go into winter storage, so what will they do for the next 45 days? My understanding is that they should not go into the fridge yet. Should I do that precisely on October 1st? Also, what is the ideal lighting, temperature and humidity for them now?

"For the record, they left the foodplant at about 23-25 days."

"You want to duplicate nature as much as possible so don't introduce them to cold until they would normally experience it in nature. Right now I have Pachysphinx modesta pupae sitting in similar tubs, lids on tight, no airholes, damp (from sweating of larvae during pupation) paper towels in place, sitting on a kitchen shelf (out of direct sunlight. They began pupating about two weeks ago. If I do not sell them by end of October, I will put them into fridge crisper where they would remain until sold or until mid May when I would take them out of cold storage.

"Normally Smerinthus ophthalmica produces a single brood each year so I do not anticipate that any will hatch between now and October 1.

"When you go to place them into cold storage in October, they can all be placed in one tub. By that time or before, there may be some mildew on the paper towels. The paper towels can be replaced at any time by fresh towels, but if you replace the towels, replace the moisture with one or two drips of water.

"In nature they would normally be at rest under leaf litter or in shallow subterranean chambers where there is usually some humidity."

"One more question. Is it okay to check on them periodically (to see their transformation), or should we be completely hands off?"

"You can look at them, but do not handle for a few days as they are very soft when they first pupate."

"Just want to make sure they're doing okay. (see photo) I lifted the paper towel briefly to take the picture. It almost appears to be dead and rotting."

Smerinthus ophthalmica, Whatcom County, Washington, August 17, 2010, courtesy of Sabrina England.

The stumpy legs and somewhat shriveled body are typical during preparation for pupation. The brown colouration of thorax is not such a good sign, however. Hopefully it will pupate within next couple of days. Hope the others do not turn brown."

"Oh no. I will check the others when I get home. Is there anything we can or should do to help the situation?"

"Just hope the others are not sick. Sometimes there is a late virus that sets in. There is no treatment."

"Virus?! That would have never occurred to me, but I suppose all life is susceptible to viruses of some sort. We looked at all of them late last night. One of the larvae is nearly completely pupated, with a brown shell-like appearance. I think that was the one that left the food first. The other 3 all look very similar to the one I sent the picture of. I'll check on them again this evening to see if there is any change.

"Keeping my fingers crossed."

On August 20, Sabrina writes, "Well, I think they were successful! Take a look and let me know if they appear to be okay. Itís interesting how they still wiggle around!"

Smerinthus ophthalmica pupae, Whatcom County, Washington, August 20, 2010, courtesy of Sabrina England.


"Congratulations. I do not know what will become of the one on the far right. Seems to be a bit of a deformity in the pupal shell."


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

Only seventeen Sphingidae species are listed for Washington on the U.S.G.S. website. Not all of the species are reported or anticipated in Whatcom County (Five are reported on U.S.G.S. as of August 8, 2010: Modest sphinx (Pachysphinx modesta) more likely Pachysphinx occidentalis; Blinded sphinx (Paonias excaecata); One-eyed sphinx (Smerinthus ophthalmica); Bedstraw hawkmoth (Hyles gallii); White-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata). It is hoped that this checklist, with the thumbnails and notes, will help you quickly identify the larvae you are likely to encounter. A "WO" after the species name indicates that I have no confirmed reports of this species in your county, but I (William Oehlke) expect that this moth with its larvae are present or might be present. I have included many species not on the USGS list for Washington; I believe they are or might be present

A "USGS" indicates the moth is reported 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.

Sphinginae subfamily

Sphingini tribe:

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).

Sphinx drupiferarum WO, the Wild Cherry Sphinx

Larvae hide in the day and feed primarily on cherry, plum, and apple at night. Larvae have been found on Amelanchier nantuckensis in Massachusetts and have been reared to pupation in Michigan on Prunus serotina. Note purple oblique lines.

Sphinx perelegans WO, the Elegant Sphinx: The basic body colour can be either glaucous or apple-green, without the earlier body tubercles. The oblique side stripes are white, edged with purple. The horn is sky blue. The spiracles are pale orange and the anal flap is edged with yellow.

Sphinx vashti WO, the Snowberry Sphinx

Larvae feed on the common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and on coralberry (S. orbiculatus).

Note the two golden lines of slightly raised bumps, one just behind the head, the other on the thorax.

Smerinthini Tribe:

Pachysphinx occidentalis USGS, the Big Poplar Sphinx

Larvae feed on cottonwood and poplar (Populus) and willow (Salix).

Larvae are very chunky with little to distinguish them from Pachysphinx modesta.

Paonias excaecata USGS, the Blinded Sphinx

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

Skin is quite granulous.

Smerinthus ophthalmica WO: Ophthalmica larvae resemble cerisyi larvae, both being pale green, with granular skin, pale lateral diagonal lines, faint red spiracular circles, and very pale longitudinal lines running from head to more pronounced anal diagonal line. Larvae have green heads bounded dorsally with pale yellow inverted "V". Note blue horn.

Smerinthus ophthalmica female, July 12, 2010, Ferndale, eggs and subsequent larvae, Sabrina England.

Macroglossinae subfamily

Dilophonotini tribe:

Hemaris thetis WO,

Larval host plants include Snowberry (Symphoricarpos), honeysuckle (Lonicera), Coralberry, viburnums, high bush cranberry and hawthorn (Crataegus).

Horn is black with a slightly lighter base. This western species was formerly classified as H. diffinis or H. senta. Those species west of the Continental Divide are now classified as H. thetis.

Macroglossini tribe:

Hyles gallii USGS, the Bedstraw Hawk Moth or Gallium Sphinx

This species is not reported in Chippewa, but it has been recorded in eastern Wisconsin counties. I suspect it is present.
Larvae come in black and in brown forms and often feed on Epilobium (fireweed).

Hyles lineata USGS, 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 clarkiae WO, Clark's Sphinx,

Larvae feed on elegant fairyfan (Clarkia unguiculata) in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae).

Proserpinus flavofasciata WO, Yellow-banded Day Sphinx,

Larvae feed on willow weed (Epilobium) and possibly thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus).

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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