Thursday, March 30, 2017
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Readers’ Photos: Sphinx Moths

This is a Sphinx Moth, a member of the Hawk Moth family. But which species? There are over 11,200 known species of lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) in the United States (112,000 worldwide). My best guess is that it is a Smerinthus cerisyi or One-eyed Sphinx moth.

Last week I received this stunning moth photo (above) in an email from Ed and Beth Castleberry of Lacey, WA.

Paonias excaecatus or Blind Sphinx moth. Click photos for larger view.

And now look at this moth (at right), sent to me by Rick Drozda. What a beastly beauty!

Can you believe the moths are closely related? I didn’t think so at first, but since I’ve never seen a Hawk moth (family Sphingidae) of any kind, so what do I know?

I traveled to several moth identification sites (Moth Photographers Group, Pacific Northwest MothsCanadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF), NPWRC Online Biological ResourcesButterflies and Moths of Southern Vancouver Island and BugGuide.net) and was able to piece together a basic understanding of these two moths — the Eyed Sphinx and the Blind Sphinx moths.

It wasn’t easy to grasp an understanding, for both moths are known under different common names and the Eyed Sphinx (or One-eyed Sphinx) has been split into Smerinthus cerisyi and Smerinthus ophthalmica, (GOLLY it gets complicated!) even though the differences are very subtle.

Seriously, y’all, I have dropped every biology 101 course I ever signed up for in college. I just enjoy nature. I’m no ichthy- … uh, arachno- … um, ento- … er, whatever a person is called that knows their bugs — oh yeah! Smug Bug.

I found two photos on the CBIF website that really helped clarify the differences:

Smerinthus cerisyi (from the CBIF website).

In the Eyed Sphinx moth or Smerinthus cerisyithe forewing “outer margin is not scalloped; hindwing is rose-red with a blue ring on a round black anal spot. This sphingid is abundant in wet forests in western North America, particularly in coastal forests, riparian forests east of the Cascade Mountains, and quaking aspen forests of the Rocky Mountains. Moths fly in spring and early summer. Caterpillars feed on the foliage of willow (Salix) and poplar (Populus).” (Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center)

In other words, the edges of the top wing is smoother and there is a pupil in the middle of the “eyes” on the hindwings. Thus, the “Eyed” Sphinx moth name. The Eyed Sphinx is a wet forest moth.

Paonias excaecate (from the CBIF website).

The Blind Sphinx moth or Paonias excaecatus, the forewing “outer margin is scalloped; hindwing is rose-red with a round black anal spot having a solid blue pupil. This sphingid is common and widely distributed in dry forests west of the Cascade Mountains and in riparian forests east of the Cascades. Moths fly in late spring to midsummer. Caterpillars feed on the foliage of flowering trees and shrubs, such as, hawthorn (Crataegus), birch (Betula), poplar (Populus), and serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia).” (Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center)

In other words (yes, you guessed it), there is no pupil in this moth’s eye and the edges of the wings are crazy wavy. The Blind Sphinx likes its forests dry.

Whew! That wore me out, but I loved every minute of research! Thank you Ed and Beth Castleberry, and Rick Drozda for sending me on this adventure!

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Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and photojournalist. She is the founder of The (Almost) Daily News website, a serial Biology 101 dropout who loves to peruse reference books and websites for interesting critters info. You can find her on Facebook, call her at 360-269-5017, or email kim@almostdailynews.com.

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