Planting large tube-shaped flowers can attract sphinx moths to your yard. In late summer, many people enjoy sitting on their patios and watching these mysterious hovering visitors sip nectar as twilight deepens.
Tomato and tobacco hornworms are the bane of people trying to grow tomato, potato, tobacco, pepper, and other plants in the nightshade family. Pink-spotted hawk moth caterpillars chew on sweet potato vines, and Pandora, Achemon, and Virginia creeper sphinx moth caterpillars are unwelcome in vineyards.
Although a few species are pests on garden plants, most sphinx moths do not cause significant injury to their host plants.
Though the hungry caterpillars can be vexing, you can’t help but be impressed by the elegant colors and patterns of the hefty, “furry” adult moths.
People are interested in the physics of sphinx moth flight, especially their ability to hover. Moths in this family are some of the fastest-flying insects, and they have several adaptations that make them good fliers: streamlined bodies, narrow wings with fore- and hindwings coupled together for efficiency, antennae that help them perform complex flying maneuvers, and a habit of “shivering” to warm up their flight muscles prior to taking off.
In the 1800s, Charles Darwin pondered the case of a rare orchid in Madagascar whose nectar was stored at the bottom of a foot-long flower tube. The naturalist who sent him a specimen asked, “Good Heavens what insect can suck it?” Darwin guessed there “must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between 10 and 12 inches!” Alfred Russel Wallace concurred, suggesting it must be a kind of sphinx moth. A few decades later, the pollinator was indeed discovered, a sphinx moth with a tongue long enough to reach the nectar.