Pest Identification: Sphingidae
Most Common Types
Sphingidae are a family of moths that includes around 1,450 species. Members of the Sphingidae family are commonly referred to as hummingbird moths, hawk moths, and sphinx moths. The caterpillars are called hornworms.
What They Look Like
Sphingidae are some of the largest moths in the world. They have heavy bodies and a possible wingspan of more than 6 inches. They are strong, fast, and acrobatic fliers. Sphingidae earned the nickname hummingbird moths because they are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds due to their rapid wingbeats. Some Sphingidae have transparent or clear wings. Hawk moths have the moth world’s longest tongue; it can be up to 14 inches long and used to feed on flower nectar.
Where They Live
Sphinx moths live on all continents except Antarctica. There are about 125 species found in North America.
Where They Nest
Some Sphingidae only appear around dusk or dawn, others are nocturnal and feed on flowers in the night. Females lay eggs on host plants. The green and brown caterpillars are called hornworms because their posteriors contain a harmless hook or hornlike appendage. Sphinx caterpillars are large, stout, and voracious.
Steps to Prevent
Farmers sometimes utilize aerial applications of pesticides to kill the caterpillars. Gardeners can hand-pick the caterpillars off plants or use a bacterial insecticide.
Are They Harmful?
In general, Sphingidae are beneficial. They pollinate plants and are not a problem for most gardeners. However, tobacco and tomato hornworms can strip a plant of foliage in a short period of time.