White-Lined Sphinx Moths

The large white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineate), with its sleek wings and lines, can resemble a streamlined jet planes.
Larger than most moths, they are just a tad smaller than the smallest hummingbirds, and are therefore sometimes referred to as  hummingbird moth. They exhibit similar behavior and traits to hummingbirds and as such, provide an illustration of what is called convergent evolution. Although white-lined sphinx moths are  insects and the hummingbirds are birds, they are nearly indistinguishable in certain respects because they occupy the same ecological domain, specializing in obtaining nectar from trumpet- shaped flowers.
Since trumpet-shaped flowers such as are honeysuckle, lobelia and beebalm are generally fragile, the insect or animal feeding upon it can’t lodge on it, but needs to hover over  it and use its beak or proboscis to obtain the nectar. This led to the hummingbirds development of the unique ability among birds to hover for extended periods of time, as well as flying vertically or backwards. They lap up nectar by extending their tongues from their elongated beaks.
Hummingbird moths similarly fly up to the flower and hover in place while they insert their long proboscis into the flower.  They do not use tongues, however, instead sucking the nectar as if they were using a straw.
The flight patterns of the moths and hummingbirds are very similar to one another. They beat their wings extremely quickly. The moths have a wingspread of 2.2 to almost three inches.
The larva of a sphinx moth is yellow and black or sometimes lime green and black. Many have a subdorsal stripe. The head, prothoracic shield, and the anal plate are a uniform color – usually either  green or orange accompanied by small black dots. The horn varies from either yellow or orange and sometimes has a black tip. Larvae bury themselves in dirt to spin themselves into  cocoons, remaining in that state for two to three weeks before emerging as adults.
The larva of sphinx moths are recognized by the general public as tomato hornworms. The caterpillars of this species eat not only tomato plants, but willow weed (Epilobium), four o’clock, (Mirabilis jalapa), apple, (Malus), evening primrose (Oenothera), elm (Ulmus, grape (Vitis), purslane (Portulaca), and Fuchsia.
Like all moths, they tend to feed in the evening around dusk. Sphinx moths, do on occasion feed in the afternoon. Sphinx moths hunt out nectar by its smell rather than by the coloration of  the flowers offering that nectar.
Adult sphinx moths are key pollinators of California’s rare lemon lily (Lilium parryi).

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