by Christa Watters, Certified Master Gardener
Our gardens and open spaces are home to many creatures we seldom notice in our busy lives. Even in our gardens, focused on planting, weeding, and pruning, we often fail to see what is right in front of us. But sometimes we get lucky, and see something quite stunningly beautiful.
Here’s an example of a creature so well-camouflaged that its sighting is indeed a surprise. The Pandorus sphinx moth (Eumorpha pandorus) has coloration and behaviors that often keep its presence secret or disguised.
Last August at Simpson Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia, two of our workers were cutting back and weeding in the Scented Garden when they saw a sphinx moth and called us all to take a look. As you see in the two photos here, its camouflage spots match very well with the plant to which it was clinging. Audrey Faden identified it as a sphinx moth, and Denise Dieter photographed it and did some Internet research, concluding it was specifically Eumorpha pandorus, part of the larger family of sphinx moths (Sphingidae), which also includes hawk moths and horn worms. We had found one in a different part of Simpson Gardens during the previous summer, but it was dead on the ground.
Sphinx moth adults typically fly at dusk from April to August. They are common in the Eastern part of the United States. Females are generally larger than males. While they can produce two or more generations per year in the South, in the North, there is just one. They are dormant in winter, when the pupae spend the cold season in underground chambers near the plants where they feed in summer. Preferred food plants are grape vines and Virginia creeper. Oddly, neither is prevalent at Simpson. These moths can be a significant pest in vineyards.
Bug Guide: Species Eumorpha pandorus – Pandora Sphinx
Michigan State Extension: Hornworm caterpillars: The big cats of the vineyard
Mississippi Entomological Museum: North American Moth Photographers Group,