Monday, April 24, 2017

Pollinator of the Week: Hawk (Sphinx) Moth by Donna Duffy

A giant hawk moth (Eumorpha typhon) adult. Image by Alfred University artist Joseph Scheer.

This information is excerpted from an article by Steve Buchman, The Bee Works. You can read the entire article here.

Moths live in a wide variety of habitats around the world. They usually go unnoticed, except when flying erratically around your porch light, a streetlight, or other light source in the darkness of night. Most moths work the night shift, unlike their “respectable cousins” the butterflies. Moths represent a biological storehouse of interesting, dramatic, and unusual behaviors, some with roles as pollinators, others as food sources.

Estimated populations of 11,000 moths are known to occur in the US. Around the world, another 160,000 species of moths have been catalogued. A staggering 200,000 or more species of moths may exist, just waiting to be discovered. The number of moths far outnumbers the number of world’s species of butterflies (17,500). Like butterflies, minute scales cover the wings of moths, making them slippery to the touch. If you have ever held a butterfly or moth, the “powder” on your hand is actually scales. The caterpillars (larvae) of hawk moths are the familiar green hornworms or tobacco worms, familiar to gardeners who plant tomatoes.

Some of the largest moths in the world belong to the hawk moth or Sphingid family within the order Lepidoptera. These magnificent moths have long narrow wings and thick bodies. They are fast flyers and often highly aerobatic. Many species can hover in place. Some can briefly fly backwards or dart away. Hawk moths are experts at finding sweet smelling flowers after dark. They are especially fond of Datura (Jimpson weed), Mirabilis (Four O’clocks), and Peniocereus (Queen-of-the-night cactus) blossoms. These flowers are highly fragrant with long floral tubes concealing pools of thin but abundant nectar.

Adult hawk moth (Manduca rustica) with its proboscis (tongue) fully extended. Image by artist Joseph Scheer.

Hawk moths have the world’s longest tongues of any other moth or butterfly (some up to 14” long). Moths pick up pollen on their legs and wings when they visit flowers and deposit pollen on subsequent floral visits.

Consider planting a moonlight or a fragrance garden to attract these nocturnal pollinators, especially the giant hawk moths.