It’s been almost a year exactly since I shared a photograph of an unknown caterpillar that was devouring the basil plant in my garden. A few months ago, my students and I were able to successfully raise one of those critters indoors and finally identify it as a Convolvulus Hawkmoth (Agrius convolvuli)!
Again, we had found the caterpillar munching my basil plant, but my husband and I have also found eggs on a sweet potato plant at his farm.
The eggs are smooth, greenish spheres and are laid on the underside of leaves. The larvae will eat a range of plants, including but not limited to daisy, taro, morning glory, sunflower, purslane, and some legumes. And as we’ve learned – basil and sweet potato!
The young caterpillars are green with a straight horn on their tail ends, but the larvae will go through five instar phases, molting its skin at each stage.
Later instars develop pale diagonal stripes and their horns curve backward. Even later instars may become dark brown. The caterpillars are quite large, growing up to 8 cm in length.
Our caterpillar buried a few centimeters under gravel and leaf litter to form its pupa, which was glossy and reddish brown. The moths spend between 5 and 26 days in this stage.
Adults Convolvulus Hawkmoths are grey with light and dark patterns. The abdomen has pink patches on the side of each segment.
I have never seen these moths flying, but like other hawkmoths, they are able to hover in flight.
I am thrilled that we were able to raise this – my first! – moth and share our discoveries with you! Have you ever raised butterflies or moths at home? It truly is a fascinating experience.
I promised – to those of you follow on Facebook – that my next post would be about this magnificent critter that I found on a basil plant in my garden –
– as he was indeed the inspiration for getting back to work on this blog, and so today is all about…hawkmoths!
Unfortunately, I do not know – yet! – exactly who this bright green caterpillar is, but I do know that he (or she) is in the Sphingidae family of moths. Moths in this family are commonly called hawkmoths, sphinx moths, or hornworms.
There are over 1,450 species of Sphingidae moths. The larvae, or caterpillars, of hawkmoths are hairless and have a “horn” on the posterior end.
And while I do not know which caterpillar was munching on my basil plant, I do know who was bending over backwards to eat the tips of desert lavender. That is a larva of the Striped Hawkmoth, Hyles livornica.
It was early spring 2013 and we had had a wet winter in Dahab. There had even been a hail storm in November. So the desert plants were flourishing in the wadis!
On one early morning wander, we came across an area lush with fresh green asphodel, lavender, and sorrel. And crawling across the sandy wadi were the most amazing caterpillars I had seen in Sinai! Dozens of them. Some of the largest were as long and thick as my index finger. They were happily munching on all the nearby herbs.
Like all caterpillars, these Striped Hawkmoth larvae go through several stages of development, or instars, and their colors and patterns can change quite dramatically at each stage.
Hawkmoth caterpillars will burrow into the soil or gravel or hide among the rocks to pupate and I have never seen that stage of development. But about a month after we saw the caterpillars, we discovered the adult Striped Hawkmoths. They were busy feeding on the dhafrah (Iphiona scabra) flowers.
Sphingidae moths are known for their rapid flight and ability to hover in midair while they feed. They use their long proboscis (mouth parts) to reach the nectar in the flowers. Male moths are typically smaller than females. Both are beige with white stripes. Their hindwings, not seen when the wings are at rest, are pink and edged with black and white.
Dahab was blessed recently with several good rainstorms and young desert plants are already poking their heads through the sand. Let’s hope the plants start to thrive again and that we have beautiful green wadis to wander through this coming spring. The butterflies and moths would be happy with that, too!