Striped Hawkmoth

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 –

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– 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.

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Striped Hawkmoth (Hyles livornica)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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a Striped Hawkmoth, attracted to the light in the tent during a spring safari

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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!

References:

Striped hawkmoth ~ ARKive

Hyles livornica ~ Moth and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa

Hyles livornica ~ Wikipedia

Egyptian Flower Mantis

The Egyptian Flower Mantis (Blepharopsis mendica) is also known as the Devil’s Flower Mantis, Thistle Mantis, and Arab Mantis, but of course, I like the Egyptian name. 🙂

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These mantids are referred to as Praying Mantises because of the way they hold their forelegs folded in front, as if in prayer. Mantises are also characterized by their triangular heads and forward facing eyes.

Spring is the perfect time to spot these mantises in our desert wadis. Specifically, to spot the nymphs. After hatching from their egg, mantises continue to go through several stages of growth. At each stage, the nymphs shed their exoskeletons, a process called molting. The nymphs start out small, as you can see from the photo below, and look quite different from adults.

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Adults can grow up to 6 cm long and are creamy-white with a marbled green pattern. And, of course, they have wings!

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They have a small pointed shield on their backs and the inside of their forelegs are orange and blue with white spots. Females have thin antennae (above) and males have feathered antennae (below).

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To notice these while wandering through wadis, you’ll have to stop and take a closer look at the plants. I have spotted these mantises on a variety of desert plants – capers, acacias, and nimnam – but most often I find them on dhafrah plants (Iphiona scabra), pictured below.

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Egyptian Flower Mantises are experts at camouflage and wait patiently on the plant for prey to pass by. Their arms are well-designed to catch flying insects. In fact, what usually draws my attention is the sight of a butterfly, still and unmoving, on the bush. An odd sight as butterflies are usually flitting around quite a bit. On closer inspection, I’ll find the butterfly is not moving because it has become breakfast for either a mantis or a spider!

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I’ve seen these mantises in several of the wadis around Dahab and also higher up in the area around St. Katherine’s. Where have you spotted them?