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

Black Cone-headed Grasshopper

Unlike the Egyptian Flower Mantis, the Black Cone-headed Grasshopper (Poekilocerus bufonius), with its large black body and slow movement, is easy to spot!  Especially when they are resting on the rocks.

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But these grasshoppers feed on plants in the milkweed family, which produce toxic chemicals. Ingesting these plants make the grasshoppers poisonous and distasteful to predators. When they are attacked, Black Cone-headed Grasshoppers spray a toxic fluid in defense. In Arabic, they are called zagat, meaning “the one who sprays toxins onto girls’ faces”.

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You’ll most often find these grasshoppers on Pergularia tomentosa plants. Many Bedouin, before sitting down near one of these plants, will throw stones at the bush to scare off any grasshoppers. Sometimes these plants will be home to many grasshoppers. How many can you count in the picture below?

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I’ve also spotted Black Cone-headed Grasshoppers on ajram (Anabasis sp.), harjal (Solenostemma arghel), reseda  (Reseda sp.), broom (Retama raetam) and other plants.

The adults that I’ve seen have been between 6 – 10 cm in length. They are black or dark-colored, sometimes with yellow spots. I’ve noticed orange underwings on several.

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Females are substantially larger the males, as you can see in the photo of the mating pair below.

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As is typical of this order of insects (Orthoptera), the grasshoppers go through incomplete metamorphosis. The young nymphs resemble the adults but have no wings and can have extremely different colors. Look at these beautiful yellow ones!

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As they age, they will shed their exoskeletons several times, growing wings until their final molt into a mature adult with fully-developed wings.

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I’ve spotted Black Cone-headed Grasshoppers from late fall through spring in many of the wadis around Dahab, as well as higher up near Wadi Arada (on the way to St. Katherine’s). They are one of the first critters we came across on our early wadi wanderings and I always enjoy seeing them. And photographing them! They stay so still for so long, making excellent models. 🙂

References:

Aly, D. & Khalil, R. (2011). Wildlife in South Sinai. Cairo.Funded by the E.U. in cooperation with G.O.S.S.

Zalat, S. & Gilbert, F. (2008). Gardens of a Sacred Landscape: Bedouin Heritage and Natural History in the High Mountains of Sinai. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.