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 Red Fox

The Egyptian Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes aegyptiacus) is the largest fox in Egypt and one of three species of fox occurring in Sinai. I’ve never spotted a fox while wandering through wadis, but over the years I’ve spotted several from moving vehicles. Always magical to see! But difficult to capture with a camera. (Especially if you’re the one driving.) One night, though, we were treated to a visit by a fox – a fox intent on stealing some fish!

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We had driven up one of the wadis behind Dahab with Eid, a Bedouin friend, who had promised to make us a traditional meal cooked over a campfire. (You can read more about the watermelon fettah here. It was delicious!) As the men were preparing the food, this fox came inching closer and closer, drawn by the scent of fish. Eid put the fish on a small raised platform to keep it away from the fox but that didn’t deter it.

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The fox also didn’t seem bothered by the flash from my camera. He was persistent, but the fox never did get the fish and was eventually shooed away by Eid’s young son.

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The Egyptian Red Fox lives elsewhere in Egypt and only relatively recently did they expand into South Sinai, most likely related to the increasing spread of human activity. These foxes are not foxes of true deserts. They inhabit vegetated wadis, farmland, gardens, and desert margins. We spotted this Red Fox several years ago, when tourism in Dahab was booming and this wadi was a popular destination for tourists to enjoy a desert dinner. Our Bedouin friend said this helped explain why the fox was around, feeding on leftovers, and not so scared of humans.

The foxes are nocturnal and eat insects, small rodents, fish, fruit, and vegetables. In Ras Mohamed, they are known to dig for crabs.

Although they are commonly called Red Foxes, this subspecies is not red, but more of a ruddy grey-brown. They have large ears and the hair on the back of the ears is black. Their tails are bushy and white-tipped and they have a darker-colored streak that runs from their muzzle to their eyes. Facial markings are a distinguishing feature among foxes and so can help identify the species. I am no expert, of course, and at first had thought this was a Rüppell’s Sand Fox, another species found in Sinai, but I have learned that the Sand Foxes have very distinctive black marks under their eyes. Tail color and proportion is another distinguishing feature; the Blanford’s Fox, also found here, has the longest tail of Egyptian foxes and it’s dark-tipped.

If you’re like me, though, you’ll be delighted to spot a fox in South Sinai, no matter what the species!

References:

Hoath, Richard. (2003). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.