Thursday, May 06, 2010

Name this moth!

This very cool hawk moth spent a little time by the door of my cabin last night. All hawk moths are cool, in my opinion, and this one was no exception. So what kind of hawk moth is it? I’d say the moth is a master of disguise, because I’ve already positively identified it five times and I still can’t tell you what it is. I am, however, starting to have a really long list of what it isn’t.

This particular hawk moth is challenging because it is fairly nondescript and doesn’t have patches of pink or lime or yellow on it, as many of them so conveniently do. There’s unfortunately a whole group of hawk or sphinx moths or varying shades of brown and browner. At the moment I’m leaning towards a hawk moth of the manduca genus, possibly manduca sextus, which is also known as the Carolina sphinx, but is well documented in Pennsylvania.

I’m also hampered in my identification by the moth itself. Its wings aren’t spread, and when I very cautiously touched it last night, it didn’t budge, and I didn’t make a second attempt. If I’d been able to see the moth with its wings spread or at least had a decent view of the spots along its abdomen, identifying it would be much easier. Let that be a lesson—look for the abdomen spots and try to see those wings spread if you want to identify one of the well-camoflauged hawk moths.

I can tell you that this moth was a lovely, large one whose wingspan would easily have been 4 inches if its wings were spread and whose body length was a good 2 inches.

I used books and online resources in my attempt to identify the moth. My favorite book is the 1904 The Moth Book by J.M. Holland. A good moth and butterfly site is, which allows you to look for species by your state and county records and has a photo of each.


cathy said...

Maybe you can get the moth to walk on a piece of glass. Then you can look it's belly. Or maybe you'll get lucky and it will land on a screen.

Carolyn H said...

Cathy: Well, the moth didn't come back, and I don't have a piece of stray glass or clear plastic at hand (that's a good idea, though), and it didn't land on the screen. So it's still a mystery, though I do know it's a hawk moth, so that's something!