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What type of moth is this?

What type of moth do you think this might be? It was the length of maybe a pinky finger.

Kevin, Santa Barbara County - September 22, 2022

Curator Response

Hi Kevin,

This is the White-lined Sphinx, Hyles lineata, an extremely widespread moth that can reach amazingly high densities in the desert areas of North America. Like a lot of Lepidoptera that are strong fliers, this moth has a yearly emigration pattern in which individuals from source populations in Mexico and the Southern U.S. successively colonize more and more northerly regions as the year progresses, and make it up to Canada and Alaska before the season becomes too cold. This moth also occurs in parts of the West Indies, Central and South America, and even Eurasia and Africa.

People often notice the White-lined Sphinx since they're large, boldly-patterned, and (like most moths) strongly attracted to lights at night, but they're also conspicuous when they nectar in gardens during the morning, late afternoon, or even at night. This is the moth most likely to be identified as a "hummingbird moth," since they're skilled fliers who hover while probing flowers. The caterpillars, which are of the classic "hornworm" type (with a pointy projection on the top of the rear end) characteristic of the family Sphingidae, can be so abundant some years that they make desert highways hazardous for driving! They feed on a wide variety of plants, but seem to be partial to those in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae) and the rose family (Rosaceae). We had someone ask us to identify the caterpillar in a previous question, so thank you for helping us cover another phase of their lives on this community resource.

Stay curious,

Schlinger Chair & Curator of Entomology Matthew Gimmel, Ph.D.