White-Lined Sphinx Moth

Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, nectaring from thistle

Photo by: Bryan Reynolds

Hyles lineata

Usually when moths are mentioned, the first thought is about the small white creatures that flutter into lightbulbs at night. For the White-Lined Sphinx Moth, this description does not hold true. With an adult wingspan of 2-3 inches and a diet consisting of plant nectar, this moth has earned its nickname of “The Hummingbird Moth.” The adults of this species are easily identifiable due to a fairly consistent coloration of brown forewings with thick white lines running from the body to the tip of the wing. They also showcase distinct flashes of pink on their hind wings, as well as being extremely hairy. The caterpillars however, come in a wider variety of colors spanning from light green to purple to black, but can be identified in their full-grown larval form by their distinct horn. The larvae of this moth are typically hosted by apple trees, fuchsia, grape, and primrose but due to the wide range of this pollinator, a robust list of dietary plants would be too long and dependent on geography.
The adult of this species has been known to feed on and pollinate a large variety of flower nectar. Typically, their diet depends on what time of the day the moth is active as the White-Lined Sphinx Moth is known to be both nocturnal and diurnal dependent on the location and time of year. Typically, the moth will prefer more fragrant flowers like honeysuckle and primrose. Diurnal moths will primarily harvest nectar from brightly colored flowers, but nocturnal ones will prefer to drink from the white and gray flowers that offer more contrast against the darkness. When feeding, they heavily resemble hummingbirds due to their long proboscis and fuzzy hovering body, and they fulfill a similar role during pollination.
As a pollinator, this species is inconsistently helpful in the proliferation of plants. Studies have shown that hyles lineata has a variable tongue length among individuals, and due to their feeding habits, this changes their effectiveness in pollination. Individuals with relatively short tongues often get covered in pollen when they feed, which allows for pollination to occur when the moth goes to another flower. Longer tongue individuals do not collect pollen in the same way, and are capable of taking nectar from a flower without pollinating the plant.

Written by: Joshua Hughes, an undergraduate Aerospace Engineering student at the University of Oklahoma