From the Missouri Conservationist Magazine
August 2014 Issue

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White-Lined Sphynx
Danny Brown

Plants and Animals

White-Lined Sphynx

I approached slowly as the hummingbird hovered from flower to flower. I’d been looking for a decent shot all morning, and it appeared my luck was about to change. As I closed in on the tiny bird, something wasn’t right. It was the way its body vibrated awkwardly with its wing beats. A few steps later, I realized the hummingbird wasn’t a hummingbird at all. It was a moth—a white-lined sphinx to be exact. I had to get a shot of this fascinating creature!

The white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) is common to abundant throughout Missouri and can be found in woodlands, fields, and gardens. It is distinguished from other sphinx moths by its olive-brown wings, each with a light tan center line and tan streaks. The hind wings, which immediately caught my eye, are black with a beautiful rose-colored center band. The white-lined sphinx has an impressive wingspan of up to 3.5 inches. A quick check of the literature revealed that I was not the first person to mistake one for a hummingbird.

Adults fly at night and can often be found near lights, but they also fly during the day. Larvae, which are bright yellow-green or bluish-black, feed on a variety of herbaceous plants, but purslane is a favorite in Missouri. Adults visit honeysuckle, columbine, lilac, petunia, and a variety of other plants.

I closed in on the sphinx and began shooting with my usual sense of urgency, but soon realized the moth wasn’t in a hurry to move on. As I watched through my lens as the moth fed, withdrawing nectar from each thistle with its long, reddish proboscis (a long, thin, tubular mouthpart), I had the sense that it was watching me back with its oversized, brown eyes. Later, I determined that even though the furry creature had a protruding head like a mammal, and eyes as large as those of a songbird, it was virtually unaware of my presence and only interested in extracting food from the surrounding flowers. I followed the sphinx for more than a half hour, and I never once saw it rest, even for a moment.

When it became obvious there would never be a lull in the action, I took a few minutes to review the images I had made. I began scrolling through the frames on the back of my camera and was dismayed to see so many blurry shots. The moth’s oscillating was apparently giving my camera fits! I made a few adjustments and began looking for the problematic insect so I could begin round two. I had a sinking feeling when I didn’t find the busy moth right away. I was crestfallen when I realized it was gone for good. I immediately plopped down on a trailside log and began reviewing the images again. After going through almost 65 frames, I found three that adequately captured my encounter with the impressive sphinx moth. This was my favorite.

—Story and photograph by Danny Brown

Also in this issue

Trotlines

Line Up for a Good Time

Limb lines, jug lines, trotlines, throwlines, and bank lines add variety and excitement to catfishing.

columbine plants

Flora and Folklore

With names that describe healing properties, point to common uses, or tell fanciful stories, Missouri wildflowers bloom with a rich heritage.

Pseudoscorpion

Tiny Hitchers

Pseudoscorpions get around in an unusual way.

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This Issue's Staff:

Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Managing Editor - vacant
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Brett Dufur
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler