I get questions this time of year from observers about a hummingbird-like animal that hovers in front of flowers and extends a strawlike tube into them.
The creature is the white-lined sphinx moth in most cases. About 45 minutes after sunset one night, a moth visited our white petunia flowers, and at other times we have seen them fluttering over garden flowers in bright daylight. Sometimes I have watched them getting nectar right along side ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Sphinx moths, hummingbird moths and hawk moths are all names for the same family of moths. These moths have spindle-shaped bodies that are large enough to accommodate powerful wing muscles. Each is important as a pollinator with its long proboscis. The white-lined sphinx has a wingspread of about 3 inches. The forewings are long, narrow and pointed, and the hind wings are relatively small. The moth is brown with white lines on its head, thorax and wings. A rosy-colored band appears across the middle of each hind wing.
The moths were given the label sphinx probably because as caterpillars they rest with their heads drawn in and the front segments of their bodies elevated in a way that resembles an Egyptian sphinx.
White-lined sphinx caterpillars are generally recognized by their green bodies with yellow spots.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.