Moths With Longest Proboscis

We know how intricate the pollination relationship is between plants and insects. Orchid plants have flowers with long corolla tubes. To reach the nectar chamber deep inside the flower, an insect has to have a long proboscis. Sphinx moths have a proboscis that exceeds 10 inches in length. No insect group has such a feature.

The sphinx moths are stout bodied moths with long narrow forewings that span 8 inches. The hind wings are much shorter. The sphinx moths are the only insects that have the ability to hover over the flowers, the way hummingbirds fly. So much so, these moths are often mistaken for humming birds and are therefore also called hummingbird moths.

Hovering activity calls for high-speed flight and requires plenty of energy. Sphinx moths need sugar rich diet to suit their energy demands. The orchids seem to know this and they have flowers with sugary nectar and very sweet odor.

Sphinx moths are active during dusk (just before sunset). Their long proboscis combined with rapid wing beats allows them to hover and feed on the nectar like the humming birds. The orchids are pollinated by the sphinx moths.

Sphinx moths are fast fliers and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. They are also capable of rapid swooping flight like hawks. Sphinx moths are also called hawk moths.

Several species of sphinx moths exist, the most common ones being Rustic sphinx, Vine sphinx and Caroline sphinx. These moths have bright colors on the underside of wings and hidden while at rest. When disturbed, the moths startle predators by suddenly revealing the bright colors, a form of defense mechanism.

Female sphinx moths lay hundreds of eggs on the underside of food plants. Eggs hatch in a day or two. The caterpillars grow long and some species have a horn at their rear end. This gives the name, hornworms. The caterpillar, when alarmed, assumes a threatening stance by holding the front part of its body up and hunched over like a sphinx (Sphinx is an image of a sitting lion with the head of a ram, of a falcon, or of a person. Eg. Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt), and spits a thick green bad smelling fluid from its mouth .The sphinx moths derive their name from this feature of the caterpillar.

The caterpillar pupates during winter in burrows under ground, in a loose cocoon.

Adults emerge in daytime and are more active during dusk looking for sweet nectar. The moths are so fond of sugary nectar: that a moth called, the Devil’s head hawk moth goes in search of bee hives to steal honey. The long proboscis suits the purpose.