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White-Lined Sphinx Moth: Flies in a Hurry like Hummingbirds

White-Lined Sphinx Moth: Flies in a Hurry like Hummingbirds

The White-Lined Sphinx Moth came to me by surprise. The dandelions in town have just begin blooming, so I went to go sit with them. I found a few Painted Lady butterflies hanging out there, so I followed them with my camera lens when something new entered it. Immediately, I began taking photos hoping that a few of them might catch the moth in a moment of stillness or near stillness to identify it later. The wings beat so fast it reminded me of a butterfly.

This new moth, for that was the extent of my preliminary identification, few fast between dandelions. It never put its legs down to feed like the Painted Lady butterflies nearby. It always hovered above using its long tongue to extract a bit of food.

Fascinated, I stayed near this new moth. Crawling slowly closer, I followed it at a distance where it seemed to feel comfortable and I watched its behavior. It feed for only a few seconds at a time, then moved on to the next dandelion. Sometimes, it returned, but often it flapped voraciously to the next flower. I never saw it land totally for more than a millisecond. Frequently, it would feed on a dandelion very close to a Painted Lady, and neither seemed bothered by the other’s presence.

A few other planted yellow flowers bloomed in the vicinity, but the White-Lined Sphinx Moth only feed from the dandelions. In fact, none of the other insects fed from the planted flowers while I sat there.

I came back the next day to see if I could find it again and I did, in the same area, on the same dandelions. The second day, the wind had picked up and it stayed significantly less time before flying elsewhere.

When I got back to my field guides, I searched them and scanned the internet until I identified it and learned more.

White-Lined Sphinx Moth eating from a dandelion that it hovers over, showing rapid wing movement.
Note the rapid wingbeat above the dandelion and the long tongue extending down to feed.





Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium to large size for a moth
  • Wings small in comparison to body
  • Thick antennae
  • Rapid wingbeat similar to a hummingbird
  • Forewing has two shade of olive brown with the lighter shade in the middle and has white streaks through the colors
  • Hindwing is smaller and black with a pinkish-red middle
  • White stripes on upper abdomen

Life History:

  • Begins as a caterpillar on variable host plants
  • Caterpillar color varies with shades of green and black with spots and a horn on the back of the caterpillar body
  • Digs small burrows for metamorphosis, a 2-3 week process
  • Usually two generations per year


Prolific from Central America to Southern Canada as well as Europe, Asia, and Africa.

White-Lined Sphinx Moth & The Journal

Two-page journal spread with detailed text description, a sketch, a photo and field notes on an earthy background.
The two-page journal spread with photo and sketch.

I loved the challenge of identifying and learning about a moth new to me. Digging through Peterson’s Insect Field Guide, I went to the Lepidoptera section and began scanning while having the pictures I took zoomed in on my computer. I immediately recognized it on a moth picture page and went to read more.

The more facts I read, the more sure I became. When I found the sentence that said the White-Lined Sphinx moth beats its wings rapidly like a hummingbird, I knew for certain. Apparently, the family of sphinx moths usually like to feed at nighttime, but a few do feed in the day.

I began the two-page spread with the order and family to help me relate this species to others I may come across later. For insects, I find the order usually more helpful than the family, but the more I actively make note of insect families, the more I will understand.

I like to sketch the head, thorax, abdomen, and one side of the wings, partly to save space, and partly because the wings on one side are identical to the other. I find this method less intimidating than sketching both sets of usually complex wings.

The photos I took help identify the moth greatly. I used one here that best showed the wing color patterns since I do my sketches in black pen only. This particular photo also shows the distinctive white streaks on the wings and the back of the abdomen that other sphinx moths do not have. Those streaks and having the photo to zoom into helped immensely in the identification process.

Sphinx Moth feeding from a dandelion with rapid wings upward showing the underwing.
Side view of the Sphinx Moth
White-Lined Sphinx Moth Pinterest Pin with journal pages photo and text.