I was climbing down a rocky incline very early in the morning when this white lined sphinx moth flew right under my nose and hovered in front of desert lavender awash in lilac colored blooms. The moth was gigantic, flying on wings spanning three and a half inches. I thought I’d been buzzed by a hummingbird. I had my camera handy so snapped a few pictures. See the long proboscis unrolled to probe for nectar hidden in the deepest part of the flower. This pollinator works day and night, fertilizing many native plants. On the other side of the equation, the white lined sphinx moth is a rewarding food source for bats, but is not the easy target she appears. Ears on either side of her abdomen are attuned to bat frequencies, acting as a warning system that allows her to attempt escape.
This moth has spent the winter inside a pupa buried in the soil. There she transformed from a hornworm caterpillar that marched across the desert in the fall munching on spurge and other weeds, to this ornately decorated moth that feeds on the nectars of spring. Assuming she evades the bats, nighthawks and daytime predators like mockingbirds and flycatchers, she’ll soon find a mate. Perhaps she’s already receiving the air-borne chemical signals that work like craigslist for singles. When the time comes she’ll lay tiny eggs from which hatch the green and yellow striped hornworm caterpillars. These caterpillars shed their skin as they grow, transforming into new larger instars several times before burrowing into the soil once again in a remarkable cycle of renewal.