Saturday, June 26, 2021


The excitement started about June 9,  with a dogwood in a gallon container awaiting it's planting out to the landscape.  All that changed when I spotted chewed leaves and realized I had work to do finding the answer to "whodunit".

I spent time going through Cranshaw's "Garden Insects of North America" chapter on leaf eating insects.  Although it didn't look exactly right, I was leaning towards a white-lined sphinx caterpillar.

Just like Superwoman, who should stop by in times of stress, the friend to all, enemy to no-one--MG, Toni.  I shared my discovery.   Toni went home and started researching also.  She discovered that the caterpillar has variations in color ranging from black to yellow and also variations in patterns from straight stripes to complicated patterns of dots and dashes.  We agreed that it was probably a  white-lined sphinx moth.

I watched the caterpillar eat its way up, down, and all around the dogwood.  On June 17 I looked and looked through the plant and found no trace  of the critter.  I checked the surrounding area thinking maybe it fell off a branch but found nothing.  My assumption was that it decided it was time to pupate and was somewhere in the soil.  

While this was going on in the gallon size black nursery pot on the floor of the sunroom, things were happening in my hanging basket of fuchsia.  A friend was admiring how delicate and complex the fuchsia flower is and commented, "Oh look, the plant has a companion."   

Yes, wonderfully hidden under the foliage was another white-lined sphinx caterpillar--the same but different.  This one had different markings and was larger.  Both had the distinctive feature of the caudal horn on the posterior part of their body.  I tracked the critter daily.  One day it was stretched the length of the branch and I was able to measure it at over 3.75 inches.

On June 23 I couldn't find it so I assume it was time to drop down into the soil and pupate for 2 weeks.  They emerge in midsummer and begin the second generation. 
The white-lined sphinx caterpillar matures into the sphinx moth.  Also called Hawk Moth or Hummingbird Moth.

The moth, Hyles lineata is a color combination of dark olive-brown, silver-gray with streaks of creamywhite, deep pink and black.

I have had my fair share of experiences with damage to my tomato plants by the tomato hornworm.  When I saw the posterior horn on the first caterpillar, I panicked as that is one of the tell-tale signs of a tomato hornworm.  The major difference is the tomato hornworm is bright green with 7-8 V-shaped white lines on their back, plus they are much larger than either of my caterpillars could hope to be.      Their Latin name is Manduca quinquemaculata. 

Tomato Hornworm

Be sure to listen to the Gardening: Get Good at It "Small Space Gardens" segment on Tues. June 29 on KPOV 88.9 FM between 9-9:30 am. 

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