Thursday, April 12, 2007

Zoom-Zoom-Zoom: Hawkmoths on the Banks

Every morning on my walk with Libby (around 7:30 am) for the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing these hawkmoths. (I’m pretty sure they are the White-lined Sphinx, Hyles lineata, also captured in the photo at my porch light.) They zoom around the banks of the Reach, sipping nectar from the abundant pink evening primrose. I think they may also be hitting up the newly blooming gaura.

Hawkmoths are my favorite insect. Also called hummingbird moths for their habit of hovering in front of flowers with wings beating a mile-a-minute, there are about 77 species in Texas alone. A common one that many gardeners know well is the “tomato or tobacco hornworm,” Manduca sexta. Older caterpillars of this moth will munch down a tomato plant in an afternoon.

Many hawkmoths are nocturnal, and flowers they pollinate are generally white and sweetly smelling, like our native Datura. Others are active in the evenings or morning, when light is lower. Some of those active in the day have evolved to look like bumblebees, which may protect them from predators.

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