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Night-Flying Hawkmoths

Large hawkmoths the size of hummingbirds pollinate nocturnal blossoms of
jimsonweed (Datura) and hard-shelled gourds (Lagenaria). The moths insert
their long proboscis into the floral tube to reach the sweet nectar deep inside,
thereby pollinating these remarkable flowers during the hours of darkness.

  1. Large Hawkmoth With Its Proboscis Extended
  2. Hawkmoth Larva Resting On A Thornapple
  3. Hawkmoth Larva Resting On Potato Plant
  4. Hawkmoth Larva In Its Distinctive Sphinx Pose       
  5. Hawkmoth Pupa With Jug Handle Appendage
  6. Hawkmoth Adult Emerging From The Ground

An adult hawkmoth (Manduca sexta) with its 4 inch (10 cm) proboscis fully extended. Note the 6 orange spots on the moth's abdomen. A related species (M. quinquemaculata) has 5 orange spots.

Jimsonweed flowers (Datura wrightii) are nocturnal and open at dusk with a delicious fragrance. Nectar canals reserve nectar for the proboscis (tongue) of the native hawkmoth (Manduca sexta) who happens to be the adult of the tomato hornworm. During the hours of darkness (while you are sleeping) the moths go from plant to plant transferring pollen from their furry heads to the exerted receptive stigmas as they insert their long proboscis down the nectar canals. This moth is the primary pollinator of our local Datura wrightii. The following day the flowers wither and are no longer receptive. They often have bees inside who are after the nectar oozing out of nectar canals.

An adult hawkmoth (Manduca sexta) with its 4 inch (10 cm) proboscis retracted into a coil.

Dorsal view of (Manduca sexta) with its wings fully extended. Note the 6 orange spots on the moth's abdomen. The 6th spot is barely discernible. A related species (M. quinquemaculata) has 5 orange spots.

Camouflaged larva of hawkmoth (Manduca sexta) on the peculiar, spiny fruit of jimsonweed or thornapple (Datura wrightii). This well-known larva is also known as "tomato hornworm" and has a bad reputation among gardeners because of its voracious appetite for tomato plants.

Click on the photograph to see camouflaged larva on a light box.

Larva of hawkmoth (Manduca sexta) in its classic "sphinx pose." This is actually a fright posture with the front end raised up and head tucked under, suggesting the famous Sphinx edifice in Egypt.

The distinctive pupa of (Manduca sexta). Unlike other species of moths, the Manduca larva does not spin a cocoon. Probably every tomato gardener has unearthed the large, carmel-colored pupa with its peculiar "jug handle" appendage, which is actually a case for the developing proboscis of the adult moth.

An adult (Manduca sexta) emerging from the ground. During its metamorphosis below the ground, it transformed from a caterpillar (larva) into a pupa, and finally into an adult moth. The adult moth crawls out of the pupal case and pushes out of the soil.

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