Adela paludicolella, Heraklion- photo © K. Bormpoudaki

Adela paludicolella, Heraklion- photo © K. Bormpoudaki

The Family Sphingidae (Sphinx Moths, Hawkmoths)

The Family Sphingidae

The family Sphingidae (Hummingbirds, or Sphingids, or Sphinx moths or Hawk moths) belong to the Superfamily Sphingoidea. The family is best represented in the tropics, but species are found in every region.

Most Sphingids are medium to large moths, with heavy bodies; wingspan is 4-10 cm. Some species lack scales on large portions of their wings, resulting in transparent or clear wings. The proboscis rolls up when not in use. Both males and females are relatively long-lived (10-30 days).

They are some of the faster flying insects; some are capable of flying at over 19 km/h! Some hawk mothshover in midair while they feed on nectar from flowers. Their flying ability, especially their ability to move rapidly from side to side while hovering, called “swing-hovering" is considered to have evolved to deal with ambush predators that lie in wait in flowers.

Some species fly only for short periods either around dusk or dawn, while other species only appear later in the evening and others around midnight, but such species may occasionally be seen feeding on flowers during the day. Other species are known to be migratory, especially in the genera Agrius, Macroglossum, Hippotion, and Theretra.

Most species are capable of producing several generations a year if weather conditions permit. Females lay translucent, greenish, flattened, smooth eggs, usually singly on the host plants. Egg development time varies, between 3-21 days.

The larvae of this family are amongst the most impressive of any of these moths and most are strikingly colored and large. In most species, the larval stage is called a “hornworm" because the caterpillar’s posterior end has a harmless hook or hornlike appendage protruding upward. Many of the larvae adopt a characteristic sphinx-like posture when at rest on the food plant, or when threatened have the ability to retract their head into the larger thoracic segments making them appear larger and more intimidating to a potential predator. The pupae are all subterranean spending the winter below ground in a constructed chamber.

The following species are representative species of the Sphingidae moths that have been photographed on the island of Crete. You can obtain more information about each species, by selecting the relative species icon. The list of Sphingidae species is nondefinitive.

List of Sphingidae species in Crete