Sphinx moths spectacular garden visitors

On Old Luther Grade, a White-Lined Sphinx moth reels in his proboscis after schlurping from wild Horsemint. Photo special to The R-C from Jay Aldrich

On Old Luther Grade, a White-Lined Sphinx moth reels in his proboscis after schlurping from wild Horsemint. Photo special to The R-C from Jay Aldrich

Last week, the Aug. 18 Morning Report featured a gorgeous photograph of a sphinx moth taken by John Flaherty. It always feels like a stroke of luck to encounter one of these moths, and there seems to be an abundance of them this year. I’ve seen them aplenty in my yard and around our neighborhood, on several area hiking trails, and in two different spots along the California coast.

Part of the moth family Sphingidae, the species name of the white-lined sphinx moth is Hyles lineata. Also known as a hawk moth, these creatures bear a striking resemblance to hummingbirds both in appearance and movement. They are able to hover in front of a flower and sip its nectar with their long tongue (proboscis), which can look very much like a hummingbird’s beak.

All that effort among the flowers makes these moths important pollinators. Fine pollen particles collect on their legs and bodies and are spread about as the moths move from plant to plant.

If you’ve not yet had the good fortune to come across one of these magical moths, try heading out at dusk or dawn and looking around flowering plants and shrubs. On evening strolls, I sometimes spot them flitting around different greenery including honeysuckle vines, milkweed, and phlox. Online, you can find some nice video representations on YouTube.

I took video of a sphinx moth on a recent visit to Southern California; it was one among several congregating around a low-growing cluster of white impatiens. This past July, I found a sphinx moth caterpillar at River Fork Ranch while participating in the BioBlitz hosted by the University of Nevada, Reno-Douglas Extension. Its bright green body was a stark contrast to the pebbled ground, but it was still well camouflaged by the surrounding greenery, and it felt like a lucky find.

To learn more about these magical moths, visit this online publication from the UNR Extension at naes.agnt.unr.edu/PMS/Pubs/1434_2020_01.pdf, or find this US Forest Service webpage at fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hawk_moths.shtml.

Full moon hike at Washoe Lake State Park

The August super blue moon rises next week, and Washoe Lake State Park marks the occasion with a full moon hike on Aug. 29. The event takes place from 7:30-9 p.m. along the South Loop Equestrian Trail at 4855 Eastlake Boulevard, New Washoe City, 89704.

The route is a 2.5 mile loop. Hikers should come prepared with comfortable footwear, layered clothing, insect repellent, and water. Dogs are welcome and must be kept on a six-foot leash at all times.

Reservations are required for this event. Call 775-687-4319 or send an email to wlsp@parks.nv.gov to secure a spot. Park entrance fee is $5 per vehicle for Nevada residents and $10 per vehicle for non-Nevada residents. There’s no fee to participate in the hike.

For more information, visit parks.nv.gov/events/august-full-moon-hike-at-washoe-lake.

The moon won’t reach peak fullness until Aug. 30-31, but it will appear full a couple of days before and after that date.

This is the second full moon within the month of August, making it a blue moon. It’s also the third in a series of four super moons, defined by NASA as “a full moon occurring near or at the time when the Moon is at the closest point in its orbit around Earth” (solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/922/what-is-a-supermoon/). The final super moon of 2023 rises Sept. 18, but the next super blue moon won’t take place until January 2037 (moon.nasa.gov).

Amy Roby can be reached at ranchosroundup@hotmail.com.


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