overlay image

Manitoba Museum

Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera)

Sphinx and Hawk Moths


These moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds because they have a rapid wing beat that allows them to hover while collecting flower nectar. They can be active at night, dawn, or during the day. Some species are important pollinators, and many have developed specialized relationships with orchids. Larvae feed both day and night on a variety of plants, sometimes damaging crops and ornamental plants. They are often attacked by Braconid Wasp parasitoids.

Representative Genera and Species:

Hyles gallii, Hemaris thysbe

Pollinator Life Cycle:

Females lay their eggs singly or in small clusters on host plant leaves. The larvae pupate, and over-winter in loose cocoons that are spun in shallow burrows or chambers just below the soil surface, or in leaf litter. Some species have multiple generations per year.

Rarity Status:

Federally, none of the assessed members of this family are considered rare in Canada. Some species are listed as “exotic” or “accidental”.

Physical Appearance:

These medium to large moths have heavy bodies and thickened antennae with slim tips. Their narrow, pointed wings often have irregular edges, and hindwings are smaller than forewings. Colouration varies from brown, purple, orange, green, or yellow, with bands, spots, or lines. The transparent wing sections of “clearwings” have no scales. Their proboscis is usually long, staying rolled up when not in use. The larvae have a characteristic spine, giving them the common name of “Hornworm”.

Pollinator Habitat:

A wide variety of habitats, including: open woodlands and edges, scrubby areas, fields, gardens, suburbs, gardens, clearings, open meadows and roadsides, river margins, stream sides, near cottonwood or aspen trees, forests, wooded grassland valleys.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland/Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie
Sphinx and Hawk Moths