Journaling Sphinx Moths (Hyles lineata)

After seeing so many of these charismatic moths on our backpacking trip, we were both so excited to see a sphinx moth caterpillar in our backyard when we returned. I spent an hour watching it and sketching in my nature journal.

close up of nature journal showing sphinx moth caterpillar sketch

I started off with my favorite light blue Pilot Color Eno pencil and then went back over with ink and watercolor. I didn’t erase, so you can still see the blue lines in some places. The pencil is also water soluable, so sometimes it ends up getting mixed into the watercolors.

No sooner did I start drawing, then it moved and dropped the leaf it was eating. I ended up finishing the sketch (on location) referring to some reference photos that I took before the caterpillar moved.

The most interesting thing was watching the caterpillar’s behavior. It spent most of the time hanging motionless from its back legs. I worried that I’d disturbed it somehow with my presence and this was its fear response, but then it started writhing about and found another small green leaf to chew on.

Adult sphinx moth checking out the wilted flowers.

While I was drawing, an adult sphinx moth buzzed by to check out the wilted flowers from the Evening Primrose. I snapped a picture, and drew from that while keeping an eye on my largely stationary friend.

I didn’t get to see the famously voracious nature these guys are supposed to have until it returned to the leaf it was hanging on.

It started carving head-shaped arcs through the leaf on the opposite side of the vein and made quick work of that size as I watched.

Then, it sat still again for some time, despite no additional movement on my part. I wonder if that chewing tired it out – or if it needed to digest – or some other thing. In any case, it was time for me to go back inside, so I don’t know how long it sat there like that – head down and slightly arched away from the main leaf.

PS. Here’s the full page with some more notes and a drawing of the caterpillar munching the small leaf nearby.

Full nature journaling page