Hemaris gracilis - (Grote and Robinson, 1865)
Slender Clearwing
Other English Common Names: Graceful Clearwing, slender clearwing
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
French Common Names: sphinx gracieux
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.120445
Element Code: IILEX0W020
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Invertebrates - Insects - Butterflies and Moths - Sphinx Moths
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Mandibulata Insecta Lepidoptera Sphingidae Hemaris
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Hodges, R.W. et al., eds. 1983. Check List of the Lepidoptera of America North of Mexico. E.W. Classey Limited and The Wedge Entomological Research Foundation, London. 284 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B83HOD01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Hemaris gracilis
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 03Feb2015
Global Status Last Changed: 26Mar2000
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by calculator
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: This day-flying moth is very rare or historic in much of its range but is more common in the northern parts. It is one of the few moths in this book that is usually found in very small numbers even in the right habitat. It is ranked as uncommon to rare in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Ontario, and seems to be substantially less rare only in Quebec and New Brunswick (Reginald Webster). D. F. Schweitzer has failed in repeated attempts in the 1980s to find this moth in the extensive pine barrens of southern Maine, but nearby bogs might harbor populations. It went undetected in New Jersey, a generally well-collected state, for over 40 years and while also overlooked, it probably really has become rare due to loss of open heathlands with the Pine Barrens. Its diurnal behavior might cause moth collectors to overlook H. gracilis to some extent, but that is not likely to be a major factor except in southern New Jersey since elsewhere it flies with the various elfins (Callophrys) and spring skippers most moth collectors also collect. This moth does not usually occur on small or degraded remnants of pine barrens habitat, such as the current Albany New York Pine Bush, although it does occasionally persist along power line rights-of-way. It is not clear whether this species is declining beyond what would be expected from habitat loss and fragmentation. A general decline of open shrubby or sparsely wooded habitats, such as favored by this moth in the northeastern United States, is well known (Wagner et al., 2003). There are recent collections from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island (Webster), and Connecticut (DLW), which do not suggest a major change in New England since Farquhar's (1934) time, but H. gracilis is probably rarer now than it was historically. For example, there is only one recent site in Connecticut where from the 1920's to 1960's it was known from at least three counties, and D. F. Schweitzer never saw any individuals during many visits between1983 and1988 to suitable habitats near Boston where there are multiple old records, or in Connecticut from 1975-1982. It is possible this species has increased slightly since about 2000 in Connecticut, where it is found now but apparently was not found in the 1970s to 1990s, and perhaps in Pennsylvania. M. C. Minno found a recently dead adult in 2002 in his parents' greenhouse in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, but never found this species there through childhood. Only a few old records are known for two localities Pennsylvania (Tietz 1952) and there is reason to consider the Pittsburgh record dubious. There have been two other collections of singletons in Luzerne and ###### counties this decade (fide Steve Johnson). This moth is extremely rare in Florida as well (Kimball 1965, Jeff Slotten) and there are only one or two specimens from the Carolinas. Perhaps most puzzling is the lack of records from Maine, where habitats are seemingly numerous, since Brower (1974). Since most larvae are mature by early July in Massachusetts and southward and occur near the ground in open habitats, it very unlikely H. gracilis was significantly impacted by Compsilura concinnata. This moth is uncommon to historic in its US range and is ranked as secure (S4) only in Quebec and as merely uncommon to rare (S3) only in Wisconsin, and as S3? in Ontario. It is also not especially rare in New Brunswick (R. Webster). Massachusetts appears to be among the US strongholds and ranks the species S2S3.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3N4 (19Oct2000)
Nation: Canada
National Status: NU (24Aug2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Connecticut (S2), Delaware (SNR), Florida (SNR), Georgia (SNR), Illinois (SNR), Indiana (S1S2), Maine (SH), Maryland (SNR), Massachusetts (S2S3), Michigan (SNR), Minnesota (SNR), New Hampshire (S2S3), New Jersey (SU), New York (SU), North Carolina (S1S2), Ohio (SNR), Pennsylvania (SH), Rhode Island (SNR), South Carolina (SNR), Vermont (SNR), Virginia (SNR), Wisconsin (S3S4)
Canada Alberta (S2), Manitoba (S2S3), New Brunswick (SU), Newfoundland Island (SU), Nova Scotia (SU), Ontario (S3), Prince Edward Island (SU), Quebec (S3), Saskatchewan (SU)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Nova Scotia west at least to Wisconsin and probably North Dakota; then south along the coast to New Jersey and very spottily to Florida. Current distribution in the Midwest unclear.

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: D information inadequate and data can be hard to interpret.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)

Long-term Trend: Decline of 30-70%
Long-term Trend Comments: Probably not declining everywhere. Certainly fewer modern than historic occurrences in New England, but it seems less rare there and in Pennsylvania now than a few decades ago (Schweitzer et al., 2011). Very rare or historic south of New Jersey

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Not intrinsically vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.
Environmental Specificity Comments: Habitat not well understood in some places, but this is a species of rather large open heathlands or sparsely wooded pine barrens, whether natural or man-made.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Inventory is particularly needed in New Jersey and Canada where large metapopulations might well exist.

Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) Nova Scotia west at least to Wisconsin and probably North Dakota; then south along the coast to New Jersey and very spottily to Florida. Current distribution in the Midwest unclear.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, VA, VT, WI
Canada AB, MB, NB, NF, NS, ON, PE, QC, SK

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
CT Litchfield (09005), Windham (09015)
IN Lake (18089), Porter (18127)
MA Dukes (25007), Franklin (25011), Plymouth (25023), Worcester (25027)
NC Onslow (37133)
NH Cheshire (33005), Coos (33007)*, Hillsborough (33011)*, Merrimack (33013), Sullivan (33019)*
NJ Cumberland (34011)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
01 Contoocook (01070003)+, Nashua (01070004)+*, Merrimack (01070006)+, Waits (01080103)+*, Black-Ottauquechee (01080106)+*, Middle Connecticut (01080201)+, Miller (01080202)+, Chicopee (01080204)+, Cape Cod (01090002)+, Quinebaug (01100001)+, Housatonic (01100005)+
02 Cohansey-Maurice (02040206)+
03 New River (03020302)+
04 Little Calumet-Galien (04040001)+
07 Chicago (07120003)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Ecology Comments: This species rarely occupies habitat much under 500 hectares and most pine barrens in the 400-1000 no longer support this species, although some such as Albany, New York and Concord, New Hampshire did have populations originally. It is possible that in areas where the introduced Tachinid COMPSILURA CONCINNATA is not abundant H. GRACILIS could maintain populations in smaller areas although observations in southern New Jersey suggest otherwise.
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: There are no real data on movements but there are some random observations. Around Atlantic City Airport, New Jersey the species seems to be widespread in the winter mowed heathlands, occupying all major patches even those separated by several kilometers. Adults are seen there on Lyonia flowers that are separated from likely breeding habitats by more than a kilometer of forest which they sometimes fly over. Schweitzer has found adults in powerline corridors with substantial larval foodplant but not associated with other obvious habitats and/or more than 10 kilometers from any in both Massachusetts and New Jersey but it is not really clear if these corridors are low quality habitats or mainly used for dispersal. Fight speed has not been measured but appears to be slower than a hummingbird and faster than most passerines. Adults seen in flight generally fly beyond viewing range.
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, SCRUB-SHRUB WETLAND
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Savanna, Shrubland/chaparral, Woodland - Conifer, Woodland - Mixed
Habitat Comments: A species of extensive heathlands and various kinds of barrens with heath openings. Typical habitats northward include open pine barrens, right of ways, airports etc. on sandy, or occasionally rocky, acid soil. It is unclear if this species also breeds in bogs, and unlikely it utilizes forests much. Habitat south of New Jersey is virtually unknown.
Adult Food Habits: Nectarivore
Immature Food Habits: Herbivore
Food Comments: Larvae feed on leaves of blueberry--VACCINIUM VACILLANS and obviously one or more of the northern ones. They may well use other heaths. In southern New Jersey adults nectar almost entirely on LYONIA MARIANA. Northward they may prefer blueberry and have been reported from others as well. In New Jersey they fly mostly well after blueberries flower.
Adult Phenology: Diurnal
Immature Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates
Phenology Comments: Adults occur in late May or June in most places, but are not earlier in southern New Jersey than farther north. They probably fly in April or earlier in the far south. There may be a partial second brood in July or August in some places. The egg stage is about six days, larval stage is about a month, and most of the year is spent as a pupa in the leaf litter.
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Apparently pupae are above ground so no stage is protected from fire and in most habitats mortality would be very high at any time of year. On the other hand, habitat condition might well be optimal the second season after a fire and if this species really is now rare in the New Jersey Pine Barrens a decline in wildfires has probably contributed as formerly open, even grassy, habitats become increasingly dominated by shrubby oaks. This species may in fact require very open low heath habitats largely devoid of taller shrubs (like scrub oaks) as well as trees. The exact habitat needs of this species, especially southward, are very poorly understood. BTK use during or just after the adult flight season would probably kill most hatchings but there is no basis to predict whether older larvae later in June or July would be killed. In most of the United States range, including New Jersey, BTK applications aimed at Gypsy Moth should be too early to have a severe impact on this species, but northward Gypsy Moth or Spruce Budworm spraying might have an impact. Gypsy Moth larvae do eat blueberry but severe defoliation in open habitats is unlikely. Since most larvae are mature by early July in Massachusetts and southward and occur near the ground in open habitats, it unlikely H. gracilis was significantly impacted by Compsilura concinnata.

Biological Research Needs: More precise information on larval foodplants would be useful.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Heathland Lepidoptera

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A location where the species occurs or recently has occurred where there is potential for continued occurrence or regular recurrence. Minimally a collection or for some species a diagnostic photograph in association with appropriate habitat and foodplant. Habitats usually do not include closed canopy forest even if the foodplant extends into such places. Generally, the Specs for Pine Barrens moths should be used when dealing with habitats greater than 200 hectares or if the heatlhands are imbedded within acid woodlands or barrens.
Mapping Guidance: See food and habitat comments field for species-specific habitat information when mapping these species. While relatively small patches of more closed canopy jack or pitch pine within an occurrence can be mapped as part of it do not extend occurrences boundaries beyond the prime habitat into these marginal types.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 2 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Alternate Separation Procedure: Size of occurrences and intervening landscape may be appropriate considerations in assigning separation distances--at least with moths. With small discrete habitats Specs for bo Lepidoptera can be used instead. Almost certainly when occurrences are confined to a few hectares the unsuitable habitat distance is appropriate. However if one or both occurrences occupies more than 100 hectares and the larval foodplant occurs patchily in the intervening terrain the suitable habitat distance may be more appropriate. In such case females from the primary habitats will probably oviposit in these intervening patches sufficiently to justify connecting the occurrences. This is especially true if the intervening terrain is a right-of-way with the larval foodplant. In general though do not use the suitable habitat distance if the foodplant is really absent for more than half the suitable habitat distance, and ignore scattered small, weak understory plants in determining this.
Separation Justification: Virtually all of these species occasionally turn up out of habitat and all occupy a range of habitat sizes. Although most of them can occur widely over large dry or mesic jack or pitch pine barrens, sometimes hundreds or thousands of hectares, they can also persist in bogs of only a few hectares. Small barrens remnants and ridgetop habitats may lack these species even though they will occur in even smaller bogs--this might reflect past fires.
Thus the separation distances are variable as explained in Alternate Separation Procedure. All distances are arbitrary. The suitable habitat distance will usually be moot because in habitats other than pine barrens most occurrences are much smaller than 10 kilometers across, in fact many are not close to a square kilometer. However in the few places where habitats really are large most of these moths can be expected to fully occupy them such situations would be qualify for the Pine Barrens Moths Specs. Given that these moths do stray out of habitat, but not commonly, the one kilometer distance is chosen as likely to confer substantial separation of smaller occurrences, but probably not complete lack of gene flow. Obviously the larger two sources are the more likely individuals are to move between them.
Among factors considered in the distances was flight speed which for most or all species is about .5 to 10 meters per second or about 1.8 to 36 km per hour. Aside from many Geometridae most probably exceed 10 km per hour. Even the slowest of these species should have no difficulty crossing these distances in life span and in most cases in a night.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 2 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: In most cases habitats are small and inferred extent is simply the entire habitat up to 400 hectares. However in areas such as Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey heathland habitats (often actually pine barrens) can be thousands of hectares (more in New Jersey) so 2 kilometers seems a very conservative figure within large habitats.
Date: 09Nov2001
Author: Schweitzer, Dale F.
Notes: Species that rarely occur in habitats other than pine barrens are not included in this Specs Group even if their larvae feed on heaths.

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Conceptually an occurrence would be a location with evidence of presence (or historical presence) that is large enough to have potential for continued presence and/or regular recurrence, that is generally where larvae occur. Minimally based on a specimen or diagnostic photograph of a larva or adult, or for some species even an expert sight record associated with suitable habitat. In practice most collection locations in a region where the species is resident may be considered as indicative of an occurrence nearby. These moths are apparently usually landscape level species, most of which do not form localized populations making occurrence definition difficult at best. Adults commonly move several kilometers to find food and the larger species could very easily move 100 km in a few nights. Even some smaller ones, Aellopos, do so. Thus occurrences for breeding areas should be based on regular presence of larvae, although not necessarily every year. In North America do not track late season occurrences of adults or larvae well north of their permanent range as occurrences, such as larvae of Agrius cingulatus in the fall on sweet potato in New Jersey or Virginia or any tropical species in Canada. Occurrences based on adult reseources probably would not be useful and would often be gardens.
Mapping Guidance: In the few cases where there is an obvious local habitat preference the occurrence boundaries would often be the same as for the associated plant community although an EO might consist of several discrete proximate patches. Similarly if the larval foodplant is strictly confined to a particular mappable habitat these can be mapped as discrete patches several to many of which can be combined as a plausible EO. In most cases though boundaries will be very difficult to define. Mapping individual plants as separate EOs would be unrealistic since it would take many plants to maintain a population. Note that even with MANDUCA BLACKBURNI whose primary native foodplant is now quite scarce, mapping these probably does not fully define the EO because larvae also feed on exotic Solanaceae. In the western USA habitats and thus occurrence boundaries will very often be defined by edaphic features or by plant communities limited by altitude. For example in arid regions FRAXINUS or VITIS feeders will be confined to riparian corridors usually in canyons and these easily mapped features can be used to define the EO.
Separation Barriers: In most cases potential barriers will be large and better treated as unsuitable habitats, but smaller brightly lit urban areas, large bodies of water with on-shore breezes, high peaks (especially those with night temperature below 10 C), or possibly habitats where night time temperatures oftren stay above 30 C; or (especially in Florida) places with frequent extensive mosquito spraying might be considered barriers. Local observations may occasionally suggest features which greatly curtail movement and if these are well under the separation distance in size they may be considered as barriers.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 20 km
Alternate Separation Procedure: Where EOs occupy islands in the ocean (e.g. off the coast of New England, USA; Hawaii) separate islands would generally be considered separate EOs if they are more than 1 kilometer from each other or from the mainland.
Separation Justification: These separation distances are arbitrary but seem reasonable considering the flight capabilities of these moths. For example D. Schweitzer has twice estimated SPHINX GORDIUS cruising along sand roads at around 40 kilometers per hour in New Jersey using an automobile speedometer. This is certainly not one of the fastest species of sphinx moths. this one though does recognize habitat boundaries (i.e. rarely enters forests) and some of the others do likewise. There are claims of faster speeds for a few. It is here assumed that most or all of them fly at 20-60 kilometers per hour or faster so all separation distances could be traversed less than half an hour. Larger distances are deemed somewhat imparctical at least if there is some need to define occurrences based on unsuitable intervening habitats. In eastern North America many species occur sparsely in forests, thickets and subrubia where their larvae feed on well distributed but not dominant, sometimes sparse, trees (often FRAXINUS), vines (mostly Vitaceae), shrubs, or even herbs. Adults lay hundreds of eggs usually singly or perhaps two or three on a plant and usually not many in a patch which implies they must cover many kilometers. There is no known documentation of individual movement distances, but some of these species rather commonly stray more than 500 to 1000 kilometers out of their normal ranges and obviously the ancestor(s) of MANDUCA BLACKBURNI colonized HAWAII from the Americas ranking these moths among the most mobile land animals on earth. It is quite unclear in many temperate areas whether related pest MANDUCA can even survive the winters or recolonize annually from hundreds of kilometers to the south. It is not at all unusual to observe or collect adults of many species (e.g some HEMARIS, HYLES, some MANDUCA) several kilometers out of habitat and likely that adults often move several kilometers per day looking for nectar or oviposition sites. Even the short lived non-feeding PACHSPHINX MODESTA and CERATOMIA AMYNTOR have shown up ten kilometers or more out of habitat in southern New Jersey (Schweitzer)--certainly failry sedentary species. At the other extreme a mass migration of the American Hyles lineata was documented widely in Great Britain in 1943.

With adequate search effort suitable habitat would almost always prove to support occupancy or frequent recurrence where it is within a few kilometers of known occupied habitat. However instances will occur where documentation of presence is limited and available proximate habitat vast. Likewise part of an occurrence (but not an entire C rank or better EO) could easily be unoccupied at times, e.g. certain months or years. Some species are very hard to document, such as SPHINX DRUPIFERARUM which is likely to be overlooked by standard collecting lights and does not come to sugar baits and at least in the Northeast generally turns up by accident.

Both distances are arbitrary, the unsuitable habitat distance is especially tentative since it is not at all known for most species if they respond to and tend to avoid habitat changes or simply cruise over large landscapes looking for mates and oviposition sites. On the other hand the separation distance within extensive suitable habitat is clearly conservative given that occurrences are populations of dozens to thousands or more of wide ranging individuals which probably live a couple of weeks and each of which can easily move 20 kilometers in an hour, so there is almost no chance that two collections only 20 kilometers apart in extensive tracts of habitat would really represent two separate occurrences.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 5 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: IE is really moot for such often low density landscape level moths that can easily move a kilometer in less than a minute. In the relatively few cases where edaphic or obvious habitat features clearly define the habitat one could reasonably consider any such patches within up to ten kilometers as part of the known EO but since this figure is probably impractical for an IE of all foodplant patches within two kilometers is arbitrarily suggested. Note USFWS designated critical habitat patches for MANDUCA BLACKBURNI up to 15,216 hectares and none under 100 hectares. Obviously functional occurrences for many continental species would be much larger. A conservative suggestion for inferred extent for a landscape level sphinx moth really would be all suitable habitat within a 5 km radius, but that may be impractical and many occurrences are much larger.
Date: 19Jun2001
Author: Schweitzer, Dale F.
Notes: These Specs were drafted mainly for higlhy mobile species with feeding aduts and relatively sparsely distributed foodplants. They may be inappropriate for species feeding on locally abundant plants such as Ericaceae, aspens, willows, or Myricaceae which may support denser populations that can persist in as little as a few hundred hectares or even less. Some of these are already assigned to other Specs groups but perhaps most SMERINTHINAE should have separate Specs. For a useful general review doubtless as applicable to temperate species as it is to tropical ones see the critical habitat proposal for MANDUCA BLACKBURNI (USFWS, 2002, e.g. p. 40640) and references therein.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 02Feb2015
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Schweitzer, D. F.
Management Information Edition Date: 28Mar2007
Management Information Edition Author: Schweitzer, Dale F.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 18Sep1999
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): SCHWEITZER, D.F

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Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:

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