Manduca sexta - (Linnaeus, 1763)
Carolina Sphinx
Other English Common Names: Tobacco Hornworm
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.111898
Element Code: IILEX04010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Invertebrates - Insects - Butterflies and Moths - Sphinx Moths
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Mandibulata Insecta Lepidoptera Sphingidae Manduca
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
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Concept Reference
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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: Manduca sexta
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 15May2012
Global Status Last Changed: 22May1995
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Described as a "pest" and "one of our commonest hawkmoths" (Covell, 1984; Holland, 1915). This highly vagile species may be less susceptible to habitat loss or alteration than species with low vagility.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (17Oct2000)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N2 (19Jan2017)

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 Alabama (SNR), Arizona (SNR), Arkansas (SNR), California (SNR), Colorado (S5), Connecticut (SNR), Delaware (SNR), Florida (SNR), Georgia (SNR), Idaho (SNR), Illinois (SNR), Indiana (SNR), Iowa (SNR), Kansas (SNR), Kentucky (S5), Louisiana (SNR), Maryland (SNR), Massachusetts (SNR), Michigan (SNR), Minnesota (SNR), Mississippi (SNR), Missouri (SNR), Nebraska (SNR), Nevada (SNR), New Hampshire (SNR), New Jersey (SNR), New Mexico (SNR), New York (SNR), North Carolina (SNR), Ohio (SNR), Oklahoma (SNR), Pennsylvania (SNR), Rhode Island (SNR), South Carolina (SNR), Tennessee (SNR), Texas (SNR), Utah (SNR), Vermont (SNR), Virginia (SNR), West Virginia (SNR), Wisconsin (SNR), Wyoming (SNR)
Canada Ontario (SNR)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: The overall range is from near Boston, Massachusetts southwest into Chile. In the US, the normal limit seems to be roughly a line from Boston though southern most Ontario, southern Wisconsin, about half of Nebraska, to north-central Colorado and the rest of eastern Colorado, contracting eastward to southern Texas then northwest along the border to southern California, including much of the desert Southwest. In the US it is probably most common along the Gulf Coast, up through the Mississippi Valley and along the East Coast to Maryland and New Jersey. Pupae can survive winters in New Jersey and Connecticut (Schweitzer, 2006) and the species appears to be resident virtually to its northeastern limit. It occurs in southern California and north into the San Joaquin Valley (Hodges, 1971). Other than Colorado and along the southern border, this species is not widespread in the West.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Estimate thousands of occurrences.

Population Size: 10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: This was one of our commonest hawkmoths (Holland, 1915) but is less abundant now with the widespread use of insecticides on farms. Still this is a very widespread moth and it larva is well-known to most persons who have grown tomatoes from Connecticut to Florida and westward. The species is probably most common along the Gulf Coast, up through the Mississippi Valley and along the east coast to MD and NJ (Hodges, 1971). A pest (Covell, 1984).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Unknown
Viability/Integrity Comments: Probably not really many definable persistent populations in the US, but any patch of foodplant, especially unsprayed tomato patches, could have a few larvae in a given year. Adults are very mobile but probably mostly not really migratory in the eastern US portion of the range (Schweitzer, 2006).

Short-term Trend: Increase of >10%
Short-term Trend Comments: A pest species that is increasing due to association with land converted for agriculture.

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Assumed to be resistant to anthropogenic disturbance. Described as "common" and as a "pest" (Covell, 1984; Holland, 1915; Hodges, 1971).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) The overall range is from near Boston, Massachusetts southwest into Chile. In the US, the normal limit seems to be roughly a line from Boston though southern most Ontario, southern Wisconsin, about half of Nebraska, to north-central Colorado and the rest of eastern Colorado, contracting eastward to southern Texas then northwest along the border to southern California, including much of the desert Southwest. In the US it is probably most common along the Gulf Coast, up through the Mississippi Valley and along the East Coast to Maryland and New Jersey. Pupae can survive winters in New Jersey and Connecticut (Schweitzer, 2006) and the species appears to be resident virtually to its northeastern limit. It occurs in southern California and north into the San Joaquin Valley (Hodges, 1971). Other than Colorado and along the southern border, this species is not widespread in the West.

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 AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY
Canada ON

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: Carolina sphinx moth, Tobacco hornworm
General Description: Description: Front wing gray with black and white markings; usually 6 pair of yellow spots on abdomen. Lower half of subterminal line sinuous. Hindwing and forewing fringes spotted with white. Hindwing has 2 zigzag black median lines that are indistinct and fused together, with very little white between them. Wingspan 10.5-12cm (Covell, 1984). Similar species:commonly occurs sympatrically with QUINQUEMACULATA and is occasionally confused with the latter; however, the general brown color of the wings, the irregular, dark gray to black, broken, wavy subterminal line and the very narrow white marks on the fringe normally serve to separate it from QUINQUEMACULATA. The number often appears to be five but occasionally is six. SEXTA is closest in maculation to M. OCCULTA, a species which reaches our region in the mountains of southern Arizona and in southern Florida. As pointed out in the key, the most consistent difference between these two species is that the light markings on the fringe of sexta are very narrow in relation to the intervening dark brown areas, whereas in occulta these areas are basically gray and much broader, being equal to or broader than the intervening dark areas (Hodges, 1971). Genitalia: The most characteristic feature of the male genitalia is that the apex of the sacculus is divided into two, free lobes; the ventral one is slender and pointed; the dorsal one is blunt apically and is toothed along the outer and dorsal margins. In the female genitalia the lamella antevaginalis is broadly subtriangular and heavily sclerotized; the dorsal surface of the ductus bursae is heavily sclerotized at the base; and the ductus bursae is somewhat broader than is usual in the genus (Hodges, 1971). Wing coloration: This species is moderately variable in size and general tone of the wing coloration. Most specimens are brown; others have a rather heavy dusting of gray on the wings. In addition, the spots on the abdomen vary from yellow orange to yellow. A few specimens have been observed that have well-defined antemedial and postmedial brown bands on the forewings (Hodges, 1971). Larva: The mature larva usually is yellow green with seven pair of lateral white, oblique lines; these lines nearly meet dorsally and in turn are bordered dorsally with a series of transverse, black dashes; and the horn is red (Hodges, 1971). Pupa: The pupa has a typical jug-handle tongue case. According to Mosher (1918:412) the pupae of sexta and quinquemaculata are not always separable on characters of the tongue case. Diagnosis of the pupae: Spiracular furrows of the fifth abdominal segment very seldom extending ventrad of the spiracle and then only the lateral furrow, which may extend for about 1mm or less; tongue case usually reaching for half, or less, the distance between the cephalic end of the body and the caudal margin of the wings, not strongly arched (seldom over 2mm), and touching more than at the tip (Hodges, 1971).
Ecology Comments: Manduca sexta is probably an important pollinator in desert regions and of Platanthera orchids elsewhere. In the American Southwest, this and other Manduca are native, resident species, breeding mostly in riparian habitats during the summer rainy season. This moth is usually not associated with natural habitats east of about Texas, although Datura growing in recently abandoned or at least recently plowed, old fields are used as foodplants as far east as New Jersey (Dale Schweitzer), where some of these might be native. Manduca sexta is primarily a crop pest (the most common hornworm on tomato) eastward where it is usually controlled by insecticides, native parasitoids, and plowing of the pupae, in farmlands to the extent it is common, but does not reach high densities. Despite dependence on anthropogenic habitats, eastern US populations are apparently not dependent on migration, and pupae do survive in regions with cold winters (Schweitzer, 2006). Phenology is well-adapted to local climate and crop phenology. In eastern North America, Manduca sexta has probably evolved as primarily a crop pest for thousands of years, at first mostly on tobaccos, later on tomatoes, potatoes and others. Adaptation to the short mid summer growing season of the arid southwestern USA and northern Mexico probably facilitated adaptation to the somewhat longer summer tobacco growing season farther east. In practice then if this species were identified as an important pollinator northeast of the southwestern desert regions, managing for it would be problamatic to impractical since no natural communities would likely support larvae. In desert regions maintaining healthy populations of native Solanaceae (and he exotic tree tobacco) should suffice for M. sexta.
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Unlike the related M. quinquemaculatus and Agrias cingulatus, M. sexta is very rarely found outside of its normal range or during the fall when migrants most typically reach up the east coast into Canada. Instead the species seems to have a stable range and well adpated phenology.
Palustrine Habitat(s): Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Cropland/hedgerow, Desert, Shrubland/chaparral, Suburban/orchard
Habitat Comments: Extremely variable regionally. In most of eastern North America this is primarily a pest of solanaceous crops, especially tomato and tobacco, of farms and gardens, although in New Jersey larvae also occur and mature (Dale Schweitzer) on introduced nightshades (Solanum) and Datura which is possibly native. It seem unlikely the species could occur in most of the east based only on wild plants. Going southwest, this moth is clearly part of the native fauna of the greater Sonoran desert region where it has several native foodplants, mostly, but not entirely Solanaceae (Tuttle, 2009), breeding mainly in riparian areas during the summer rainy season. Eastern North American populations do not appear to be commonly migratory (discussed by Schweitzer, 2006). South of the USA, habitats apparently include a variety of tropical scrub, forest, and woodlands, as well as agricultural lands.
Adult Food Habits: Nectarivore
Immature Food Habits: Herbivore
Food Comments: Over the vast range, larvae use an array of Solanaceous plants and a very few form other families (see Robinson et al., 2002, Tuttle, 2009), but in eastern North America almost, or quite, entirely crops and exotic weeds. Adults visit many kinds of flowers and probably are important pollinators of some, such as native tobaccos, agave, and mescal.
Immature Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates
Phenology Comments: In North America only pupae are present for most of the year. While Tuttle states the species is univoltine northward, there is a partial second brood in about mid or late August very near the northeastern limit of the range in Connecticut and New Jersey (both Dale Schweitzer), where adults occur throughout July and August, sometimes late June in New Jersey,and not after about 12 September. Phenology is similar in Arizona, although perhaps there is no second brood (Tuttle, 2009). In the far southern US, where appearance of adults in April or May is normal, there probably are three or four broods, but nearly all larvae complete feeding before October. In Louisiana, 96% of 2129 records of adults at light traps are from May through September, with a peak in August (Brou and Brou, 1997). Presumably all stages occur year round in wet tropical regions, although Tuttle (2009) could not verify such claims for southern Florida. Adults are not present among stray or migrating hawk moths, in recent decades mostly Agrius cingulatus, that reach the northeast coast in September to early November. From egg to pupa takes under month, and if the pupae does not diapause, adults eclose in about three weeks.
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Pollinating Hawk Moths

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
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 13May2008
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Simonson, S. E., P.A. Opler and D.F.Schweitzer
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 24Apr2012
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Schweitzer, D.F.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Brou, V. A., and C. D. Brou. 1997. Distribution and phenology of Louisiana Sphingidae. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 51(2):156-175.

  • Covell, C. V. 1984. A Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America. Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, Mass.

  • Covell, C.V., Jr. 1984. A field guide to the moths of eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, MA. 496 pp.

  • Covell, Charles V., PhD. 1996. Final Report on Results of 1995 RJ/KOSE Grant to Inventory Macro-Lepidoptera at Three Indiana Bald Cypress Swamps. Submitted to Indiana Field Office The Nature Conservancy. 10 pages.

  • Hanson, T. 2017. Sphinx moth list. Vermont Natural Heritage Inventory. Sphinx_moth_list_HansonApr2017.xlsx.

  • Hodges, R. W. 1971. The Moths of North America North of Mexico. Fascicle 21, Sphingoidea (Hawkmoths). E. W. Classey Limited and R. B. D. Publications, Inc., London.

  • Hodges, R. W. 1971. The moths of America North of Mexico, fascicle 21 Sphingoidea. E.W.Classey Ltd and RBD Publications Inc, Middlesex, england. 164 pp., 14 color plates.

  • 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.

  • Holland, W. J. 1915. The Moth Book. A Popular Guide to a Knowledge of the Moths of North America. Doubleday, Page and Co. Garden City, NY.

  • Holland, W. J. 1915. The Moth Book. A Popular Guide to a Knowledge of the Moths of North America. Doubleday, Page and Co. Garden City, NY.

  • Pohl, G.R.  J-F. Landry, B.C. Schmidt, J.D. Lafontaine, J.T. Troubridge, A.D. Macaulay, E.van Nieukerken, J.R. deWaard, J.J. Dombroskie, J. Klymko, V. Nazari and K. Stead. 2018. Annotated checklist of the moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) of Canada and Alaska. Pensoft Publishers. 580 pp.

  • Schweitzer, D. F. 2006. Survival of freezing and subsequent summer eclosion by three migratory moths: Manduca sexta and Hyles lineata (Sphingidae), and Helicoverpa zea (Noctuidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 60(2):101-103.

  • Schweitzer, D. F. 2017. Current versus mid 20th century statuses of moths with big summer caterpillars (Saturniidae, Sphingidae, Datana) in nothern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. News of the Lepidopterists' Society 59 (3):134-141)

  • Smith, M. J. 1995. Moths of Western North America. 2. Distribution of Sphingidae of Western North America, revised edition. Contributions of the C. P. Gillette Insect Biodiversity Museum, Department of Entomology, Colorado State University, series by Richard S. Peigler and Paul A. Opler.

  • Smith, Michael J. 1995. Moths of Western North America, 2. distribution of Sphingidae of western North America, revised. Contributions of the C. P. Gillette Insect Biodiversity Museum, Department of Entomology, Colorado State university, Ft. Collins, Colorado.

  • Tuttle, J. P. 2007. The hawk moths of North America: A natural history study of the Sphingidae of the United States and Canada. The Wedge Entomological Research Foundation, Washington, D. C. 253 pp. +23 plates.

  • Wagner, D.L. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton Field Guides. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 512 pp.

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