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Big Poplar Sphinx (Pachysphinx occidentalis)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Big Poplar Sphinx



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Image Credit: Troy D. taken in Sangerville, ME
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Image Credit: Diane M. from Geneva, IL
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Image Credit: Pat D. from WY
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Image Credit: Troy D. taken in Sangerville, ME
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Image Credit: Troy D. taken in Sangerville, ME
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Image Credit: Pat D. from WY
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Image Credit: Pat D. from WY
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Image Credit: Heidi C. from Oakland, WI
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The large and quick Big Poplar Sphinx Moth is at home in the wild and domesticated West.



Updated: 06/23/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Sphinx Moths are first recognized for their great size. They are the biggest of the Hawk Moths in western North America. Despite having a huge wingspan over 11 cm (4.3 inches), the enormous, seemingly hefty, Big Poplar Sphinx Moth is exceedingly fast in the air. It may slow down to sun itself on a bright day, but it is mighty in flight, just like a hawk. Adults have furry heads and bodies. Wings are half light brown (near the head) and half dark brown. A wavy pattern forms an obvious border in the center of each wing. A scalloped edge at the bottom of each wing mirrors the center line. A thin whitish fringe runs along the bottom edge. A single, small, white dash on the dark part of each wing points toward the rear. Legs are dark brown. The Big Poplar Sphinx Moth resembles its close relative, the Modest Sphinx Moth.

The caterpillar for this moth is a pale green with a sharp-looking horn (that looks more like a thorn) at its tail end. This horn has a pale stripe on it. Thin diagonal stripes run along the sides of the body. Small white spots dot the sides of the tubular body. Poplar, cottonwood and willow tree leaves make up the bulk of this caterpillar's diet. Once it has grown in size, the caterpillar pupates just under the ground's surface in a cocoon made of earth.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Hairy insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Sphingidae
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          Genus: Pachysphinx
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            Species: occidentalis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Pachysphinx occidentalis
Other Name(s): Western Poplar Sphinx
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 115mm to 150mm (4.52" to 5.90")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown, white, tan, ivory, pink
Descriptors: large, flying, furry, hairy, striped
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 115mm (4.5in) and 150mm (5.9in)
Lo: 115mm
Md: 132.5mm
Hi: 150mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Big Poplar Sphinx may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Big Poplar Sphinx. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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