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Modest Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Modest Sphinx Moth

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Image Credit: Rebecca B. from Central City, CO
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Image Credit: Dan D. from South Burlington, VT
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Image Credit: Kathy O. from Kerhonkson, NY
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Image Credit: Dan D. from South Burlington, VT
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Image Credit: Anna B. from Auburn, ME
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The color on the wings of the Modest Sphinx Moth is as moody as a stormy watercolor.

Updated: 09/08/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The Modest Sphinx is a large, hairy moth that has a few color variations. Wings can be gray, taupe, or brown in color. Each forewing has two major color bands: the upper part is light gray and the lower half is almost black. In some individuals, the lower half also has waves of lighter bands that create a rippled, gradient effect. In the darker center of each forewing is a white dash or caret. When completely spread flat, one can see that the hindwings are a deep purple color. The bottom edges of the wings are scalloped and rimmed with a very thin white line. The Modest Sphinx resembles its close relative, the Big Poplar Sphinx Moth. In fact, at one point in history, this species shared the same common name which created some confusion.

Females lay fertilized eggs on the leaves of host trees. The Modest Sphinx caterpillar feeds on the leaves of cottonwood trees as well as poplar, aspen, and willow. Because these host trees are prevalent across the continent, the Modest Sphinx is found in every country of North America. The fleshy, green caterpillar is covered with tiny white dots. The pink-purple face is flat, not round like other caterpillars, and is teardrop-shaped. Three to six yellow diagonal lines mark the sides of the body. A long white diagonal line reaches up to connect to a short white horn that projects from the rear. It pupates and overwinters, emerging as an adult in late spring. Adults are active all summer into autumn. They are found in elevated, forested areas, as well as areas near water like creeks, streams, and river banks.

General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Hairy 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: modesta
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Pachysphinx modesta
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 76mm to 120mm (2.99" to 4.72")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: gray, black, brown, white
Descriptors: white mark, dash, caret, blush, huge, hairy, furry, flying
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 76mm and 120mm
Lo: 76mm
Md: 98mm
Hi: 120mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Modest Sphinx Moth 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 Modest Sphinx Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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