Sphinx poecila, the Poecila Sphinx

Sphinx poecila
Poecila Sphinx
Stephens, 1828

Sphinx poecila by Bill Oehlke

This site has been created by Bill Oehlke at oehlkew@islandtelecom.com
Comments, suggestions and/or additional information are welcomed by Bill.


Family: Sphingidae, Latreille, 1802
Subfamily: Sphinginae, Latreille, 1802
Tribe: Sphingini, Latreille, 1802
Genus: Sphinx (Linnaeus, 1758)
Species: gordius (Cramer 1780)
Subspecies: poecila (Stephens, 1828)........


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Sphinx poecila, the Poecila Sphinx (Wing span: 2 11/16 - 3 3/4 inches (6.8 - 9.5 cm)), is a northern species found in boggy areas, coastal barrens, and deciduous forests in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia (healthy populations in Sheet Harbour) and southward of those provinces from Maine to Pennsylvania and westward to Michigan, northeastern Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Specimens have also been taken in Canada as far west as Alberta.

Tim Andrews sends this image of a larvae found in the Northwest Territories.

Sphinx poecila courtesy of Tom Andrews, via David Tilden.

Sphinx poecila, June 30, Peterborough, Ontario, courtesy of Tim Dyson.

The outer wing fringes are checkered black and white on the forewing, and are almost pure white (lightly checked with grey) on the hindwing. The forewing is dark gray with diffuse black and gray wavy lines with a series of black dashes ending at the wing tip, and a white cell spot. The white cell spot readily distinguishes poecila from canadensis. The hindwing is brownish gray with a wide black border and a black median line.

Sphinx poecila, Athol, Worcester, Massacusetts,
June 26, 2008, courtesy of Dave Small.


Sphinx poecila is single-brooded throughout its range with moths on the wing from May-September.


Sphingidae pupae wiggle to the soil surface from their underground chambers just prior to eclosion.


Sphinx poecila moths nectar from flowers including dogbane (Apocynum), honeysuckle (Lonicera), lilac (Syringa), evening primrose (Onagraceae), bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis), and phlox (Phlox). Pairing is for a brief time and males come in to lights much more readily than females who are busy ovipositing and feeding.


A female Sphinx poecila captured at a light on June 1, 1999, in Montague, Prince Edward Island, deposited (without feeding) 45 lime green ova on the inside of a brown paper grocery bag over a course of five evenings.

Eggs were deposited singly.

I offered the larvae apple, larch, rose and blueberry. Almost all the hatchlings quickly moved to the blueberry, and I remembered my first encounter with a fifth instar poecilus larva in a blueberry field in early July. I had taken some of the children out to rake blueberries and uncovered the brightly coloured larva at the edge of the field.

The third instar larvae to the right have not yet acquired the bulk or dramatic diagonal striping of the fourth and fifth instars.

Due to difficulties with sleeving or caging outdoor low growth blueberries, these larvae are being reared indoors on cut food.

Larvae entered the fourth instar around July 8 and began consuming tremendous amounts of food.

Striking colouration of diagonal lines and black peppering is now evident.

Droppings also have an unusual and irregular shape, resembling short .22 calibre bullets with a tapered tip and cylindrical shaft.

One of the larvae was considerably darker than the others and upon moving into the fifth instar took on a dramatic, deep purple colouration.

Sibling larvae remain green and are beginning to bulk up considerably for pupation by mid July. Now I can snack on blueberries as I gather foliage.

As larvae leave foliage and begin to crawl around bottom of plastic containers, they will be moved to buckets lined with paper towels and kept in a dark, warm location.

Caterpillars of S. poecila reportedly feed on Apple (Malus), sweetfern (Myrica), Carolina rose (Rosa carolina), blueberry and huckleberry (Vaccinium), white spruce (Picea glauca), American larch (Larix laricina), and alder (Alnus).

Larvae pupate readily in 4-5 days under artificial conditions, i.e., a dark enclosure with loose paper litter. I use a covered, five-gallon bucket loosely lined on the bottom with three to four sheets of paper towels.

When larvae are about ready to pupate, i.e., they have left foliage to descend tree branches or stems, I gently put them in the buckets. I put as many as twenty larvae in a single pupation bucket.

They should not be moved for a week or so to give the pupal shell time to harden.

The first pupa was formed on July 22.

Sphinx poecila fifth instar, Orono, Penobscot County, Maine,
September 13, 2011, courtesy of Soren Sidell-Peterson via Anne Malena.

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