Sphinx perelegans

Sphinx perelegans
Elegant Sphinx
Henry Edwards, 1874

Sphinx perelegans courtesy of T. W. Davies.

This site has been created by Bill Oehlke at oehlkew@islandtelecom.com
Comments, suggestions and/or additional information are welcomed by Bill.
Much information on this page is courtesy of Tony Pittaway.


Family: Sphingidae, Latreille, 1802
Subfamily: Sphinginae, Latreille, 1802
Tribe: Sphingini, Latreille, 1802
Genus: Sphinx Linnaeus, 1758 ...........
Species: perelegans Henry Edwards, 1874


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The Elegant Sphinx Moth, Sphinx perelegans (Wingspan: 98--110 mm, females larger than males), flies in western North America, ranging mainly from northern Baja California, Mexico north through California, Oregon, Washington to southern British Columbia, Canada. It has been found farther east in small numbers, with records from Idaho, Nevada, , Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas.

The specimen type locality is Gilroy, Santa Clara County, California, USA.

Visit Sphinx perelegans female, Wolf Creek, Josephine County, Oregon, August 19-20, 2009, courtesy of Edna Bottorff. There is probably at least a partial second brood in southwestern Oregon.

The upperside of the forewing is dark grey to black with a paler costa and pale area from the base to the wing's centre. The abdominal ribs are black/dark grey and white, as are the hind-wings. There is no sexual dimorphism.

Sphinx perelegans *, August 1, 2004, courtesy of Mary Shepherd

* The Sphinx above was rescued by Mary Shepherd from certain death at the beaks of numerous birds who were trying to catch it in Mary's garden in Fillmore (Ventura County), California. The habitat is chaparral and oak woodland vegetation less than a half-mile to the north and west and the Sespe River.

The moth has probably been mouthed by several of the birds as there is significant scale loss on the forwewings. I (Bill Oehlke) did some digital repair on the lower left wing.

Sphinx chersis, Sphinx perelegans and Sphinx vashti are quite similar. Sphinx perelegans has a dark upper thorax with wide black bars extending to the abdomen. In Sphinx chersis the entire thorax is uniform light blue-grey with very narrow dark lines.

Sphinx vashti, most similar to S. perelegans, lacks the checkered fringe on the hindwings.

Sphinx perelegans *, August 1, 2004, courtesy of Mary Shepherd

Thanks to Mary's care, the moth survived the bird attack, and now it prepares for flight.


Sphinx perelegans adults fly in montane woodlands and mixed chaparral-type vegetation as a single brood in the north, with adults mainly in June and July.

In California it is univoltine or partially bivoltine, with adults in May/June (sometimes late April), and again in August/September as a partial second brood. Even in southern California, upward of 50% of pupa of the first brood may not hatch until the next year; some may even diapause for two or more winters.

Edna Bottorff reports them on the wing in southwestern Oregon (Josephine County) in June-July and again in August, with the August flight possibly a partial second brood.

It is particularly common in areas of oak (Quercus) woodland.

This species starts to fly at dusk and continues until well past midnight.

Sphinx perelegans is a nervous species, which reacts to disturbance by flicking its wings up at a 45 degree angle to the horizontal, placing its antennae forwards parallel to each other, hopping around and, in the male, curving the abdomen around with terminal claspers splayed.


Pupae probably wiggle to surface from subterranean chambers just prior to eclosion.

Sphinx perelegans courtesy of Royal British Columbia Museum.


Females call in the males with a pheromone released from a gland at the tip of the abdomen between nightfall and midnight. The adults rarely feed and may go their entire life without sustenance, although some have been observed visiting flowers of Oenothera and Rhododendron.


The eggs are a glossy apple-green, ovoid to almost spherical, 2.00 x 1.80mm, becoming paler with development. Up to 200 eggs are laid by each female on the underside of the leaves of the hostplant, usually singly, although two or three together are not uncommon.

On hatching, the pale yellow larva measures approximately 5mm and bears a long dark horn. This is red at the base and strongly bifurcated at the tip. The head is disproportionately large. With feeding, the primary colour changes to pale green.

In California larvae feed mainly on Arctostaphylos manzanita and Arbutus menziesii; however, larvae are occasionally found on Cercocarpus betuloides and Prunus ilicifolia.

In captivity will feed freely on Gaultheria shallon, indicating that this plant is probably a natural host in the Pacific North-west and British Columbia.

After the first moult, whitish lateral streaks appear and both body and head become covered with fine pale tubercles. The head is round, with only a hint of yellow cheek stripes. The elongate horn becomes banded below the bifurcated tip, being red at its base, then black or reddish-black, and pale below the tip. It is a very good mimic of the stigma and style on developing berries of Gaultheria shallon.

In the third instar a purple blush appears at the base of each proleg, along the true legs and around the mandibles and ocelli. As the larva grows the horn may lose all trace of black, this being replaced by red.

In the second and third instar two colour forms become apparent -- bluish grey-green and pale apple-green, both tending to whitish dorsally. The whole larva is noticeably cylindrical, being of even thickness from head to horn.

With the fourth instar the purple blush on the head and legs becomes more pronounced, with the head becoming more oval and of a paler green than the body. The yellow cheek stripes are now very pronounced. The horn is long and straight, with a pale base, reddish lower third, creamy upper two-thirds and a dark, less bifurcated tip. The pale oblique side stripes are pale cream and not very pronounced.

In the final instar, (Full-fed 70--75 mm), the basic body colour can be either glaucous or apple-green, slightly paler dorsally, and without the earlier body tubercles, which fade away. The oblique side stripes are now pure white, tending to yellow caudad in the apple-green form. These are edged frontad with purple, a spot of the same colour being also located at the base of each proleg.

The hindmost oblique stripe extends up to but not onto the horn, which is sky blue (purple at first). The true legs are ochreous yellow (often tinged purple), as is the head. The latter is tinged with brown on the face, and the cheeks bear a purple-brown band caudad of the now indistinct yellow cheek stripes. The spiracles are pale orange and the anal flap is edged with yellow.

A unique feature of this larva is a shield on the first thoracic segment, which is of the same colour as the body and which forms a tight-fitting hood over the vertex of the head. This hides a pair of glossy black spots on top of the head, which are revealed if the animal is disturbed. The eye-like appearance of these is enhanced by pale purple intersegmental cuticle behind the head. The full-grown larvae also bite.

Sphinx perelegans on border between Douglas County and Josephine County, Oregon,
October 20, 2009, courtesy of Edna Bottorff.

Sphinx perelegans on border between Douglas County and Josephine County, Oregon,
October 20, 2009, courtesy of Edna Bottorff.

Sphinx perelegans on border between Douglas County and Josephine County, Oregon,
October 20, 2009, courtesy of Edna Bottorff.

Young larvae rest, stretched out beneath the midrib of a leaf, but as they grow they assume a typical upside-down sphinx-like attitude, clinging to a petiole or stem by their anal and last two prolegs, with the thoracic segments hunched. Larger larvae often rest on or under a stem some way back from their feeding area in amongst a cluster of leaves, and climb up to a growing shoot at night. On Gaultheria shallon the larvae are extraordinarily well camouflaged, often resting deep down amongst the tangle of twigs and leaves.

S. perelegans thrives in captivity on the European Arbutus unedo and, under some instances, some larvae can also be persuaded to take Salix or some species of Prunus. Attempts to use Rhododendron ponticum were a total failure, with larvae being poisoned after the first few bites. This species will probably take Vaccinium in captivity.

The pale mahogany brown pupa is 45-47 mm long. The tongue-case is short (6.5mm), free, and lies parallel to the ventral surface. The cremaster is also short, dorso-ventrally flattened, broadly triangular, and has two terminal spines.

Pupae tend to be very active prior to emergence. Pupation normally takes place in soft, loamy soil up to 10cm deep, in a hollowed-out chamber lined with a few strands of silk.

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