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Tobacco Hawk Moth

Manduca sexta

Tobacco Hawk Moth, Tobacco Hornworm

A close up image of a green tobacco moth Manduca sexta to scale against a white background
Manduca sexta MHNT CUT 2010 0 104 Caranavi, La Paz Bolivia male dorsal by Didier Descouens (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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Manduca sexta, or the Tobacco Hornworm, is among the largest moth and caterpillar in North America. Due to their large size, they can be a problem in gardens containing tobacco and tomato plants. Like many of the Hawk Moth family members, M. sexta is an excellent flyer. Yearly conditions can influence the rate of infestations across the continent. Unlike most insects, Tobacco Hornworms can metabolise nicotine. Any neonicotinoid pesticide won't work on this garden pest. The caterpillars sequester the toxin while they feed on the leaves of the tobacco plants. This makes them poisonous to things like spiders and birds. The Tobacco and Tomato Hornworm are incredibly alike in their behaviour and appearance, so they can be challenging to tell apart. The Tobacco Hawk Moth is the most abundant in southern states of America, whereas the Tomato Moth is more common in the North.
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Traits

They are important pollinators of wild tobacco plants.
The large caterpillars can eat a lot of plant material in one sitting!

Appearance

Adults: They're a hefty weight and size (wingspan: 10cm/ approx 5 inches). The wings are brindled with browns, blacks and greys. The bodies are stout and grey-brown, with 5 pairs of bright orange markings on the body, which are sometimes visible when they rest on surfaces. They're extremely similar looking to the Tomato Sphinx Moth. Larvae: The caterpillars grow large (length: 7cm/ approx 3 inches). They have 7 diagonal white stripes and small orange dots running down the sides of the body, with a fleshy, orange horn with a black tip on the final segment. Pupae: They're cigar-shaped with a dark, red-brown colour and a slight shine. Eggs: Female moths will lay a single green egg on tobacco plants.

Symptoms

Caterpillars chew leaves. They can eat the whole leaf. Quickly will defoliate plants. Green fruits may be targeted, too.

Personality

Order

Lepidoptera

Family

Sphingidae

Metamorphosis

Complete

Distribution

Throughout the US, South America and parts of Canada.

Attracts

Tubular flowers with rich nectar stores. Habitats containing the caterpillar food plant, Tobacco. They may be found on other plants in the Solanaceae in some occasions.

Tobacco Plant

Nicotiana spp.

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