Five spotted hawk moth

Five-Spotted Hawk Moth: Winged Wonders of the Night

From its large size to its distinct markings, the Five-spotted Hawk Moth is a fascinating species in North America. Let’s explore the life cycle, distribution, and impact of this iconic North American moth.

Five-spotted Hawk Moth
Scientific name: Manduca quinquemaculata
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Sphingidae
Genus: Manduca

They look scary

The Five-spotted Hawk Moth is one of the largest types of hawk moth. It has a size of about 50-70 millimeters (1.96-2.75 inches) in length and a wingspan of about 13 centimeters (5.1 inches).

The bold coloration and patterning make this hawk moth stand out and scary at the same time. The forewings are larger and have grayish-brown color with a mottled pattern, while the hindwings are pale yellow or whitish in color and have a zig-zag pattern. When closed, the wings show a brownish color with a white V-shaped pattern.

Five-spotted hawk moth (Manduca quinquemaculata)
5 spotted moth

Its abdomen is brown and white with five yellow spots arranged neatly in rows on each side. This is why the species is called “five-spotted hawkmoth.” When the abdomen is exposed, two vivid blue eyespots are visible on the thorax.

Five spotted hawk moth habitat

These moths are found across North America, including the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its territorial reach includes many states and territories, such as Massachusetts and Wisconsin in the north or Florida and Texas in the south.

They live in various habitats including deciduous woodlands, parks, forests, gardens, and and natural areas with abundant nectar sources. You can find them in suburban and rural areas where their host plants are present.


Like other hawk moths, the five-spotted hawk moths feed primarily on nectar from various flowers using their long proboscis. Their preferred nectar sources include petunias, honeysuckle, jasmine, buddleia, phlox, or mirabilis multiflora. These flowers have large, fragrant white blooms that are well-suited for the moths’ long proboscis.

The caterpillars of these creatures are voracious feeders on plants, including toxic ones, but do not sequester the toxins like some other insects. Instead, they excrete most of the toxins they ingest. This adaptability allows them to eat a wide range of plants. Their primary host plants include tobacco plants, tomato plants, eggplants, or peppers.

Five spotted hawk moth is feeding nectar

The five-spotted hawk moths have several predators, like birds or bats. On the other hand, their eggs and caterpillars are attacked by wasps, particularly Trichogramma and Cotesia congregate, green lacewings, or ladybugs.

To deal with these predators, these moths come up with several defense mechanisms. The caterpillar, also known as the Tomato Hornworm, has a black horn at the end of its abdomen. This horn is used for defense and can deter predators. Adult hawkmoths use ultrasound to combat bats, their primary predators. They produce sonic pulses from their genitals, which can potentially jam the echolocation ability of bats. This defense mechanism is unique to hawkmoths and is different from the ultrasound produced by tiger moths, which use tymbals on their thorax to produce the sound.

Life cycle

The life cycle of the five-spotted hawk moth consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Female moths lay eggs singly on the upper surface of host plant leaves, typically in late spring. These eggs are large and range in color from pale green to off-white. This stage typically lasts around 4-8 days before hatching.

The newly hatched caterpillars are small and greenish-yellow in color. As they grown, they keep eating and can strip plants of leaves quickly. They can reach up to 10 cm (3.9 inches) in length when fully grown. These larvae have a dark, pointed projection on their rear end, which earns them the name “hornworm”. They go through 5 instars (molting stages) to reach maturity. The larval stage typically lasts around 3-4 weeks.

Five spotted hawk moth larvae - tomato hornworm

Once fully grown, caterpillars fall from their host plants, burrow into the soil, and form a smooth, brown pupal case. The pupae overwinter, with adults emerging the following summer. The pupal stage typically lasts around 2-3 weeks in warm conditions.

The adult five-spotted hawk moth emerges from the pupal case. They are nocturnal, fly at dusk and are known to hover in place while sipping nectar from flowers, similar to hummingbirds. Adults mate shortly after emerging from the soil, and females lay eggs on host plants, starting the cycle again. The lifespan of the five-spotted hawk moth is about 4-6 weeks. In warmer climates, they may have multiple generations per year.

Reference: Wikipedia


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