Discovery in our garden, Striped Hawk-moth caterpillars!

My kids were all excited this afternoon and told me to come fast. They had spotted a large caterpillar crawling in the yard. At first I thought, oh they probably just found a large black slug, common here at nighttime. However I was in for a surprise when I went out the front door and there was a large green caterpillar there by the grass! It was thick and curled up into a “C” position with a small orange spike coming off the back. We didn’t know if it was poisonous, or the spike/horn would harm us, so the kids poked it with a stick. I told them to stop poking it and just let it be.

Then someone shouted that they saw another one! It was clamped tight to the jungle of vines produced by our small, above ground garden of sweet potatoes. From there we found another one on the plants, and had a “caterpillar hide-and-seek” challenge. How many could we find…six in all with the one that had been crawling in the yard. They were all fairly big, green, juicy-looking caterpillars, about 6 inches long, but one was darkly colored. I hypothesized that this one was probably the closest to making a chrysalis or cocoon, depending on if it would turn into a butterfly or moth. I did try to get the crawling one back onto the plant, however it just crawled away again. I guess it may have had enough food to make a cocoon, but it was still green.

I looked up what type of caterpillar likes to eat sweet potato leaves. It’s a Striped Hawk-moth, native of Saudi Arabia. I believe the correct scientific name is: Hyles livornica. For a few days I had noticed the leaves being eaten down to the stem, but put it up to locust or grasshoppers, as I’ve seen them before. Couldn’t believe the caterpillars had been spending maybe 2 weeks on the plants without us noticing. The caterpillar I was familiar with, that appeared much like this one, is the tomato hornworm. I was thinking to myself that if this caterpillar gets this size, then it’s got to be a big moth.

So now we have a science lesson in action! We will monitor our plants every day and look for the cocoon that appears much like a dried leaf. We hope to be able to see the moth as it emerges from the cocoon, and I bet it happens at night. I have yet to see a caterpillar in the act of making a cocoon, or emerging from it. In my experience, I could check for hours, and the time I step away it happens. Maybe you too have seen this awesome insect.

For the latest update on these insects, see my new post:

The below website was useful for identification and now I know what the moth looks like!

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