Hawk moth caterpillars are one of the largest caterpillars. A caterpillar that grows to about 4 inches needs to consume a lot of food. Gardeners and farmers consider them a big nuisance to crops, fruits, and plants. With such a diet, what do hawk moth caterpillars eat exactly?
Hawk moth caterpillars can eat all types of plants, especially willowherbs, bedstraw, and fuchsia, whilst adult hawk moths feed on nectar.
Hawk moth caterpillars have a voracious diet and can eat all types of plants, even those with toxins in them. Tomato hornworms, which are a type of hawk moth caterpillars, can devour all the leaves of tomatoes and nightshades. These plants are toxic.
They also eat plants such as the Virginia creeper, which is full of raphides. The giant sphinx caterpillar likes to eat pond apples, and the streaked sphinx prefers to feed on Brazilian peppers.
Great ash sphinx loves eating ash trees, olive trees, and other similar trees. Snowberry clearwings love honeysuckle, dogbane, and snowberry.
All of these caterpillars are from the family Sphingidae, which are known as hawk moth caterpillars or sphinx moth caterpillars.
What Leaves Do Hawk Moths Eat?
Hawk moth caterpillars are considered very devastating pests because they eat a lot of plants, and they can eat all types of plants, veggies, fruits, and flowers. They can devour whole plants and thus, have gotten a bad reputation as a very destructive nuisance to crops and plants.
They especially love eating the leaves of Fuschia plants, Dahlias, and lavender, but bedstraws and Rosebay Willowherb are one of the plants that these caterpillars absolutely adore eating.
Are Hawk Moths Beneficial?
Hawk moths belong to the family Sphingidae. They come out at dusk and are often seen in gardens, woods, parks, and grassy habitats filled with greenery and vegetation.
The adult moths are usually seen most often during May and July. Hawk moths are beneficial insects because they’re very useful pollinators.
They can travel long distances, and similar to butterflies, they have a proboscis which are long straw-like tongues through which they drink nectar. They can spread pollen to flowers that are at a distance of 18 miles. 25,000 varying types of hawk moths are related to butterflies.
Hawk moths don’t pollinate agricultural crops, so they’re not included among the insects that help farmers and the farming industry. However, many native plants specifically depend on hawk moths for their survival as hawk moths prefer to pollinate these plants.
If hawk moths didn’t exist, these plants would’ve died out. Hawk moths and certain plants mutually benefit each other. Plants that have long, deep flowers can only be pollinated through a hawk moth’s long tongue-like proboscis.
It’s mutually beneficial for both of them as moths with shorter proboscis can’t pollinate these flowers, so only hawk moths can pollinate them as their proboscis can easily reach the nectar.
Hawk moths are beneficial and necessary for the environment because they’re the only capable insects of pollinating some native and endangered plants. If it weren’t for them, many beautiful and rare plants and flowers would be gone, and if they were gone, the ecosystem takes a huge toll as well.
No, hawk moths and hawk moth caterpillars are not poisonous. They can be quite scary looking, with their fakes eyes and large size, but they are actually harmless to humans.
What Eats Hawk Moth Caterpillars?
Hawk moth caterpillars have squishy smooth, plump bodies with no means of any defensive manoeuvres such as bristles, quill, spines, thorns, or any toxins, so they’re an easy meal for most predators.
Most hawk moth caterpillars, even if they consume toxic plants, won’t keep the toxins in their bodies and will excrete most of them.
Hawk moth caterpillar predators are extensive and include birds, reptiles, amphibians, smaller mammals, rodents, and other insects. Insects such as ladybird beetles feed on these caterpillars and their larvae right after they hatch. Encouraging predators is one of the easiest ways to get rid of them.
One of the most brutal predators of these caterpillars is the braconid wasp which is a parasitoid wasp that doesn’t eat the hawk moth caterpillar but instead lays eggs on it, so whenever the eggs hatch, the larvae will have a food source just as they hatch.
When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the caterpillar from inside while leaving the vital organs in the last, so the caterpillar stays fresh for longer.
Hawk moth caterpillars are big, squishy, and smooth-bodied caterpillars with a voracious diet. They eat so much to the point that they’re considered to be very annoying pests for farmers and gardeners.
Willowherbs, bedstraw, fuchsia, dahlias, lavender, and bedstraws are among the many plants that hawk moth caterpillars love to eat. Hawk moth caterpillars are beneficial for the world as they’re useful pollinators for tropical plants, and endangered native plants specifically depend on hawk moth caterpillars for pollination.
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Ryan is a keen gardener from the UK who’s spent years dealing with countless, common pests over the years so knows the ins and outs of how to deal with pests in the garden