My “Gardening for Bats” presentation at the June 19, South Texas Border Chapter, Texas Master Naturalist meeting showcased night-flying insects that eventually end up as food for our local insectivorous bats.
The lecture included moths, and I talked briefly about sphinx moths – the big moths that nectar in night-blooming flowers. Moths, too, provide sustenance for bats. The whole premise of the lecture was about how we can provide habitats that provide nectar and pollen and daytime shelter for night-flying insects, which in turn, eventually become bat food. It’s all good.
One of our chapter sponsors, Tony Reisinger, Cameron County extension agent for coastal & marine resources with Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&M University and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, had a question at the end of the presentation, “What’s the name of the hummingbird moth?
It is titan sphinx, Aellopos titan, although commonly called hummingbird moth. I couldn’t recall the correct name at the time and have since looked through my photos and found the hummingbird moth pictures that I shot in September 2013. They are of the only hummingbird moth I’ve seen on our San Benito property.
In 2013, I spent a lot of time identifying the moth through books, online sources and sharing the photos with birding pros – this was prior to the inception of iNaturalist.org. I’ve since had the moth verified via iNaturalist.org, which is an amazingly faster way to identify species. If you don’t have the iNaturalist Smartphone app, I highly recommend downloading that. It’s free.
BugGuide.net, another informative resource, notes that the titan sphinx also is called white-banded day moth, as it is not a night-flying moth.
The book I passed around at the meeting was released last summer and is about Texas moths and host plants: Weber, Jim and Weber, Lynne. “Native Host Plants for Texas Moths: A Field Guide.” 1st ed., Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 2022. It is available at local nature center bookstores and online. Here’s a quick link to the university press: https://www.tamupress.com/search-results/?category=TAMUGG
The book lists the titan sphinx as using two local plants as larval host plants: the common buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, throughout most of Texas, and crucillo, Randia rhagocarpa, a shrub found only in the Texas counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, Kleberg, Starr and Willacy. Both plants are in the Rubiaceae (the Madder) family.
Crucillo is unique in that if you hold the end of a branch out straight at the tip and look down it like you were checking the warp of a two-by-four length of lumber, you will see the paired spines forming little crosses, which is what some believe helped name the plant crucillo, which may be a derivative of the Spanish word cruz, for cross.
Tony has observed a titan sphinx moth on his vine of Rangoon creeper, Quisqualis indica. I photographed the titan moth in 2013 on poinciana bush, Caesalpinina pulcherrima, flowers. Both plants are nonnative species.
The moth has been found from Maine south though Central America and to Argentina and Uruguay in South America, according to Wikipedia.org. It flies year-round in the tropics and June through October in the northern part of its range. The wingspan is about two and one-half inches. It is noted to nectar on lantana, also phlox and stoppers – stoppers are members of the Myrtaceae Family, an enormous family of plants that includes eucalyptus, according to a brief Google search.
Two links about the titan sphinx are below: