Published: May 19, 2021

The White-lined Sphinx is an abundant North American pollinating moth found from coast to coast. These insects are closely associated with plants: as adults they drink nectar from flowers and the caterpillars feed on leaves of many different hostplants. A hostplant is where an adult moth or butterfly lays their egg and upon hatching, the caterpillars eat the leaves of this plant until they pupate in the ground.  

The White-lined Sphinx will drink the nectar from many types of flowers, and some of these flowers greatly depend on the moths’ visits forwhite-lined sphinx pollination1. When the moth visits a flower for nectar, they get pollen grains on their body. When they visit another flower of the same species, they will leave these pollen grains behind and the plant’s ovule is successfully fertilized, and the plant is pollinated. Columbine flowers (Aquilegia caerulia) are one of the flowers that benefit from thirsty white-lined sphinx moths. These flowers have long petals with a nectar reward at the base, this is called a nectar spur. The reward can only be reached by pollinators with long tongues like the White-lined Sphinx! 

Did you know that the color of columbines can vary from blue (like our state flower!) to white? The color of the petals can serve as a clue for the type of pollinator found in the region. The white-petaled columbines, or Aquilegia caerulea var. ochroleuca, is found commonly at lower elevations in Utah, Idaho, and western Wyoming2, where the White-lined Sphinx is particularly common. In other regions like the Rocky Mountains, the columbine is pale or dark blue and found and higher elevations where it is cooler. These moths are not as common at higher elevations where it is cooler and wetter. As with white columbines, the blue petal gives a hint to possible pollinators. Bumble bees are particularly abundant insects at higher elevations, and frequently pollinate blue and purple flowers. Many white flowers, particularly those with long nectar spurs like the white columbine, are pollinated by moths. Most moths drink nectar from dusk until dawn, and the white coloration is easier to find. The white columbines also have longer spurs, which match the tongue length of White-lined Sphinx. 

Common name: White-lined Sphinx 
Scientific name:  Hyles lineata (Family: Sphingidae) 
Catalog number: UCMC 0041062 
Label data: Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, New Mexico; April 22, 1993; Reed A Watkins