Most sphinx moths are active in the evening or at night, but some species are diurnal.
The Sphingidae family comprises about 1,100 known species worldwide. They are found on all continents, but most of them live in the tropics. There are some 125 species in North America and approximately thirty in eastern Canada. A number of them are migratory, and sailors often see sphinx moths resting on their boats, far from any shore.
Sphinx moths are excellent flyers, among the fastest members of the Lepidoptera. Some species can reach top speeds of 55 km/h.
The “horn” on the abdomen of the caterpillar is characteristic of the Sphingidae family, and has earned them the name “hornworms.” The protuberance is used to frighten off predators, but it is not actually stiff enough to hurt them. It is also harmless for humans.
When the caterpillar is disturbed, it rears up and tucks its head underneath – making it resemble an Egyptian sphinx. This is where the family gets its name.
Charles Darwin, when studying the orchids of Madagascar, predicted that there must be a moth with a proboscis 12 inches (30 cm) long, to be able to reach the nectar. Many years later, in 1903, a very large Malagasy sphinx moth with this exceptional characteristic was indeed identified. It was named Xanthopan morgani praedicta.