Waved Sphinx

2009 December 5

And here we have yet another huge sphinx moth that was drawn to our porch light on June 22.

This is most likely a Waved Sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa, so named because of the wavy pattern across the back of the wings. This particular one also has a mark on its shoulders that I think looks quite a lot like a face [1].


The description at BugGuide isn’t quite so emphatic about the eating habits of the adults as it was about the other sphinx moths, it just says they “probably don’t feed”. It also says that they are one of the most common of the large sphinx moths, so it’s no surprise that we caught one.


This moth is using the fairly typical resting pose of laying the wings down flat. The pattern on the wings makes it resemble lichen-covered bark, so it would probably be pretty hard to spot on a tree (although the camouflage isn’t so good on a concrete surface).


The caterpillars eat several different common trees, including ash, hawthorn, oak, and . . . lilac? Whoa. That’s new. Nothing much seems to eat lilac. Even the deer don’t like to eat lilac. Well. Lilac is pretty common around here. Even though it isn’t native to Michigan, it seems to do very well in the local climate. Like the apple trees, the lilacs are something of a marker of abandoned farmsteads when you find them growing in the woods – they were planted as ornamentals around the houses. They are also gradually expanding from the towns. When driving on the country roads during lilac blooming season in the spring, the lilacs usually start appearing in quantity along the roads just outside of the village limits.

[1] Specifically, I think it looks like B’Elanna Torres, the half-Klingon engineer from “Star Trek: Voyager”. See?
How’s that for a case of pareidolia?[2].

[2] Pareidolia is a subset of the general trait of humans to find patterns, even when no patterns exist (apophenia). There are probably good reasons why we tend to do this: for one thing, if you are a hunter-gatherer and you miss a pattern (such as the waving of the grass as the lion stalks closer to you), it is much more likely to be bad for your health than seeing a “pattern” that ultimately turns out to be nothing. This is good for amusement value, lying on the grass looking at clouds would lose some of its charm if you couldn’t look for shapes in them. Unfortunately, it also is a frequent cause of people believing weird things.

2 Responses
  1. December 6, 2009

    I will never be able to watch Star Trek the same way again. Why, oh why did you have to use B’Elanna for your comparison, and not Worf? 🙂


  2. December 7, 2009

    Well, I considered Worf, briefly, but it didn’t look square-jawed enough, and it didn’t look to me like it had a little goatee. Plus the brow ridges looked too subdued to be a full-blown Klingon.

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