Confessions of a Night Shift Pollinator

5 things you didn't know about me (a hawk moth)

Hawk moth illustration
Hawk moths are known for their long shaped body, typically with stripes.

It’s about 6:30 AM in the southwestern United States, and I’m just finishing up the night shift. Who am I, you ask? Why, I’m Manduca rustica, but you can call me a hawk moth.

For eons, I’ve gotten the short end of the stamen, compared to my fluttering, fanciful cousins, who are constantly glorified in all sorts for poetry and art. But the sun has set for butterflies; it’s time to get my story out there and let the public know a bit more about us lowly moths. I’m here to tell you that, after dark, a whole new scene comes to life in national parks.

Hawk moth larvae illustration
Some hawk moth "baby photos"

1. I come from a BIG moth family

Order Lepidoptera, characterizes insects like me for having scaly wings and unique mouthparts (more on that later), along with all other butterflies and moths. Of the 126 families within Order Lepidoptera, you can find me in the Sphingid family. Some of the largest moths in the world come from my family – so much so that it’s easy to mistake one of us for a hummingbird because of our thick bodies and narrow wings.

2. I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth

Okay, okay, it’s more of a sweet tongue really. To be clear, what I’m talking about is my proboscis, which is an elongated, sucking mouthpart. In fact, magnificent specimens like me can have a proboscis that reaches up to four inches in length (some hawk moths have tongues up to 14 inches long!). All the better to drink up the delicious nectar at the bottom of the sweetest and most fragrant flowers with long, floral tubes.

3. I’m a minimalist when it comes to flowers

Unlike my butterfly cousins, I don’t need brightly colored flowers to call me in - give me those pale or white flowers any night! Red, orange and purple flowers cannot be seen as easily in the black of night. When I’m out pollinating in the middle of the night, these seemingly plain colored flower are like beacons, sometimes becoming luminescent under moonlight and leading me straight to the nectar inside.

4. I fancy a nightcap – won’t you join me?

Huh? You’ve never planted a moon garden?! Well then you haven’t lived! Take it from a nighttime expert - gardens aren’t just for the daylight hours! Once night falls, the real pollination party starts – and I don’t have to do anything but go on an all night flower crawl for my night cap! The pollen from the flower gets stuck on my legs, wings, and body, then off I go to the next flower for magical, nighttime pollination. Some beautiful, extra fragrant flowers that would make an excellent addition to any garden include evening primrose, phlox, four o’clocks or yuccas. Please plant responsibility and ensure you pick species of these that are native to your area - those are the ones my family has grown up loving.

5. I love national parks – and they love me!

For a moth like me, home is where the rarest and most untouched pieces native landscapes are – and no one does untouched and unimpaired like the national parks! From Alaskan tundra to the Arizona desert, national parks all over help support native plants and animals – even a little moth like me! If you want to join in on the fun, be sure to check a national parks website for events supporting insects like the Mothapaloza at White Sands National Monument! Learn more about this event by visiting their website, here.

So take it from me - a night shift pollinator - national parks aren’t just for the daytime! When you’re planning your next trip, give us moths the respect we deserve and see what kind of activities you can find in your favorite park after dark!
Illustrations courtesy of Vecteezy.