Achemon Sphinx (moth)

Asked June 1, 2016, 7:25 AM EDT


I live in the North West of England and am convinced one of these moths was brought in to my house by my cat. At first thought it was a crinkly leaf. My cat was meowing in the manner she does when she has brought me in a 'present'. When I looked more closely at the leaf it moved! Then I noticed it had a moth centre and that the leaves were in fact wings.

Long story short, I picked it up quickly and let it out of the cat flap before the cat could do it more damage/eat it.

The next morning I noticed it had attached itself to my outside wall. It was very low down on the wall so I moved it to a plant pot for safety. A few hours later and I noticed something had detached itself from the moth, like a dark shell.

Today the moth had gone but the shell was still there. It felt virtually weightless. I put a little earth over it as I had read somewhere that the larvae (if that is indeed what it is) are usually buried under soil by the moth.

I have taken couple of photos on my mobile, which I have not checked yet. There was a lot of shade over the moth when I took them, so i'm not sure how much they actually show.

Could it be possible that this moth could have found its way to England?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

Liz Jones

Outside United States

4 Responses

There were no pictures attached to your request so I can only make a guess as to the identity of the moth that you found. Because most hawk moths or sphinx moths pupate (turn from the caterpillar to the adult) in the soil, some non-native sphinx moths from other parts of the world have been found in the UK, most probably brought in buried in the soil of imported potted plants as the pupa. As far as I can tell, the Achemon sphinx has not yet been reported in the UK, but I would not say it was impossible that one might show up there, but highly unlikely. I believe it is more likely that you found one of your native sphinx moths with a similar color pattern. Four possible candidates that I can see might be the eyed-hawk moth (Smerinthus ocellatus), the oleander hawk moth (Daphnis nerii), the spurge hawk moth (Hyles euphorbiae) or the lime hawk moth (Mimas tiliae). I have included links below to webpages for each of these species so you can look at the pictures and see if any of them seem to match your photos.

The little brown "shell" you found was very likely an empty pupal case, what was left of the pupa after the adult emerged. Even though the pupa is normally underground, the adult moth could have dragged the pupal case up to the surface before it finally freed itself. The adult moth would then crawl up onto a nearby vertical surface to dry its wings. It is possible that the moth captured by your cat came from this pupal case. It is also possible that the pupal case came from a different moth, and the one you found outside was not the same individual that your cat captured. The pupal case could also be from a different species of moth entirely and it was only coincidental that you found it in the same pot where you moved the moth. Again, without actual photos I can only surmise what you found and how this all happened. If the photos in the links below do not match up with your photos, you can send them to me and I will see if I can further identify your moth.

Hello, thanks for getting back to me. I looked at the images of the UK moths, but none of them looked like the one I've got (the last image was the closest, but wasn't the same). I have attached a photo I took. I hope you can make it out. I have taken more photos on my camera (this one is off my phone) but can't find the USB at the moment. I look forward to hearing from you. Liz Jones


In my opinion this is very definitely the eyed hawk moth, Smerinthus ocellatus. That very dark spot on the center of the thorax, as well as what I can see of the mottled pattern and spots on the wings match this species almost exactly. Resting with his wings folded up, you can only see the front wings, and the pinkish hind wings with the dark eyespots are completely hidden, so it may not look exactly like the pictures on the web where the wings are spread. Also the abdomen is apparently curled somewhat under the body, which makes it look a little unusual. I have attached a picture below that shows the moth in the normal resting position with its hind wings hidden and you can see how much it resembles some dead leaves. I can see the pupal case in the background behind the moth and it does look like it could be the pupal case of this type of hawk moth. However, It doesn't look to me like the wings on the moth in the photo are fully extended and straight. This makes me suspect that this moth may have just emerged from its pupal case and was still in the process of extending and drying its wings. If you were able to pick it up and move it to a potted plant, that would also suggest it wasn't yet able to fly away. The caterpillars of these moths are reported to feed on willow, poplar and apple. Do you happen to have any of these in your yard, perhaps near the wall? The caterpillars would have been feeding on the leaves last fall, burrowed into the ground to pupate and overwinter, with the adults moths emerging about now in summer. If this is a moth just emerging, that would mean that this is not the same exact moth that your cat had captured the night before. It might have been the same species, and may have even emerged from a different spot in your yard, or coincidently just flew into your yard, perhaps attracted to a light at night. You reported that you just let the "rescued" moth go out the cat flap, so I assume you never actually saw where the original moth went. Unless it was badly damaged, my guess is that moth would have headed for the hills, and not likely to have ended up back near the wall in almost the same exact spot where it might have emerged. Therefore, I think it is more likely that you indeed had two different moths present.

Update! I found the moth dead today. The cat had brought it back in a couple of nights ago, alive but sluggish (as it was the first time). I put it back in the pot and checked on it from time to time. It moved slightly but didn't seem capable of flight. I left out water but had read that the adult moth does not eat (this was when I thought it was North American). I'm not sure if there was two moths, i've never seen one of these beauties before, let alone two! I forgot to say that i am nearly sure i saw the moth evacuated(?) the pupae/lavae capsule. You were spot-on, when I opened the wings, there was a beautiful underwing which was pink with a black circle and blue inner circle. It was the moth in the first image you sent, the Smerinthus ocellatus. Thanks for all your help, much appreciated. Liz