Caterpillar of the Day - Lintneria eremitus (Sphingidae)

Lintneria eremitus (Sphingidae)

This is an interesting case on many fronts. I photographed inflated caterpillar specimens of this species at the Canadian National Collection of Insects (CNC) under the Latin name Sphinx emeritus, which I think was a misspelling of Sphinx eremitus. This species is commonly known as the Hermit Sphinx, and Wagner (2005) has the Latin name listed as Sphinx eremitus. The genus Lintneria is taxonomically close to the Sphinx genus; they are both part of the Sphingini tribe within the Sphinginae subfamily. The Latin names given to species change as we learn about them. Through closer examination of various physical attributes, in combination with inferences from genetic sequences, we continually refine the taxonomic placements. I do not know exactly which is the currently accepted nomenclature for the species (i.e., Sphinx eremitus or Lintneria eremitus).

This caterpillar is common in gardens, feeding on basil, mints (Lamiaceae), and sage, but also bee-balm and bungleweed (Wagner 2005). The frass (i.e., caterpillar droppings) of most sphingid caterpillars is cylindrical with 6 furrows, yet strangely these caterpillars (and some closely related species) have irregular shaped droppings (Wagner 2005).

For me, the caterpillar of this species is interesting because the final instar has a large black marking, dorsally, on its thoracic segments. Interestingly, Wagner (2005) calls this marking an "eye". This marking is distinct from other "eyespots" in that it is not paired. Whether it is functionally similar to other eyespot markings is a particularly interesting question. I would love to hear any thoughts or comments on this, please feel free to post comments below. Again I don't have live specimen photos, but here are some links:

These are my photos of the inflated specimens I observed at the CNC:

Lintneria eremitus (Sphingidae) - Inflated specimen, note the black "eye" marking
Lintneria eremitus (Sphingidae) - Inflated specimen (lateral view)

Lintneria eremitus (Sphingidae) - Inflated specimens from the CNC
Top right: Collected on Aug 8 1905
Top left: Collected in Ottawa, ON on Sept. 9 1999 of Monarda fistulosa

Adult: Females are said to be more likely observed as males fly too early in the evening to be effectively drawn towards light (Wagner 2005). Also, the adults may be confused with Sphinx canadensis where the two species co-occur.

Lintneria eremitus (Sphingidae) - pinned adult [Photo:]


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