Who are You Calling Plebeian?


Paratrea plebeja, the plebeian sphinx moth

To the ancient Romans, the word “plebeian” roughly meant “commoner.” The name hardly fits Paratrea plebeja, the plebeian sphinx moth, which is the sole member of its genus and a very striking and beautiful moth. Luckily, one landed just outside my front door last week and I had the opportunity to photograph it. I have been getting lucky with sphingid moths- given that I had the lovely Xylophanes tersa show up at my house as well.


A dorsal view, showing the wing patterning

Interestingly, the larvae of this species feed on a variety of plants, including passionflowers (Passiflora sp.). In our region, Passiflora is also a major food source of gulf fritillary caterpillars (Agraulis vanillae). The larvae of this species resemble the familiar tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta, being largely green with light colored bands and a conspicuous posterior spine.


Ready for takeoff


Adults act as pollinators for several elongate, tubular flowers like honeysuckle. It is always very fascinating to watch adult sphingids feed, as they hover in place while extending their proboscis into the flower to retrieve nectar, more closely resembling the feeding behavior of hummingbirds than butterflies.

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