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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center

"Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command"

Twentynine Palms, California
Learning of the Sphinx Moth’s presence aboard the Combat Center

By Lance Cpl. Natalia Cuevas | Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms | May 11, 2017

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Twentynine Palms -- From the biggest Marines to the smallest insects, the Combat Center is home to many. All of the inhabitants, to include creatures like the Sphinx Moth, do their part for the installation. Since the beginning of Spring there have been many sightings of the insect in both its caterpillar and adult stages, leaving many to question its immense presence in the Hi-Desert. Unbeknownst to most, the moth is a large contributor to the Mojave Desert ecosystem.

“The Sphinx Moth’s main job is to pollinate the flowers and be prey to predators,” said Mary Lane Poe, biologist, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs. “The moth is a desert pollinator so a lot of plants would not survive without them. They are also an important food source for a lot of the animals, particularly bats and small birds.”

The Sphinx Moth, also known as the hummingbird moth, goes through four stages of development: egg, caterpillar, pupa or cocoon, and adult. Females can lay as many as 1,000 eggs on leaves. The eggs take two to three days to hatch into caterpillars and about eight weeks to become full grown caterpillars.

After consuming as much fuel, or leaves, as possible the caterpillars will then go down into the ground to pupate or hibernate, as it metamorphoses from caterpillar to moth. The species can be found in many places around the globe, in hot and cold climates.

As caterpillars, they eat the leaves and stems of plants, their favorite being tomato and primrose plants. According to Poe, they eat so much that they would be able to wipe out an entire field of plants. A daunting premise to consider, however what they do in reality is greatly help the reproduction of local flora.

“If the Sphinx Moth disappeared the plant life would not have a way to pollinate and many would die out, there would also be a decline in the Sphinx Moths predator population,” Poe said. “If we didn’t have the moth then the ecosystem in and around our base, would be thrown off balance.”

The Sphinx Moth primarily hides during the day and emerges at dusk or during the early morning hours. As adults, Sphinx Moths drink nectar from flowers. They go from flower to flower hovering over them and are often mistaken for hummingbirds which is from where it gets nickname. The moth can be found all over the base but they are mostly concentrated around plants. The moth’s favorite plants are the big noticeable ones.

A common Sphinx Moth will go underground over winter as a pupa and hatch out in the early summer. In warmer or tropical regions, it takes only two to three weeks to hatch out of the ground, which results in the production of multiple generation within a single year.

For more information on other local flora and fauna, visit www.nps.gov and select The Mojave Preserve or Joshua Tree National Park.
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