Two More Species of “Arizona’s Largest Moths” Found in the Tortolita Preserve by Master Naturalists

Written by Dave DeGroot, Sept. 20, 2022

More than 40 species of big “hawk moths” or “sphinx moths” live in the mountains and deserts of Southern Arizona. Until the Master Naturalists’ “Bug Night” on Sept. 15, only two of these big moths had been documented in the Tortolita Preserve. During Bug Night, a third and then a fourth species were positively identified. In addition, the smaller cousin of a really big moth species made an appearance.

The previously seen hawk moths were White-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) and Rustic sphix (Manduca rustica). On Sept. 15, Master Naturalists observed the Carolina sphinx (Manduca sexta) and the Carolina’s close relative, the Five-spotted hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata). In addition to these, it is likely that there are many more species of big moths in the Preserve’s 2,400 acres. Efforts to document the nighttime insects and arachnids in the Preserve are just getting started.

Another interesting and previously undocumented moth among the hundreds that showed up on Sept. 15 was the beautiful Hubbard’s silk moth (Syssphinx hubbardi), a small cousin of Asia’s massive Atlas moth with its 12-inch wingspan.

The Sept. 15th event featured Dr. Marguarethe Brummerman, a professional entomologist, photographer, and artist who brought her blacklighting equipment to the main gate of the Preserve and helped identify many of the hundreds of insects and arachnids that were attracted to the bright lights. Sixteen Master Naturalists attended and earned Advanced Training hours.

“This is only the second time anyone has tried black lighting in the Tortolita Preserve,” notes organizer Dave Degroot. “All these initial observations make me wonder what other big or amazing night flyers are out there, just waiting to be discovered!”

On Saturday, November 19th, Master Naturalists will play a key role in a big Bioblitz within the Tortolita Preserve. Watch for volunteer sign up information from Franklin Lane, Dave DeGroot, Penny Miller, or Josh Skattum

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