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Brief Summary

    Brief Summary
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    The Carolina sphinx moth (Manduca sexta) is also known as the tobacco hornworm, hummingbird moth, six-spotted sphinx, and the tobacco fly. The Carolina sphinx moth has six pairs of yellow bands on its abdomen; indistinct black, brown, and white markings on its forewing with wing fringes spotted with white; and black and white bands and two black zigzag lines on its hindwing. The forewings are long and narrow and larger than the hindwings. These moths have a wing span of two to 12 cm. The caterpillar, known as a tobacco hornworm because the caterpillars feed on the tobacco plant (Nicotiana attenuate), is cylindrical with seven straight white lines with black edges on each side and has a red-tipped horn at the end of its abdomen. This species is found in tobacco fields, vegetable gardens, and a wide variety of other habitats. The Carolina sphinx moth is found in Massachusetts west across southern Michigan to Minnesota, central Colorado, and northern California; south to Florida, the Gulf Coast, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California. It is secure globally, though may be rare in parts of its range.
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    Brief Summary
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    In its larval stage, Manduca sexta is known as the tobacco hornworm, a large green caterpillar with a distinctive horn on its posterior segment. Because it can grow to a good size (80 mm), a caterpillar can quickly defoliate its solanaceous plant hosts (mainly tomato and tobacco leaves). While M. sexta is trouble for crops, it is more often described as a garden pest. It is native to the New World and found commonly in the United States as far north as New York, across the Midwest, and through central and South America as far south as Argentina. Manduca sexta has many native predators and parasites that control population numbers, including species of Polistes wasps, big-eyed bugs (Hemiptera: Lygaeidae) and lace wings (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) which prey on the larvae, and parasites Trichogramma spp., Cotesia congregata, and Hyposoter exigua. Larvae that have been parasitized by Cotesia congregata (a braconid wasp) can be seen covered with white pupal cases of larval wasps that emerged from feeding and developing inside the caterpillar’s body. The adult moth is a large dramatic creature known as the Carolina sphinx moth. It feeds nocturnally on flower nectars. The closely related Manduca quinquemaculata (Haworth) has a similar diet and distribution, and the two are often confused; they can be distinguished as larvae by the white markings along the back of the caterpillar and by the number of body spots on the adult moth. Both species usually produce two generations per year.

    Manduca sexta has been developed as a model system for biological study, and is used in laboratories investigating a broad spectrum of topics such as neurobiology, flight mechanics, larval nicotine resistance, and regulation of development. It has several advantages for study, including its large size, short life cycle and the fact that it is easily reared in lab conditions. In the lab the caterpillars are blue because the artificial wheat germ diet they are fed does not contain the yellow carotenoid pigments that normally combine with insecticyanins to turn their bodies green. The tobacco hornworm has also been used for research projects and teaching science in secondary and college classrooms (http://www.manducaproject.com/; http://www.acad.carleton.edu/curricular/BIOL/resources/rlink/).

    (Villanueva 1998; Lange and Bronson 1981; Wikipedia 2011)

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Life Cycle

    Life Cycle
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    Females lay a single egg on the upperside of a host plant leaf. Hostplants include potato, tobacco, tomato, and other plants in the nightshade (Family: Solanaceae) family. The female will lay up to 100 eggs in a season. Eggs hatch in two to eight days and the larva emerges. Caterpillars pupate and overwinter in burrows in the soil for one to 25 weeks. An adult emerges and lives for several weeks. The life cycle has between two and four generations per year and the insects are typically active in late summer through fall.
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Benefits

    Pollinator
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    These moths are important pollinators of deep-throated, night-blooming flowers. The moth extends its long proboscis (a hollow straw-like organ) up to 10 cm into the flower to collect nectar. As the moth removes its proboscis from the flower, pollen grains stick to it and become entrapped on the scales of the moth's body. As it nectars on other plants, it inadvertently deposits this pollen on other flowers and pollinates the plant. Hawk moths are such good pollinators that some plants have developed distinct pollination syndromes to attract them. One example is the large white petunia (Petunia axillaris), that emits a strong odor during the night to attract hawk moths. Other examples of plants pollinated by the Carolina sphinx moth include Colorado four-o'clock (Mirabilis froebelii), periwinkles (Mandevilla longiflora, Mandevilla petraea), wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata), agaves (Agave spp.), and jimsonweed (Datura wrightii). An interesting mutualism has developed between the Carolina sphinx moth and jimsonweed. Larvae are major herbivores of jimsonweed, feasting on the leaves. However, the plant has developed mechanisms to deal with this herbivory - the plant stores resources in its massive roots that can be allocated to new leaf production. In return, the moth is a major pollinator of jimsonweed, whose large white funnel-shaped flowers bloom at night and are filled with nectar. Jimsonweed plants pollinated by the moth have heartier seedlings than those plants that are self-pollinated. However, the larval stage of this species is considered an agricultural pest. Larvae can defoliate a plant overnight including crop plants like tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
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