Five-spotted Hawk Moth

September 10, 2015

On Monday morning my friend Bill Davit called to ask if I would like to photograph a five-spotted hawk moth in his backyard near Washington, Missouri. I told him I’d never seen the species before and he explained that it was the adult version of the tomato hornworm, a huge and impressive caterpillar that I’d seen in our garden many times. It was getting a little late in the morning for good wildlife photography but the sun was diffused by high clouds so I said I’d be right over.

A Thoreau-inspired naturalist and horticulturalist, Bill Davit is one of the most fascinating men I’ve ever met. After college he worked as a geophysical engineering contractor for the Navy, but by 1970, Bill and his wife, Joyce, had settled down at Shaw Nature Reserve where Bill developed the area’s first prairie.

I first met Bill in the early 1990’s when he was managing the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Litzsinger Road Ecology Center in St. Louis. I was there as a fisheries biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation to evaluate an erosion problem on Deer Creek. I was immediately taken by Bill’s soft-spoken wealth of knowledge about the ecology of the area. I must have spent the entire work-day learning about his latest projects to teach children about prairie ecology in an urban setting.

Upon arrival, Bill showed me the striking critter, a five-spotted hawk moth. Bill had followed the moth from it larval stage as a tomato hornworm and was excited to see the outcome. We coaxed the bluish-gray moth onto a mossy stump where I captured its image in the diffuse light of mid-morning. Photographers often use a flash for such close-up photography but I still prefer natural light.



This image from the side shows the wolf-like appearance of the moth’s facial area. If you look closely, you can see the fifth spot at the end of the creature’s abdomen.



An anterior image of the five-spotted hawk moth highlights some more of the furry critter’s facial features.



After photographing the moth, Bill asked me if I would like to see something interesting. He had raised a couple of monarch caterpillars in an insect cage in the house and they had both escaped. Later, he found both specimens hanging under the fireplace mantel in chrysalis! Just before my arrival, the monarchs had emerged side by side under the mantel. The result was a work of natural art that I couldn’t resist photographing. Click on the image for a better look and then hit the “back arrow” to return to the blog.



This final image shows the “monarch art” in close-up. What a nice, if ephemeral, addition to anyone’s living room.

Before I left, Bill and I toured his gardens and miniature prairies, much like the one in my own front yard. We discussed Thoreau and Leopold, and looked at various pieces of art and sculpture he had created and collected over the years. Bill even gave me a copy of a description that Thoreau had written about an encounter with a woodchuck. He said he remembered the piece when I wrote an article about woodchucks in “Missouri Conservationist.”

We finally parted ways, near lunchtime, and on reflection, I couldn’t remember a Monday morning better spent in a long time. I can’t wait to return with a print of the five-spotted hawk moth that Bill and Joyce can add to their art collection.

If you would like to learn more about Bill’s interesting life and contributions to our natural world, I suggest you go to this link to the Washington Missourian where you can read a story about Bill’s interesting life. As a teaser, I’ll tell you that the article includes a fascinating account of a crash landing in Antarctica that Bill experienced during his naval travels. You won’t want to miss that.

Thanks for looking,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery and Print Information:  Here





8 comments on “Five-spotted Hawk Moth”

  1. I have never seen a month like this before.
    Thanks to Bill for calling you over to take photos!
    I read the link to the article about his life–glad that the “great outdoors called to him.” The environment needs more caring people like him.

  2. What a fascinating moth! I don’t understand, why it’s called a 5-spot when there are 10 spots. Just going to the link to read about the Antarctica crash, the mention of which had me just dumbfounded for a minute, thinking about it….

  3. Great introduction to Bill, my predecessor and the person who told his job would be opening up at SNR and recommended I apply for it. Clearly, that changed my life in a wonderful way!
    I noted with interest how much yellower one of the monarchs is. Photographic artefact here, perhaps, but monarchs do vary a bit in color, and there is even a rare version which is white where all the orange is on most monarchs.

    • And so appropriate that I went to you for ID verification! The color difference could be an anomaly as the light was so low, or like you said, just a difference in the twins. Take care, James.

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