Hiking around on an oak-savanna property recently acquired by the Nature Conservancy out in the Glacial Lakes area, our group spotted what they thought was a hummingbird hovering over flowers of the Bladder Campion.
It is rather large, for a moth, with a wingspan of 3-4 inches. Like a hummingbird, the moth flitted from flower to flower, pausing only briefly to insert its extremely long proboscis to test for the presence of nectar before moving on. A very difficult subject to photograph!
Later, while walking around a different prairie a few miles away, one of the group discovered a very large green caterpillar munching on a fragile wildflower.
This is most likely the caterpillar of a White-lined Sphinx Moth; they can be highly variable in color but the orange horn is a key feature of this species.
It takes about 8 weeks to grow into a caterpillar this large from an egg. Most likely this one overwintered as a caterpillar to complete its development this spring. Once the caterpillars reach a critical size, they pupate underground and emerge as adults in 2-3 weeks. Mated females then begin the cycle all over again, laying up to 1000 eggs on a variety of host plants (e.g, four o’clocks, purslane, fuschia, evening primrose, elm, grape, and tomato) while sustaining themselves on flower nectar.