Oleander hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii)

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Oleander hawk-moth on oleander flowers

Top facts

  • The oleander hawk-moth is a large insect with a wingspan of up to 12 centimetres.
  • The oleander hawk-moth is named after one of its main food plants, oleander, on which its caterpillars feed.
  • The plants on which the oleander hawk-moth caterpillar feeds contain toxins which may help protect the caterpillar against predators.
  • The oleander hawk-moth’s attractive colouration helps to camouflage it against vegetation.
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Oleander hawk-moth fact file

Oleander hawk-moth description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderLepidoptera
FamilySphingidae
GenusDaphnis (1)

The strikingly colourful oleander hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii) is one of the most widely distributed Sphingidae species in the world. Adults of this large, attractive moth have intricately decorated forewings, displaying a mixture of olive greens, covered with small blotches of pink and white. They also have a pale streak on the tip of each forewing (2).

The abdomen of the oleander hawk-moth is green or grey-green and has sloping sides, whitish lines, and three brownish-green spots on the sixth and seventh segments (3). This species rests with its abdomen curled upwards and can be distinguished from similar species by its large size and the white tip on its rear (2).

Newly hatched oleander hawk-moth larvae are three to four millimetres in length, bright yellow, and have a black, elongated ‘horn’ on the rear of the body (4) (5). As they get older, the larvae become green to brown with a large blue-and-white eyespot near the head and a yellow ‘horn’ on the rear (4) (5) (6). There is also a white band along the side of the body, with a scattering of small white and bluish dots alongside it. The spiracles on the sides of the body are black (5) (6). Older oleander hawk-moth larvae measure around 7.5 to 8.5 centimetres in length (6).

Just before it pupates, the oleander hawk-moth larva becomes browner in colour. The pupa of this species measures around 5.5 to 7.5 centimetres in length, and is light brown with black spots and a black line down the middle (5) (6).

Also known as
oleander hawkmoth.
Synonyms
Deilephila nerii.
Size
Wingspan: 8 - 12 cm (2)
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Oleander hawk-moth biology

The oleander hawk-moth lays eggs individually on both sides of oleander leaves. The round, light green eggs are around 1.5 millimetres in diameter (4) (5) and hatch in about 5 to 12 days (5).

The caterpillars of the oleander hawk-moth feed on plants such as oleander (Nerium oleander) and periwinkle (Vinca species). Minor host plants include grapevines (Vitis species), milkweeds (Asclepias species) and jasmine (Jasminum species) (5). Oleander hawk-moth caterpillars have also been found to accept privet (Ligustrum species) in captivity (2). It is believed that the caterpillars’ consumption of oleander and other plants in the Apocynaceae family may bestow them with considerable protection against a variety of predators, as these plants have toxic effects on many species (6).

The caterpillars of this species pupate in the loose soil (3) or among debris on the ground, spinning a loose yellow cocoon around themselves (5). Adult oleander hawk-moths can be observed in flight from May to September (5), or sometimes to October (2), although they rest during the day, either on solid surfaces or suspended among foliage which camouflages them. Most emerge late in the evening but do not take flight until just before dawn. The adults of this species feed from flowers such as Petunia and Nicotiana species (5).

In southern Europe, the oleander hawk-moth produces more than one generation per year. This species migrates into central and northern Europe, but it does not breed in northern Europe (2) (5). The oleander hawk-moth is sometimes host to parasitoids such as the wasp Cotesia saltator (5).

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Oleander hawk-moth range

The native range of the oleander hawk-moth spans Europe, Africa and Asia (6). This species is mainly found in the southern Mediterranean region, North Africa and the Middle East. However, it is also a rare migrant to the far north, such as to Finland, Sweden, Britain and the Shetland Islands, and has occasionally been found as far east as the Philippines (5). This species is one of the rarest migrant moths to reach Northern Ireland and has only been recorded there on three occasions (2).

The oleander hawk-moth has also been introduced to Hawaii and has been established there since the 1970s (7). It was first detected on the island of Saipan in 2003 and then on Guam, located 185 kilometres to the south, in 2005 (4). The oleander hawk-moth has also colonised parts of Japan (5).

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Oleander hawk-moth habitat

The oleander hawk-moth typically inhabits dry river beds, oases and warm hillsides with scattered oleander bushes. However, areas which are overgrown with this shrub tend to be avoided (5).

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Oleander hawk-moth status

The oleander hawk-moth has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

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Oleander hawk-moth threats

The oleander hawk-moth is not currently known to be threatened. In its introduced range, such as on Guam, this species could potentially become a forest pest, although it has been found to be affected by parasitoids which could control its populations there (4).

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Oleander hawk-moth conservation

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the oleander hawk-moth.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
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Find out more

Find out more about the oleander hawk-moth:

Find out more about moth and butterfly conservation in Europe:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Abdomen
In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustaceans (such as crabs), some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen.
Larva (larvae)
Immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
Parasitoid (parasitoids)
An organism (usually an insect) whose larvae live as parasites on a single host organism (typically another insect), which they eventually kill, often consuming most or all of its tissues in the process.
Pupa
In some insects, a stage in the life cycle during which the larval form is reorganised into the adult form. The pupa is usually inactive, and may be encased in a chrysalis, cocoon or other protective coating.
Pupation (pupate, pupates)
The process of becoming a pupa, the stage in the life cycle of some insects during which the larval form is reorganised into the adult form. The pupa is usually inactive, and may be encased in a chrysalis, cocoon or other protective coating.
Spiracles
In insects, spiracles are pores on the body that allow air to enter the respiratory system.
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References

  1. Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (October, 2013)
    http://www.catalogueoflife.org/annual-checklist
  2. Thompson, R. and Nelson, B. (2006) The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland. National Museums Northern Ireland, Belfast.
  3. European Butterflies and Moths - Daphnis nerii (May, 2013)
    http://www.lepidoptera.pl/show.php?ID=180&country=DE
  4. Moore, A. and Miller, R.H. (2008) Daphnis nerii (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae), a new pest of oleander on Guam, including notes on plant hosts and egg parasitism. Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, 40: 67-70.
  5. Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic - Daphnis nerii (May, 2013)
    http://tpittaway.tripod.com/sphinx/d_ner.htm
  6. Leong, T.M. and D’Rozario, V. (2009) Final instar larvae and metamorphosis of the oleander hawkmoth, Daphnis nerii (Linnaeus) in Singapore (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Macroglossinae). Nature in Singapore, 2: 297-306.
  7. Beardsley Jr, J.W. (1979) New immigrant insects in Hawaii: 1962 through 1976. Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, 23: 35-44.
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Oleander hawk-moth on oleander flowers  
Oleander hawk-moth on oleander flowers

© Hanne & Jens Eriksen / naturepl.com

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