Oleander hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii)

Also known as: oleander hawkmoth
Synonyms: Deilephila nerii
GenusDaphnis (1)
SizeWingspan: 8 - 12 cm (2)
Top facts

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

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

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

Find out more about the oleander hawk-moth:

Find out more about moth and butterfly conservation in Europe:

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:

  1. Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (October, 2013)
  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)
  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)
  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.