Tersa Sphinx Moth Overview and Description

Tersa sphinx moth, also known as the Wooden moth from the subfamily Macroglossinae, is a moth that lives in Central America, North America, and South America, and is unique for its streamlined wings, similar to an aircraft.

Tersa Sphinx Moth Species Summary

Scientific NameXylophanes tersa
Family NameSphingidae
HabitatWoodlands, gardens, parks, and suburbs
RangeNorth, South, and Central America
Host PlantsMilkweed, honeysuckle, and broadleaf buttonweed
Butterfly DescriptionLarge with brown and gray hairy forewings and pale yellow and brown hindwings
Caterpillar DescriptionLarva can be green or brown with eyespots and a black horn

Tersa Moth Physical Description

Tersa sphinx moth
Tersa sphinx moth

Tersa sphinx moths are large, brown, and hairy with a wing span of 2 3/8 to 3 1/8 inches (6 to 8 cm). Their thin forewings are 3.2 to 3.6 cm long. The upperside of the forewings is pale brown with dark brown lines that run from the apex to the wings’ base. The base of the forewings is lavender gray.

The upperside of the hindwing is dark brown with wedge-shaped marks that are yellow to whitish.

Xylophanes tersas have a brown thorax with white and orange lines on the sides. The abdomen is long and pointed, with yellow on the sides and brown to cinnamon on the dorsal surface. They have yellow anal angles.

Xylophanes tersa vs. Xylophanes pluto

Tersa is similar to Pluto, but only in shape. Pluto sphinx moth is greenish, while Tersa is brown. Other than the evident color and pattern difference, their bodies also look angular and sharp.

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Larva Physical Description

Tersa Sphinx Moth Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Tersa sphinx moth larva is either green or light brown and can grow to 3 inches (8 cm). The green varies from light to dark. All color variations have a black caudal horn.

The larvae have eyespots on the first abdominal segments that make them resemble snakes. Six eyespots are also present on the abdomen but are less pronounced. There is also a light stripe that bisects the eyespots.

Mature Tersa sphinx caterpillars will burrow into plant debris, loose soil, or dried leaves to pupate.

Why Are They Called Tersa Sphinx Moths?

Tersa sphinx caterpillars are commonly known as “sphinxes” because they can retract their heads and three thoracic segments into their abdomen.

Tersa Sphinx Moth Life cycle

Egg Stage4 to 10 days
Caterpillar Stage21 to 32 days
Chrysalis Stage5 to 21 days
Butterfly Stage10 days

What is the Tersa sphinx moth’s habitat?

Like other moth species, Tersa sphinx is common in woodlands, suburban areas, gardens, and parks.

Usual Host Plants

Caterpillars host plants include:

  • Smooth button plant (Spermacoce glabra)
  • Starclusters (Pentas species)
  • Borreria
  • Catalpa
  • Manettia vine care
  • Broadleaf buttonweed
  • Firebush (Hamelia patens)
  • Inga vera
  • Purple Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

What does the tersa sphinx caterpillar eat?

Caterpillars’ main food sources are plants from Rubiaceae and Loosestrife families, such as Heimia salicifolia.

Adult moths nectar from the following flowers:

  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera)
  • Marvel of Peru or Four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa)
  • Chinese violet (Asystasia gangetica)

Usual Behavior

Adult moths lay eggs and nectar on flowers at dusk. When feeding on nectar, they hover on flowers like hummingbirds or Clearwing moths.

Adults fly at dust from February to November in the south US, May to October in the north, and year-round in the tropics.

Before mating, female moths release pheromones (chemical signals) to lure male moths. Young instars feed within flower clusters and on top plants, but they don’t feed in groups. Larvae are common from May to November, but in some regions, they can be found year-round. In captivity, Xylophanes tersa thrive in fresh host plants and clean environments.

Common Predators

Common predators for Xylophanes tersa, include:

  • Birds
  • Wasps
  • Bats
  • Insects
  • Small mammals

Is the tersa sphinx caterpillar poisonous?

Tersa caterpillars may look scary, but they are completely harmless. When there are too many of them in a certain host plant, people may pluck them from their host plants with bare hands.


Tersa sphinx is widely distributed and can be found in:

  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • South Florida
  • Southern Arizona
  • Texas

These moths are also residents of South America (Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay) and the West Indies.

Do Tersa Sphinx Moths Migrate?

Sometimes the Tersa sphinx moth migrates to other areas like Canada. They mainly live in the tropic states — Texas and Florida.

How to attract Tersa Sphinx Moths?

You can attract Tersa sphinx moths to your garden by creating a habitat that will support the caterpillars and adult moths. Caterpillars prefer Pentas lanceolaria, while adult moths prefer honeysuckle and Chinese violet.

When is this moth considered a pest?

Sphinx moths aren’t considered pests, although they may require management when their numbers increase. These caterpillars feed on foliage and fruits, so people who want to ensure their fruit plants are safe may remove them.

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