The other morning, Kate was headed out for the early-morning walk with The Dog, then came back in to tell me I should come and see a moth on the front porch. I was editing a story and grunted that I was busy. After the walk, she came back and showed me a picture of the creature hanging on the wall near the front door. Yeah, it was striking. So I grabbed my camera to go take a look.
What we didn't know was what sort of moth it might be. Thanks to the amazing World Wide Web, I found a site that included a species identifier that, after four or five clicks, drilled down to five candidate species. No. 4 on that list was Hyles lineata, or the white-lined sphinx. I don't recall ever seeing one before, though I readily find a reference to a recent appearance in Alameda, less than 10 miles from here.
According to one of the links above, this species is a fairly benign presence in our environment (especially when compared to the more widely distributed Homo sapiens).
And unless their numbers are excessive, they're unlikely to pose a significant worry for gardeners or orchardists. "Sometimes they might nibble a little bit along the way, but they will have little effect on those plants," he says. The caterpillars have fed on a wide range of plants — purslane, portulaca, wild grape, and a host of weeds and various desert shrubs; they tend to stick with low, shrubby plants.