Moths of North Carolina
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Sphinx Members:
56 NC Records

Sphinx gordius Cramer, 1780 - Apple Sphinx

Superfamily: Bombycoidea Family: SphingidaeSubfamily: SphinginaeTribe: SphinginiP3 Number: 890119.00 MONA Number: 7810.00
Comments: This large genus of some 27 species ranges from England to Japan and down through the Americas. There are approximately 14 resident species in North America and at least 5 in North Carolina. Two very different larval types occur in the genus and it is likely that Sphinx is composed of more than one genus.
Species Status: Gordius belongs to a complex of species that also includes S. poecilia and S. luscitosa. Currently, only gordius is believed to exist in North Carolina, but the interrelationships of these three species are quite complicated, as revealed by DNA barcoding. Seven samples indicate a single, homogenous population but individuals from Columbus and Bladen counties barcode with S. luscitosa even though S. poecilia is thought to be the closer species. S. luscitosa also has sexual dimorphism which the other two species do not and it does not use the same foodplants. The most logical explanation is that a female S. luscitosa hybridized with a S. gordius male in the past and that female barcode has become fixed in some S. gordius populations (the gene used in barcoding is mitochondrial and thus inherited in the female line). The barcodes exactly match those from two S. luscitosa captured in New York. Other individuals taken at the same time in Bladen county match the normal S. gordius phenotypes. Populations from the Blue Ridge have yet to be looked at gentically and their relationship to populations in the Coastal Plain still need to be determined. Clearly this species requires additional studies in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Field Guide Descriptions: Covell (1984)Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, GBIF, BOLDTechnical Description, Adults: Forbes (1948); Hodges (1971); Tuttle (2007)Technical Description, Immature Stages: Forbes (1948); Wagner (2005); Tuttle (2007)                                                                                 
Adult Markings: A medium sized gray sphinx moth streaked with narrow black dashes and variably shaded with brown; thorax is contrastingly black, edged with white and the hindwings are also banded with black and white. As in the similar Paratrea plebeja, gordius possesses a small, white discal spot but gordius shows more contrast between its darker thorax and abdomen and its lighter gray ground color on the wings. Sexes are similar.
Wingspan: 6.8 - 9.5 cm (Covell, 1984)
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos of unworn specimens.
Immatures and Development: Larvae follow the typical sphinx pattern being usually green and laterally striped with seven pale, oblique bands; these bands are often edged with crimson, magenta or black (see Forbes, 1948, and Wagner, 2005 for details). Pupation occurs underground.
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: Common in the Coastal Plain but known farther west from just two records from the Blue Ridge.
County Map: Clicking on a county returns the records for the species in that county.
Flight Dates:
 High Mountains (HM) ≥ 4,000 ft.
 Low Mountains (LM) < 4,000 ft.
 Piedmont (Pd)
 Coastal Plain (CP)

Click on graph to enlarge
Immature Dates:
 High Mountains (HM) ≥ 4,000 ft.
 Low Mountains (LM) < 4,000 ft.
 Piedmont (Pd)
 Coastal Plain (CP)

Click on graph to enlarge
Flight Comments: Although Tuttle (2007) states that the species is single brooded throughout its range, it is clearly double brooded in the coastal plain of North Carolina.
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: The vast majority of our records come from the Coastal Plain from peatlands, including Pond Pine Woodlands and High Pocosins, and low-lying Longleaf Pine Flatwoods and Savannas. None come from maritime habitats, including maritime scrub habitats, floodplain forests, or from dry sandhills habitats. The two records from the Blue Ridge come from within or near expansive areas of heath thickets.
Larval Host Plants: Polyphagous. Northern populations have been reported primarily on Rosaceae with most larval records from apple, plum and cherry. Many other woody species are also used, including ashes, blueberries, wax myrtles, and sweetgales; conifers, such as spruce and larch, have also been reported (Forbes, 1948; Wagner, 2005). Interestingly these records from non-rosaceous plants match the records of foodplant for S.poecilia and are different from the foodplants (willow, poplar and birch) of S. luscitosa. To our knowledge no larvae have been found in North Carolina although plum and cherry are often searched. Given the strong association between our populations and peatland and flatwoods habitats in the Coastal Plain, we strongly suspect that heaths are a major host in North Carolina. Heath barrens were also located at the sites where gordius has been recorded in the Blue Ridge. On the other hand, the absence of records from maritime habitats suggest that Wax Myrtles -- which are abundant in those habitats -- are not a major host plant in our area. - View
Observation Methods: Adults come to lights and to flowers but not to baits. 15 watt blacklights appear to be effective for sampling this species, with multiple individuals often collected in a single trap.
See also Habitat Account for Coastal Plain Wet Acidic Shrublands
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status:
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: G5 [S4]
State Protection: Has no legal protection, although permits are required to collect it on state parks and other public lands
Comments: Gordius appears to be a strong habitat specialist in our area, found solely in areas with abundant heaths and other shrubs. Although its habitats are still fairly widespread in the Coastal Plain, large areas have been converted for agriculture and tree plantations. Sea level rise also threatens some of the large peatdome pocosins where this species is currently abundant. Unlike some of the other species associated with peatlands, gordius has not been recorded in Streamhead Pocosins in the Sandhills region. While more populations associated with heath balds and rocky outcrops are likely to be discovered, the distribution of gordius outside of the Outer Coastal Plain still needs to be determined, as is true for its genetic identity.

 Photo Gallery for Sphinx gordius - Apple Sphinx

Photos: 1

Recorded by: F. Williams, S. Williams on 2017-09-30
New Hanover Co.
Comment: Parasitized by Cotesia congregata. On Lyonia