White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) caterpillars occur in a wide range of color phenotypes. These color patterns are so different that it sometimes is difficult to believe they all belong to the same species. The caterpillars have four basic color groups: black, yellow/black, green and yellow/green. Different amounts of splotching and patterning occur. Often there are two lengthwise side rows of pale spots bordered by black lines and similar lateral lines. The head and anal plate are green or orange with spots. Regardless of the color pattern, ALL white-lined sphinx caterpillars have a yellow or orange rear horn, sometimes with a black tip. The horn is not a stinger and this caterpillar is harmless to humans.
A cosmopolitan moth, white-lined sphinx occur from southern Canada to Latin America, from the Atlantic to Pacific. They also occur in the West Indies, Eurasia and Africa. This caterpillar feeds on a wide variety of broadleaf weeds and wildflowers, forage plants, fruit trees, grapes, and truck crops. Occasionally their numbers are so great that they cause economic damage to crops or accidents on highways.
White-lined sphinx moth caterpillars pupate and overwinter in shallow underground burrows.
Native Americans ate white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars. They would pull off the heads and jerk out the guts. The caterpillars were then skewered on stems and roasted. Excess cooked caterpillars were dried and stored whole or ground.
This caterpillar specimen was feasting in our East Pasture (near Lookout CA/Modoc County). I brought the caterpillar home (my shirt pocket definitely needs to be washed now) and cooled it for a few minutes in the refrigerator. The chilled caterpillar was a cooperative model. After the caterpillar completely revived, I put it back outside to continue its life cycle. The adult was photographed across the road from our ranch near Pilot Butte in Ash Creek Wildlife Area.