Polymorphism in hawkmoths larvae

Paolo Mazzei and Diego Reggianti, Roma, Italy - last editing: June 24, 1999


Sphinx ligustri (larva not polymorphic)       Provisional

The question is: are the different chromatic forms of Paleartic hawkmoths larvae genetically determined, or/and affected by lighting condition, temperature or feeding behaviour?

Here are our provisional, qualitative results. We would like to go deep into this problem: any help, comment, suggestion or reference to other works is welcome.

Daphnis nerii (Linnaeus, 1758). Larvae (near Parga, Greece, August) are dimorphic: the most common form is apple green (fig. 1); the brown form (fig. 2) has a different pattern; the yellow form (fig. 3) is probably only a chromatic variant of the first one.

All the larvae feeded only with red Nerium oleander flowers developed to the brown form, while all the larvae feeded only with leaves of Nerium oleander leaded to the green form.

Daphnis nerii (larva, green form)
fig. 1

Daphnis nerii (larva, brown form)
fig. 2

Daphnis nerii (larva, yellow form)
fig. 3

Hyles euphorbiae euphorbiae (Linnaeus, 1758). Larvae (Zagori, Greece, June) are polymorphic (fig. 4, 5 and 6).

Larvae bred at low temperature and with poor lighting become very dark (fig. 7). Pittaway reports that the dark forms of Hyles euphorbiae in Lebanon and Hyles nicaea castissima in the Atlas Mountains are commonly found at high altitude (Pittaway A.R. (1993). The hawkmoths of the western Palaearctic, 240pp., 13 pls. London & Colchester, UK: Harley Books).

Hyles euphorbiae euphorbiae (larva)
fig. 4

Hyles euphorbiae euphorbiae (larva)
fig. 5

Hyles euphorbiae euphorbiae (larva)
fig. 6

Hyles euphorbiae euphorbiae (larva, dark form)
fig. 7

Hyles tithymali mauretanica (?) (Staudinger, 1871). Larvae found by dr. Alberto Zilli in Tunisia (fig. 8, Cap Serrat, May 1998) show a pattern that closely resembles that of larvae found in Italy near Rome (fig. 9, September). Are populations of central Italy Hyles euphorbiae, Hyles tithymali or something between? This form is present in central and southern Italy, Sicily included, it has the lower series of white spots like Hyles dahlii (fig. 10) and it seems to be the only form which can be found at low altitude. A larva found at 1500m (Gran Sasso, central Appennino) shows the same pattern.

Larval pattern and colouring do not change with breeding at low temperatures and with poor lighting.

Hyles tithymali mauretanica (?) (larva)
fig. 8
Hyles euphorbiae or tithymali (?) (larva from Rome, Italy)
fig. 9
Hyles dahlii (larva)
fig. 10

Hyles gallii gallii (Rottemburg, 1775)

Breeding with poor lighting condition leeds to 100% of nearly black larvae (fig. 12), even with a temperature of about 30C. With high lighting (60W lamp at about 40cm) all larvae, at the final instar, are like the one shown in fig. 11.

Hyles gallii gallii (larva)
fig. 11
Hyles gallii gallii (larva, dark form)
fig. 12

Hyles livornica livornica (Esper, 1779)

If  bred in low lighting condition, 100% of larvae become dark with yellow stripes (fig. 13). Breeding with high lighting condition has not been tried yet.

Hyles livornica livornica (larva, dark form)
fig. 13

Proserpinus proserpina proserpina (Pallas, 1772)

Some larvae found near Rome (sea level) are green (fig. 15), while all the larvae found at about 1000m (Gran Sasso, Abruzzi) are brown (fig. 14).

Proserpinus proserpina proserpina (larva)
fig. 14
Proserpinus proserpina proserpina (larva, green form)
fig. 15

Acherontia atropos (Linnaeus, 1758)

No data about chromatic variability of larvae.

Acherontia atropos (larva, yellow form)
fig. 16
Acherontia atropos (larva, green form)
fig. 17
Acherontia atropos (larva, brown form)
fig. 18

Agrius convolvuli convolvuli (Linnaeus, 1758)

No data about chromatic variability of larvae.

Agrius convolvuli convolvuli (larva)
fig. 19
Agrius convolvuli convolvuli (larva, green form)
fig. 20
Agrius convolvuli convolvuli (larva, dark form)
fig. 21

Mimas tiliae (Linnaeus, 1758)

All the larvae with large red spots (fig. 23) have been obtained from females collected in Vivaro (neighbourhood of Rome, 600m).

Mimas tiliae (larva)
fig. 22
Mimas tiliae (larva, red spotted form)
fig. 23

Hemaris croatica (Esper, 1800)

No data about chromatic variability of larvae.

Hemaris croatica (larva)
fig. 24
Hemaris croatica (larva, pink form)
fig. 25

Paolo Mazzei and Diego Reggianti, Roma, Italy

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Paolo Mazzei or Diego Reggianti

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