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the web of life in southern Africa

Agrius convolvuli (Convolvulus hawkmoth, Sweet potato hornworm)

[= Herse convolvuli]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Phylum: Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Neoptera > Eumetabola > Holometabola > Panorpida > Amphiesmenoptera > Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) > Glossata > Coelolepida > Myoglossata > Neolepidoptera > Heteroneura > Ditrysia > Apoditrysia > Obtectomera > Macrolepidoptera > Bombycoidea > Family: Sphingidae (hawkmoths) > Subfamily: Sphinginae


Agrius convolvuli (Convolvulus hawkmoth), Brits, Northwest Province, South Africa, 9 October 2011. [photo Mike Nyenes ]


Agrius Convolvuli Female

Agrius convolvuli Male

Agrius convolvuli female (wingspan 94 mm), Krugersdorp, South Africa [photo J. Joannou ]

Agrius convolvuli male (wingspan = 116 mm), Krugersdorp, South Africa [photo J. Joannou ]

Distribution and habitat

A migratory species [from where to where?; distance? purpose?] occurring widely in Africa, most neighbouring islands, Europe, and Asia through to Australia (Pinhey 1975 pp. 135-136). 

Life cycle


Ecological interactions

Larval host plants in southern Africa

Information from Kroon [1999] unless otherwise indicated

Pollination of flowers occurring in southern Africa

Adult moths feed from a wide variety of long-tubed flowers including:

  • Amaryllidaceae

  • Caricaceae

    • Carica papaya (Papaya, Papaw, Pawpaw). A cultivated species, pollinated by hawkmoths, including Agrius convolvuli. Martins & Johnson (2009) in a study conducted in rural Kenya, found that natural habitats were important in sustaining hawkmoth populations because they contained the larval hostplants needed in completing the life cycle. Hence, papaya plants grown near natural habitats were more likely to be pollinated than those isolated from natural habitats.

  • Cucurbitaceae

    • Lagenaria siceraria (Bottle gourd, Calabash) - Morimoto et al. (2004), in a study conducted in Kenya, considered hawkmoths, including Agrius convolvuli, as the main pollinators of Lagenaria siceraria.

  • Iridaceae

    • Gladiolus longicollis. At a site near Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Alexandersson & Johnson (2002) found that this species is pollinated mainly by Agrius convolvuli. Flowers are white to cream and open in the evening, producing a strong, sweet scent that is attractive to hawkmoths. A few other hawkmoths were found to have visited this flower but their probosces were too short to reach the nectar at the base of the tube. The probobscis of Agrius convolvuli is exceptionally long, ranging from 85 - 135 mm long in its extended state. The tube of Gladiolus longicollis ranges widely from 35 - 130 mm in length. They found that flowers with longer tubes were more likely to produce fruit than flowers with shorter tubes. If the tube is longer than the moth's proboscis, then the moth has to press its head into the flower to get to the nectar and in so doing presses it against the anthers and the stigma where pollen transfer then takes place. If the tube is shorter than the proboscis then the moth can reach the nectar without having to press its head into the flower and hence does not pick up pollen.

  • Onagraceae

  • Orchidaceae

    • Aerangis. Most, if not all, of the species in this genus are probably pollinated by long-tongued hawkmoths and Agrius convolvuli in particular (see Martins & Johnson 2007). Confirmed records of pollination by Agrius convolvuli for species occurring in southern Africa include:

    • Disa cooperi. Johnson (1992) recorded Agrius convolvuli feeding from this flower but its proboscis is too long so the head of the moth is not inserted far enough into the orchid to pick up the pollen. Another shorter tongued hawkmoth was the main pollinator of this species.

    • Rangaeris amaniensis. Agrius convolvuli, Coelonia fulvinotata and Xanthopan morganii recorded as pollinators by Martins & Johnson (2007) in Kenya.

  • Verbenaceae


Publications (by date)

  • Pinhey, E.C.G. 1975. Moths of Southern Africa. Tafelberg, Cape Town.

  • Johnson SD. 1995. Observations of hawkmoth pollination in the South African orchid Disa cooperi. - Nordic Journal of Botany 15: 121125. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1756-1051.1995.tb00128.x

  • Kroon, D.M. 1999. Lepidoptera of Southern Africa - Host-plants and other Associations. A Catalogue. Published by the author and Lepidopterists' Society of Africa, P.O. Box 477, Jukskei Park 2153, South Africa. 

  • Alexandersson R, Johnson SD. 2002. Pollinator-mediated selection on flower-tube length in a hawkmoth-pollinated Gladiolus (Iridaceae). Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 269: 631636. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2001.1928

  • Morimoto Y, Gikungu M, Maundu P. 2004. Pollinators of the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) observed in Kenya. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science 24: 79-86. http://dx.doi.org/10.1079/IJT20046

  • Kawaano S, Odaki M, Yamaoka R, Odatanabe M, Takeuchi M, Kawano N. 2005. Pollination biology of Oenothera (Onagraceae). The interplay between floral UV-absorbancy patterns and floral volatiles as signals to nocturnal insects. Plant Species Biology 10(1): 31-38. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-1984.1995.tb00118.x

  • Martins DJ, Johnson SD. 2007. Hawkmoth pollination of aerangoid orchids in Kenya, with special reference to nectar sugar concentration gradients in the floral spurs. American Journal of Botany 94(4): 650-659. http://dx.doi.org/10.3732/ajb.94.4.650

  • Martins DJ, Johnson SD. 2009. Distance and quality of natural habitat influence hawkmoth pollination of cultivated papaya. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science 29: 114-123.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1742758409990208