Blackburns Sphinx Moth First
The Blackburns sphinx moth, Hawaiis largest native insect, is facing extinction. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it is designating the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Once found on six Hawaiian islands, the moth now exists only on the islands of Maui, Kahoolawe, and Hawaii. It is the first Hawaiian insect to be protected under the Act. A species is designated as endangered when it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion its range.
"Threats to the moth include introduced ants and parasitic wasps that prey on its eggs and caterpillars, and the loss of its native host plant, which is a dryland forest tree," said Anne Badgley, regional director of the Services Pacific region. "In addition, a chance event such as a fire or a hurricane could wipe out the three remaining populations. The species is also vulnerable to over-collection by individuals for their personal collections or for trade."
Blackburns sphinx moth has blackish-gray mottled wings, a gray abdomen with orange highlights, and a wingspan of up to five inches. In its larval stage, the caterpillars are large and either green or grayish, and look similar to tomato hornworms. The caterpillars feed on native aiea trees and other plants in the nightshade family.
Although the Blackburns sphinx moth has adapted to using some introduced plant species, non-native plants rarely provide as good a host as their native counterparts. For example, during recent drought periods in Hawaii, the introduced tree tobacco died or lost its foliage, while its relative, the
native aiea, was drought-tolerant and maintained its nutritional value for the sphinx moth.
Considered to be extinct as recently as the late 1970s, biologists rediscovered Blackburns sphinx moths on East Maui in 1984. Subsequently, biologists have found the species on Maui, Hawaii, and Kahoolawe. Although no population estimates are available, the East Maui and Kahoolawe populations appear to be the largest.
"Although scientists know that insects play an important role in the Hawaiian web of life, we have not had the opportunity to study the Blackburns sphinx moth and its life cycle to be able to identify that role, " Badgley said. "In general, insects frequently are important as pollinators, as a food source, and as recyclers in the natural world."
The Service published a proposed rule to list the Blackburns sphinx moth as
In accordance with State of Hawaii law, this listing will provide both federal and state protection for the species. Protections offered by the Endangered Species Act include prohibitions on collection of the species, sale or purchase of these insects, unauthorized use of chemical insecticides that would harm the species, and unauthorized release of biological control agents that would attack the Blackburns sphinx moth.
The Endangered Species Act requires the development of recovery plans identifying steps to be taken to recover the species. Recovery plans for listed species often include strategies for controlling key threats, monitoring existing populations, and increasing the number of individuals and populations through natural or artificial means. The Service currently is funding research examining the life history, captive rearing, and conservation biology of the sphinx moth.
The final rule listing the Blackburns sphinx moth as endangered was published in
the Federal Register on February 1. Questions about the listing may be directed to the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Pacific Islands office at 300 Ala Moana Boulevard,
Room 3-122, Honolulu, Hawaii 96850 or by
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for