Dolbina tancrei — ” Amur grizzled hawkmoth”

Dolbina tancrei, the “Amur grizzled hawkmoth” is a small species of hawkmoth originating from the Far East: it is found in the Amur region in Russia but also Japan, China and Korea. Here it flies from spring to autumn in one to three generations, depending on the local climate. This species is associated with Oleaceae plants; all of their host plants are from this family of plants but include multiple species such as privet (Ligustrum sp.), lilac (Syringa sp.a), olive (Olea sp.), ash trees (Fraxinus sp), Osmanthus and possibly others. The eggs are transparent and yellow/greenish in colour. After depositing eggs on their host plants, the larvae start feeding on the vegetation: they are typically hidden on the underside of the leaves, clinging to the central leaf vein. As they grow, the larvae go through five larval stages (instars) before pupating.  The larval stage is relatively short; on room temperature, most of them pupated between 3 to 6 weeks time – this fast growing moth can produce swift consecutive generations in captivity and under optimal circumstances it is possible to go from egg to moth in about 1.5 month time. The caterpillars of Dolbina tancrei are usually apple green but they seem to have a variable orange/brown pigmentation that presents itself as pink, red or brown dots / stains. Once fully grown, the larvae burrow underground and pupate in a subterranean chamber. In winter, this species overwinters as pupae, only to emerge next spring. The imago of Dolbina tancrei is grey/white with a rich and detailed pattern. The moths can also have a slight green scaling that chances their overall appearance to a “mossy” olive green , although the level of greenness appears to be a variable trait. The adults do not feed and do not visit flowers unlike most other palearctic Sphinginae.

Dolbina tancrei imago 

Dolbina tancrei final instar larva

In captivity and lab conditions, the moth is easily reproduced.  Dolbina tancrei is a non-feeding type of hawkmoth; the mouthparts are strongly reduced and the moths are unable to eat. They only live for a few days to lay eggs and die.

  • Difficulty rating:  Simple (Easy to breed)
  • Rearing difficulty: 5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 5/10 (Archieving copulations) 
  • Host plants: Oleaceae plants; Osmanthus fragrans, Lilac (Syringa sp.), Privet (Ligustrum sp.), Ash tree (Fraxinus), Olive tree (Olea europaea). 
  •  Natural range:   Korea, Russia, Japan, China; basically the Far East and parts of palearctic Asia
  • Polyphagous:  Only on Oleaceae
  • Generations:  One to three generations a year; multivoltine in nature but adapts to the local climate. 
  • Family: Sphingidae (hawkmoths)
  • Pupation:  Subterranean (burrows in soil)
  • Prefered climate:  Temperate, Palearctic – with cold but mild winters. 
  • Special notes:  Pupae are best overwintered frost free, but can survive mild frost if they need to and are properly packed. 
  • Wingspan: 45mm – 75mm 
  • Binomial name: Dolbina tancrei (Staudinger, 1887)

In captivity, Dolbina tancrei is very easy to raise. The pale, round, green translucent eggs hatch in 5 to 10 days depending on the temperature; the warmer, the faster they will hatch. After hatching, caterpillars consume a part of their empty eggshells and will wander for a while before growing hungry again and settle on the food plant – usually against the leaf vein on the underside of a leaf. Small caterpillars can be raised in plastic containers with fresh food plant that can be replaced every 3 days.

Dolbina tancrei first and second instar (L1/L2)

Dolbina tancrei second instar (L2)

Dolbina tancrei third instar (L3)

The first four instars are rather similar looking; they are apple green, with visible white markings especially in the third (L3) and fourth (L4) instar. When they approaching the fourth instar, the caterpillars will require more individual space and venilation and are more likely to perish in airtight boxes. Therefore, it is easier to sleeve them on their food plants or to raise them on bottled cuttings of food plant in a cage or in the open air.

In the fifth instar (L5) the caterpillars can be expected to become more colourful and they can develop rather random and variable pigmented spots and stains over their body that seem to range in colour from brown, to pink, to orange. Some caterpillars will lack the colour and simply remain green.

Dolbina tancrei final instar (L5)

Dolbina tancrei final instar (L5)

Dolbina tancrei final instar (L5)

When raising Dolbina tancrei, it is important to give them some individual space and ventilation. With these things in mind, it is an easy species to raise and breed in captivity. Their food plants are very straightforward and the moths are fast-growing; they are also quite tolerant to stress and being reared in a relatively high density of individuals. For a good result, privet (Ligustrum sp.) is recommended, although they will eat various Oleaceae with variable results.

After 3 to 6 weeks the caterpillars are fully grown. When they are ready to pupate, most (but not all) of them develop prepupal camouflage and seem to turn rather “pink”: their backside will show a dark pink/brown colour. In this stage the larvae will be restless and wander a lot: they are looking for a place to burrow and pupate. In captivity, they can be given plastic containers with paper towel or bird sand, vermiculite, garden soil or leaf litter. In here they will burrow and lie motionless in an underground chamber for about a week before finally pupating. In the wild, they burrow in the soil and seek crevices in the earth to burrow in.

Dolbina tancrei final instar (L5) prepupal phase

The pupae of Dolbina tancrei are wine-red but turn dark over time as the adult develops inside the pupa. Hibernating pupae are not expected to show much signs of development. Overwintering the pupae is not hard as they seem to be quite though and resilient, but one important thing must be kept in mind: they are best overwintered frost free. Yes, in their natural habitat they do survive frost: but the winters in the Far East/Palearctic Asia are cold but mild. Since some people have the habit of overwintering their pupae outside exposed to the elements, there is a chance they are out of their comfort zone depending on where you live. While Dolbina tancrei appears to be a though species that can overcome harsh cold and frost, there is a chance that winters that are too cold may negatively impact their health or development. However, there are other ways to prevent this: Dolbina tancrei pupae can survive outside, even in very cold countries, if the pupae are overwintered in well-isolated boxes. For this it is best to fill the container with a thick layer of soil, moss, leaf litter or vermiculite and burrow the pupae deeply inside. Another way is to put a plastic box inside another plastic box and create multiple layers of boxes as a buffer against frost. Whatever you do, make sure it is not too wet or will grow moldy over winter. If the pupae are well protected they will survive. Some people have also had succes with overwintering them in a fridge.

Dolbina tancrei pupae

To my suprise, Dolbina tancrei is a non-feeding type of Sphingidae. While this is the norm for many palearctic Smerinthinae, I did not expect Sphinginae to be of the non-feeding type. However, the proboscis of Dolbina tancrei is severely reduced and not functional. Because of this the moths have a limited lifespan, and only live for a few days in order to pair, lay eggs, and die.

Dolbina tancrei imago

Dolbina tancrei imago

Dolbina tancrei imago

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2019); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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