Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Draw a Carolina Sphinx Moth and Learn About Its Adaptations

Draw a Carolina Sphinx Moth and Learn About Its Adaptations

Katie Derloshon:

Hello. My name is Katie and I am an educator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Today, I am going to teach you how to draw a Carolina sphinx moth by making close observations and focusing on some of its special adaptations that help it survive. Drawing and sketching are important tools for scientists that help them make observations, record those observations, and then share them with others.

Now, in order to practice your drawing and sketching skills, you will need to make sure you have your supplies ready. Make sure you have the following ready to go.

(A list on the screen says, "Paper, pencil and eraser, black color pencil or crayon or marker, and brown color pencil or crayon.")

The insect we are going to practice making close observations of and drawing is the Manduca sexta in its adult stage. When it is in this stage, it is called the Carolina sphinx moth. These images are real specimens from our collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and they provide two different views of the same insect. We can see the top view and the underside view.

Today, we're going to take a closer observation of the underside view of our moth for the drawing. That's the one on the left side. But you can always re-watch this video in the future and draw the top side too, if you want. All right, let's get started.

When I'm drawing, I like to look for shapes or other patterns in the animals that help me break down the drawing into steps. After the program, I encourage you to also practice your drawing of other insects by breaking down those into familiar shapes. Now, to start our drawing, we must first draw the insect's body. Insects all have a specific body plan. Each insect has three main body parts: the head, the thorax and the abdomen. Go ahead and identify where the head is and we're going to draw it by making a half circle.

The next main body part is the thorax. The moth's wings are connected to the thorax. To draw the thorax, we make a trapezoid shape under the head. Draw two lines, one on each side of the bottom of the head and then connect the lines with another line, completing the trapezoid. The third main body part is the abdomen. It is the largest of the three main body parts. To draw the abdomen, we will draw a large V connected to the thorax. It might look somewhat like an ice cream cone when you're finished drawing all of the parts.

Now, let's trace each part over. So first, let's outline and label the head. Using your black marker or crayon, go ahead and label and outline. The next part is the thorax. Our third part is the abdomen. As you're labeling the insect's major body parts, we also need to talk about another important body feature that insects have, the exoskeleton. The exoskeleton of an insect is the hard outer casing of the insect. As the insect grows, they can shed this exoskeleton to make room.

The next thing all insects have is, are legs. We are drawing the underside. So we are going to add those six legs as follows. We're going to connect them to our thorax by drawing three lines on each side. Also, make sure to label. Great. So we now know that every insect has the three main body parts, an exoskeleton, and six legs. Every insect also has two antennae. To draw them, use your marker or black crayon and draw two lines coming straight from the head of your moth. Make sure to also label. The antenna of the head of moth helps it to smell for and find its food to eat. So these are pretty important. We don't want to forget them.

Now, our last common feature to talk about of all insects are wings. Every insect has either zero, one or two pairs of wings. When we look at the Manduca sexta or the Carolina sphinx moth, we can see that it has two pairs of wings when it's in its adult stage. The wings of the Carolina sphinx moth are connected to the moth at the thorax. We're going to draw them like this.

So the way I started with is I started on one side and I drew one wing starting at the top of the thorax and I looped it around kind of like a deflated balloon, or you can think of it kind of like a curvy triangle all the way around back to maybe like the middle-ish of the thorax. Now, to draw the second, the lower wing, we're going to draw a line coming off of the upper wing's lower side, and then curving it around to connect it right back to the thorax.

Once you have one side of your wings done, we're going to repeat it on the other side. Make sure that you can try and match up your wings as well. Doesn't need to be perfect. Just try your best. Once you're finished drawing, both sets or both sides of wings, go ahead and outline and label. Now, let's look specifically how this insect has adapted for the following three behaviors or needs: eating, moving and protecting itself.

The Carolina sphinx moth drinks nectar for its food source. To do this, it has a long flexible tube-like mouth part called a proboscis. Let's take a look. So you can see it kind of curlicues around. It's a long-tube like structure. Let's go ahead and add it to our drawing. To add it to your drawing, use the black marker or crayon. Draw a line coming out of the head and then curl it around in on itself. Also, let's add a label.

Another way the insect has adapted is the way in which the insect moves. The Manduca sexta has wings in this stage to help it better be able to access its food which is very important for it to survive. Let's draw some motion lines on our Carolina sphinx moth. To show that it's hovering above maybe a flower, we'll just draw little lines on the outside of the wings.

All right, we have one more adaptation to discuss. The Carolina sphinx moth's wings and body color help it to blend in maybe to a tree where it's resting or wherever it may be. This is called camouflage. Let's take a look at the color of the Carolina sphinx moth. All right, again, we're looking at the one on the left, because we're drawing the underbelly of the moth. If you're rewatching this and you're wanting to draw the top side, you'll look at the image on the right to draw your camouflage colors.

Looking at the image of the moth from the underside, I see it has lots of brown. I'm going to use brown to draw darker on the wingtips and the edges of the abdomen. I'm also going to make some pencil marks of lighter lines inside the wingtips to show some more detail. When I'm finished, I'm going to color it all brown.

All right. There's one last thing we want to do. We want to add a final label. So for that, we're going to write the insect's name at the top. First, I wrote a scientific name, the Manduca sexta, and then in parentheses, I wrote the Carolina sphinx month, that's its common name, or what we would call it when it's in this stage. Go ahead and add those as well and any other last details or last labels that you need to add.

Adaptations help animals to be better able to survive in their environment. The Manduca sexta has adapted in many ways throughout its lifecycle to survive and be successful in its environment. Today, we practiced making close observations to help us draw and identify some of these adaptations and features. Remember, now that you've learned some ways to act like a scientist by practicing close observations to help in creating your drawing, you can try practicing your observation and drawing skills with other insects you find in your own neighborhood.

We would love to see what you create. Feel free to share your drawings with us by sending them to

Thank you again for joining me today. Bye.


Follow along with museum educator Katie Derloshon in drawing and making observations of the Carolina Sphinx Moth. In this video, Katie will guide you in looking closely at images of a real specimen and how to use those observations in your drawing. While instructing you on what and how to draw, Katie shares information about the moth's body features and how it eats, moves, and protects itself.

This video is an extension activity for the museum's Insect Illustration and Insect Survival school programs for Grades 3 to 5.

Materials You Will Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Black color pencil or crayon or marker
  • Brown color pencil or crayon

About School Programs

The museum is offering in-person and online School Programs aligned with standards for Grades K-12. The programs are free.

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