Monthly Archives: Aug 2019

Our very own Elephant hawk moth caterpillars.

Thursday was a glorious sunny day, so we managed to get dad a seat by the pond for some much needed sun and a change of scenery. Whilst sat there I fed the fish and did some pruning to the water lilies.

Suzy had great fun sticking her head toward the pond with me, whilst I did this and she was fascinated by the fish swimming past her. I’m sure they were playing with her.

I was about to chop down a plant that has grown itself in amongst our pond lilies when I spotted something new.

Two huge brown caterpillars and three green caterpillars. We had never seen anything like it. So with some photos taken I added them to a gardening Facebook page for identification.

I was soon told that they are the caterpillars of the elephant hawk moth. The green are about 9-12 days old and will turn into these brown, fast moving caterpillars.

Well we can’t cut the plant down now. We purposely re landscaped our garden last year with the purpose of bringing more butterflies and bees into the garden. It’s paying off as we have seen so many more butterflies and bees this year.

We will keep watch on these fascinating creatures, intact when I looked on Saturday, one of the green caterpillars had already grown and turned brown.

I’ve posted some information below for you to read about these giant creatures.

The Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor)- is one of the most common hawk-moths in the British Isles, widely distributed throughout much of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland.

It is found in a wide range of habitats including open countryside, on the edge of woodlands and in urban gardens.

It flies mainly in a single generation between June and September but with an occasional small second generation recorded in the south.

It is one of the most frequently attracted Hawk-moths to light.

Identification of the Elephant Hawk-moth

Identification of Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) and Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus) seen side by side © Steve Ogden

The Elephant Hawk-moth is one of the most colourful and instantly recognisable moths in the British Isles.

It has a forewing length of about 30mm.

Only the smaller Small Elephant Hawk-moth shares the eye catching shades of pink, green and browns – although there are distinct differences in the shape and order of colour banding.

Both Elephant species are shown together with the larger Elephant Hawk-moth below the smaller Small Elephant Hawk-moth.

When not seen side by side another useful identifying feature is the broken pink stripe extending down the middle of the Elephant Hawk-moth’s abdomen, a feature lacking in the Small Elephant Hawk-moth.

The two species are not so frequently seen together in garden light traps due to the Small Elephant Hawk-moths preference for more open countryside.

Other common Hawkmoths are The Privet Hawkmoth,

The Eyed HawkmothThe Poplar Hawkmoth and The Lime Hawkmoth.

Migrant Hawkmoths include The Death’s-head HawkmothThe Convolvulus HawkmothThe Striped Hawkmoth and The Oleander Hawkmoth

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Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar identification

1991 Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) caterpillar -  brown form basking in the sun  © Steve Ogden
Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar head (Deilephila elpenor) © 2013 Steve Ogden

The Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar grows to 85mm in length and is one of the largest and most distinctive caterpillars to be found in the British Isles.

It is also the most frequently seen hawk-moth caterpillar, often found feeding and wandering in search for somewhere to pupate in gardens.

The species is named after the caterpillars resemblance to an elephants trunk.

When retracted the caterpillars head recoils giving the impression of a much larger head. The two large ‘eye-like’ markings behind the head also suggest a much larger animal, appearing startling to predators.

Life-cycle of the Elephant Hawk-moth

The nocturnal adult moth flies mostly in a single generation at night between May and July when it is attracted to light.

Occasional small second generations have been recorded in the southern counties of the UK.

Elephant Hawk-moth eggs

1991 Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) egg laid on Hedge Bedstraw © Steve Ogden

The females lay eggs singly on the leaves of the caterpillars food plants of rosebay willowherb and bedstraws.

In gardens they are frequently recorded on garden fuchsias but have also been found feeding on other garden plants such as dahlias and lavender.

The eggs hatch within 7-10 days depending on temperature.

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillars

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor) - 1 day old © 2014 Steve Ogden
1991 Elephant Hawk-moth  (Deilephila elpenor) 15mm caterpillar © Steve Ogden
Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) 18mm caterpillar © Steve Ogden

The day old caterpillars are 4mm long and pale green with a noticeable black tail-spike.

The young caterpillars are difficult to spot amongst the leaves and when larger feed at night, remaining low down near the base of plants during the day.

When about 9 days old and 15mm long the first signs of two pairs of ‘eye-like’ markings are visible on the dorsal area close to the head.

The images shown are of a brood in different instars reared from eggs found on hedge bedstraw in a Cornish garden.

On the same bedstraw there happened to also be two smaller eggs laid by the migrant Hummingbird Hawk-moth which were also reared through to confirm identity.

Other Hawk-moth caterpillars can be seen in the British moth caterpillar gallery.

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) 30mm caterpillar having molted out of green instar © Steve Ogden

After 12-14 days and at 25-30mm in length many moult from green into a dark form, appearing almost black when fresh, with distinctive ‘eye-like’ markings .

The caterpillars are fully grown in about 30 days reaching 85mm in length.

The most common form shown above is a mix of various shades of brown and grey but green forms are common and occasional almost black caterpillars occur.

The image of the scarcer black form shown was sent in as part of an identification enquiry received from R.Bard and the green form by K.Holmes.

1991 Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) - very dark form of caterpillar © R Bard
1991 Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) - green form of caterpillar © K Holmes

Elephant Hawk-moth cocoon

1991 Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) pupa uncovered from soil © Steve Ogden

When feeding up in preparation for pupating the fully grown caterpillars are often found high up in the food plants during the day.

Once feeding has ceased they may sometimes be found basking in the sun on grass, paths, patios and lawns.

They have also been recorded being picked up and played with by cats which may explain why they are occasionally found inside houses.

When fully grown the caterpillars pupate just beneath the surface of soil or leaf litter where they overwinter.

Sightseeing in London

With dad still in hospital we decided to combine visiting today with being tourists.

London is such a colourful, vibrant place to be especially on a warm sunny day like today.

We started our morning with a geocaching event at Bluewater, held by a Spanish chap who had just returned from Australia. Bluewater has been designed with nature in its thoughts, and behind the busy shops you will find a large lake area, full of wildlife. I spotted a cormorant out of the corner of my eye and plenty of Swans and Geese.

There were a few other cachers there, two we knew one was someone we hadn’t met before but very pleasant. Some time was spent chatting about geocaching events and travelling, before we bid our goodbyes to go and catch the train.

After we exchanged our stories Rich and I made our way to the station and enjoyed a picnic on the train like a couple of retired folk with their sandwiches.

The train pulled into a fairly quiet Charing Cross. From here we made the short walk to Trafalger square where we wanted to find a few caches. One of which was what is called an earth cache. This is a cache based on geology, and where you have to study the rock or such like and answer a few questions. This one was based on Nelson himself and his Granite plinth. We learnt after some research the the granite plinth cracked years back in 1918, this was due to people celebrating the war and burning recruitment posters and the like at the base of the column. Extra wood was put on the fires, but the wooden paving blocks that were used from nearby road roads had tar on them, causing a furnace type fire, so hot it cracked the granite!

The next cache was still in Trafalgar Square, a Virtual. Again you may have to answer a question about what you find at the coordinates and this was no different along with submitting a photo of ourselves at the base of the forth plinth. Currently topped with some kind of Chinese dragon.

Onwards, past some very pretty floral pubs of which their are a lot on route from Trafalgar Square and along Whitehall.

We admired the very well behaved horses on parade at horse guards parade and plodded along to Downing Street.

Official cars went past us here and we think it may have been Boris, but they were to quick for us to have a good look.

Our next target was three lab caches by Parliament Square and Westminster Abbey. If you haven’t taken the time to inspect the old buildings here, do! There is history tucked in every corner, and the architecture, well, those designers of years gone were very talented and in our opinion far better designers than of the new modern buildings.

Time was passing, so we headed towards Westminster bridge and St Thomas’s hospital. Had to do the tourist pictures as we crossed the bridge.

St Thomas’s itself has some history, a training school was once set up here by Florence Nightingale and the outside and corridors are full of sculptures and monuments. Here are just a few.

Dad was in good spirits and looking forward to coming home. Caught up with his aftercare plan and we chatted for a while before it was time to leave. A few more statues on route to Waterloo before the train home.