Thursday, 1 October 2015

Elephant Hawkmoth

'What is it?' exclaimed Chris.

She was referring to a very large caterpillar making its way across the slabs of our back garden. It was the larva of an Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, and at a good three inches long it was certainly impressive.

The Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar has a rather long neck,
hence the common name. Stefen Hill. 1 October, 2015

I strongly suspected that it was seeking a patch of loose soil in which to pupate, having reached its full larval size. On concrete slabs the chances of finding a suitable site were somewhere between nothing and zilch so I approached it with a view to picking it up and relocating it.

With the head drawn back. My garden, Stefen Hill,
Daventry. 1 October, 2015

As soon as it sensed my presence it drew its head back, with the effect that the region immediately to the rear of the head became greatly swollen.

A bird could find the appearance rather startling.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 1 October, 2015

This action accentuated the eye-like spots behind the head and the assumption is that birds or other predators are alarmed by this vision. I have even heard it suggested that it imitates a Gaboon Viper!

I was puzzled by its presence in our garden because the usual food plant of the Elephant Hawkmoth larva is Willow-herb, of which there are about 160 species. It will also take Fuchsia, Evening Primrose, Clarkia and bedstraws, none of which is present in our garden.

Anyway I found a patch of friable soil, mostly consisting of potting compost, and left it there. I have been looking out for the adult moths over recent weeks without luck, so this was a nice surprise.

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