Tuesday, 27 August 2019

First elephant of the year

This is the time to be on the lookout for elephants - Elephant Hawk Moths that is. Not the adult but the caterpillars, and for about three weeks I have been checking clumps of willowherb. Plenty of Great Willowherb, Epilobium hirsutum, grows in Byfield Pocket Park, and Rose Bay too. Rose Bay Willow herb is placed in a different genus as Chamaenerion angustifolium, but the Elephant Hawk Moth, Deilephila elpenor, isn't that fussy. There have been some willowherbs crop up in our garden (although they got short shrift!). But my searches have been in vain - until this evening when I visited Stefen Hill Pocket Park.

I'd seen little of interest and was on the point of returning home but then diverted slightly to take my walk past the little pond. Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, was in bloom at the pond's edge and I paused for a look around, but no insects were in flight.
Purple Loosestrife grows beside the pond. Stefen Hill Pocket Park,
26 August, 2019

I was about to set off again when a dark object on the loosestrife caught my eye and I stooped for a better look. Two eyes stared up at me.

The 'eyes' are clear on this Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar.
26 August, 2019
They weren't eyes at all but curious markings on the head of a caterpillar, the Elephant Hawkmoth! These eye-like markings may deter birds, perhaps giving the creature the appearance of a small snake. My presence had alarmed the caterpillar and in response the head region had swelled and the 'snake' had reared its head.

When alarmed the creature rears it head, perhaps deterring predators.
In the failing light I had to make several attempts to obtain anything like a decent photograph but they will have to suffice. The false eyes are distinct enough and the little tail which marks it out as a hawkmoth caterpillar are reasonably clear. But Purple Loosestrife!

The caterpillar generally feeds on member of the Onagraceae Family, which includes not only the willowherbs but Fuchsias and Evening Primroses, both frequently food for this creature. Purple Loosestrife is in the Lythraceae so I had not even considered it in my searches. It only occasionally accepts the loosestrife so I had been very lucky! 

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