Posted by: Ross Gardner | June 22, 2015

Big Game in the Back Garden

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor).  Copyright 2015 Ross Gardner

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor). Copyright 2015 Ross Gardner

I must have seemed something like an excited child on their birthday when, on inspecting the moth trap on Sunday morning, I was met with this beauty.  There are several larger, arguably even more colourful hawk-moths among the 9 species resident in the UK (plus another eight that show up from time to time as immigrants), but there are few more stunning.  To mix shades of pink with what has variously been described as olive or khaki green, sounds ridiculous, yet are colours combined by nature’s metaphorical hand with exquisite results.  The Sphingidae (as hawk-moths are scientifically referred to) are mostly a tropical species, where most of their thousand or so species are to be found, but it is in such climes that one can imagine that this one would not look out of place. It is the large, grey caterpillars for which they are named.  The centimetre thick body narrows towards the head so as to recall an elephants trunk.  They occur widely across much of Britain and in a variety of habitats, potentially anywhere that their willowherb and bedstraw foodplants are present in favourable quantity (I did once also find a caterpillar feeding on Purple Loosestrife growing next to my pond).  They are also, as I have discovered for myself, no stranger to the garden.  This no doubt aided by the fact that the larvae will also feed on Fuchsia.  To have such extraordinary creatures gracing my back garden would surely be worth a defoliated shrub or two.

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