Sunday, July 13, 2014

The elephant in the garden

Although I've found elephant hawk-moth caterpillars on several occasions in the wild, I've only found it in our garden once. On that occasion the caterpillars were feeding on bogbean growing in our garden pond, but their usual food plant is rosebay willowherb.















The insect gets its name from its head and first two segments which are narrower than those behind and stretch out like an elephant's prehensile trunk. That changes dramatically if you threaten the caterpillar by giving it a prod, mimicking a bird's beak. Then those first segments are drawn in so that those behind swell ....


































....... with this startling effect. The false eye spots on that third segment swell too, so that .....


































.... the larva looks larger and far more menacing. Enough, apparently, to give it a reasonable chance of scaring away an inquisitive bird, but if that's not enough ......



































... the caterpillar rears up like a snake and sways from side-to-side. All this enhances its survival prospects and increases its chances of living long enough to become .....




















..... the very impressive adult moth.


8 comments:

  1. Stunning shots. I never realised a caterpillar could be this entertaining.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hawk-moth caterpillars are almost as impressive as the adults!

      Delete
  2. What an amazing creature. Beautiful too, in adulthood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Makes me want to run a moth trap!

      Delete
  3. Only ever seen one caterpillar but the bonus was that it was in our garden. An impressive beast ( i think that's a good description) indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always look for them on willow herb but don't often see them - surprising really when the adults turn up so often in moth traps. I think the caterpillars also feed on garden fuchsias

      Delete
  4. Stunning photos, it's great seeing insect this close up.
    Amanda xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i guess that's the fascination with nature - the closer you look, the more interesting it gets!

      Delete