Jim Pearson: Grimshaw & Evans and the Elephant hawk Moth

https://snhg.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/deilephila-elpenor-elephant-hawk-moth-caterpillar/

A conversation with my friend and ex-colleague Ian Grimshaw turned to our boyhood activities in 50’s and 60’s, long before games consoles and 24 hours-per-day television had taken over.

Ian surprised me with a tale of his adventures, exploring neighbourhood with another friend, Derek Evans, looking for interesting creatures/finds in places like the rough ground on the corner of Grasmere Avenue & Folds Lane in Haresfinch, St Helens.

One such ‘find’ was the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor). Having collected a few specimens in glass-jar, they would hurry back to Ian’s home where they would place the caterpillars in glass tank with stalks of Rose Bay Willow Herb (which they ate voraciously) standing in Shippham’s paste jars half-filled with water, to keep the plants fresh, and replacing  the stalks every day; the caterpillars do not thrive otherwise. When the caterpillars eventually pupated, they removed the plants and all water sources, covering the pupae with dried leaves to protect them.

Eventually they were rewarded with the emergence of a beautiful pink and khaki adult which they would hasten to release back in its habitat, haven taken a few moments to admire its beauty.

Large Elephant hawk-moths are brightly coloured moths found throughout most of England, Wales and Ireland but mainly in south and west Scotland’. The adult moths, has a wing span of 50–70 mm (2.0–2.8 in). It lives for up to 5 weeks and can be seen from May to July; feeding at night, often taking nectar from garden plants like Honeysuckle and Petunia. The adult moths are eaten by some species of bat.

The large caterpillars, which can be found from July to September, feed on bedstraws and willowherbs in the wild and on fuchsias in gardens

The larva is about 75 millimetres (3.0 in) long, it can be green but is more frequently brown with a net like pattern along the body, as well as the four large 'eye' markings at the head end. Like most hawk moth caterpillars, they have a backward curving spine or "horn" on the final abdominalsegment. The anterior of the caterpillar appears to have the shape of a trunk-like snout, an ‘elephant’-like appearance that gives the moth its name, rather than its large size.

This can be extended or retracted as a defensive tactic.  When startled, the caterpillar draws its trunk into its foremost body segment, shielding the head from danger whilst rearing back and inflating its body, making the four ‘eye markings look much larger, presumably acting as a deterrent to any hungry predator. It has been suggested that this posture resembles a snake with a large head and four large eye-like patches. The caterpillars are preyed upon by birds, but these shy away (at least for some time) from caterpillars in "snake" pose. It is not known whether the birds take the caterpillar for a snake, or are frightened by the sudden change of a familiar prey item into an unusual and boldly-patterned shape. When fully grown the caterpillar moves down to the ground to pupate, remaining in this state until the following spring (around May) when it emerges as an adult moth.

 

References

Deilephila elpenor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deilephila_elpenor

Elephant Hawk-Moth - Deilephila elpenor - UK Safari

www.uksafari.com/elephanthm.htm

Elephant Hawk-moth - | The Wildlife Trusts

www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/elephant-hawk-moth

Elephant hawkmoth and caterpillar - Saga

www.saga.co.uk › Lifestyle › Gardening

REARING HAWKMOTHS - Lepidoptera Breeders Association

www.lba.uk.com/REARING-HAWKMOTHS_AADAA.aspx 

Elephant Hawk moth. - BirdForum

www.birdforum.net › Forums › Nature In General › Butterflies and Moths