ELEPHANT HAWK-MOTH CATERPILLAR IN DORSET


Elephant Hawk-moth Caterpillar, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

This fearsome creature was within an inch of being crushed by my heedless foot… but luckily it made a surprisingly agile lurch to one side just in time. I had no idea what it was, other than the largest caterpillar I have ever come across. Everyone else will know, of course, that it is the childhood form of what will become an elephant hawk-moth Deilephila elpenor. I haven’t knowingly seen one of those either.

These caterpillars have three ‘poses’. The first is the usual day-to-day one, as it goes about its business with its little snout – or ‘trunk’ – extended. Note the four prominent ‘eye’ markings behind the head. 

Elephant Hawk-moth Caterpillar, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)At the threat of danger, the caterpillar assumes its ‘elephant’ pose, tucking away its snout and humping its front end so that the 4 ‘eyes’ glare intimidatingly. From the front, there is the hint of a mouth, with two sharp eyes above it.

Elephant Hawk-moth Caterpillar, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

From above, the creature looks like a formidable, probably toxic adversary, to be given a wide berth.
Elephant Hawk-moth Caterpillar, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)
The third pose is a so-called snake pose, whereby the caterpillar curves its body, and, as I found, continues to do so back and forth accompanied by alarmingly quick ‘head’ movements, as if squirming menacingly. I backed away, before bravely putting it on a laurel leaf to move into better light in order to inspect it further. At the back, there’s a backward-facing hook or spike – in common with most hawk-moth species I think.
Elephant Hawk-moth Caterpillar, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

I haven’t investigated how the eyes are constructed, but the white parts are plainly holes rather than surface marking
Elephant Hawk-moth Caterpillar, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

I had to look up what the actual moth looks like, and courtesy of wiki I can reveal what everyone probably knows already – like this:

Elephant Hawk-moth wiki

 Had I wanted to straighten it out, the caterpillar would have been over 2 inches long. Quite wide, too. All-in-all an impressive beast.
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10 thoughts on “ELEPHANT HAWK-MOTH CATERPILLAR IN DORSET

    1. Thanks! Glad I didn’t squish it. As for your moth, au contraire… apparently it is ‘…our largest resident hawk-moth…’ which presumably goes for France too. The next day we had 3 granddaughters under 6 staying – I tried to locate the caterpillar for their delectation, without success. Profoundly unimpressed by mere photos!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Impressive for sure, and doubtless messy when squished. Glad I saw it in time. Now I know what the adult (imago????) looks like, I’ll need to keep an eye out. At least it can’t be confused with any other moth! RH

      Like

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