I remember the very first time I saw an elephant hawk moth larva. It was in a woodland clearing under some Rosebay willowherb and I was totally amazed by it. I had never seen anything like it before and was completely mesmerised by it size and beauty.
Imagine my surprise when I realised that we had them in our garden! It was at this point I decided that i’d better learn all about them. I have discovered lots of interesting facts about them since then, so I decided it was about time I wrote a blog about them.
Why is it called an Elephant hawk moth?
Well, the name actually comes from the larvae that have a snout which can extend so it looks something like an elephant’s trunk.
Where are they found?
Elephant hawk moths are found widely in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. They appear in a variety of habitats (especially where Rosebay Willowherb is present) such as; rough grassland, waste ground, hedgerows, heathland, woodland clearings and gardens.
They love my garden as it has many different varieties of fuchsia. The larvae love to gorge themselves on fuchsia stems and leaves but they tend to be seen towards the end of August when they are fully grown and become more obvious.
What do they eat?
The larvae can munch their way through a fair amount of foliage and their preferred food plants are rosebay willowherb and bedstraw, though in gardens they feed on fuchsias.
The adult moths fly by night and enjoy feeding on the nectar of honeysuckle, rhododendrons and willowherbs flowers.
I love to sit out in the evenings and watch the different moths dance around the honeysuckle. I once saw a hummingbird moth but unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me.
The Life Cycle of an Elephant Hawk Moth
(Interestingly, I have just learnt that they are referred to as caterpillars if butterflies and larvae if moths.)
The larvae are seen from July to September and are about 70mm long. They can be green but are more frequently grey-brown with a net pattern along their body, as well as four large eye markings on the head. They have a characteristic trunk behind their head which can be retracted when they feel threatened. This shields the head from danger but also makes the head and eye spots appear much larger. They also have a backward curving tail spike to make them look much fiercer than they are.
Although larvae feed at night you may start to notice them in August on the stems of fuchsias from the late afternoon onwards.
I saw one in my garden the other day wandering towards some leaf litter getting ready to pupate.
The only time the larvae really leave their food plant is when they are fully grown and ready to pupate. At this stage they move down to the ground where they will overwinter hidden amongst low vegetation or leaf litter until the following spring when they emerge as adult moths.
Now I know that they are in the garden, I will be careful whilst walking around at dusk and keep my eye out for more larvae.
Elephant hawk moths have a wing span of about 30 mm and are brightly coloured with khaki and pink colours. Adult moths live for up to 5 weeks and can be found flying around throughout the summer (May to July) at dusk.
The females lay eggs on the leaves of the larvae food plants. (Rosebay willowherb, fuchsia and bedstraws) These eggs will hatch in roughly 7-10 days, though being Britain that could depend alot on the temperature.
When the larva is young it is difficult to spot amongst the leaves feeding at night, and remaining low down near the base of plants during the day. They are small, pale green and have a noticeable tail spike. At about 10 days old they start to show the first signs of eye markings before finally becoming the beautiful elephant hawk moth larva thats normally shown in photos.
I always wondered what munched away at my fuchsia plants, but now I know, I will definitely look out for the beautiful moths as they emerge next year.
I’m so happy to have discovered these lovely creatures living in my garden and I have so many fuchsias I don’t mind sharing them.