Elephant Hawk-Moths

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Elephant Hawk-Moth

Scientific name:  Deilephila elpenor

Size:  Wingspan approximately 70mm

Distribution:  Found throughout most of England, Wales and Ireland. In Scotland they are mainly found in the south and west

Months seen:  May to July.  The large caterpillars are seen from July to September

Life span:  Adult moths live for up to 5 weeks

Habitat:  Gardens, waste ground and woodland clearings

Food:  Nectar. The caterpillars feed on bedstraws, willowherbs and in gardens they feed on fuchsias, and gooseberry

Special features:  Large Elephant hawk-moths are one of the most brightly coloured moths found in the UK.  Here at UK Safari we often receive email messages from people saying they've seen a "pink butterfly" which usually turns out to be an Elephant Hawkmoth.

The "Elephant" part of the name comes from the caterpillars which have a trunk-like section just behind the head.  It can be extended or retracted as a defensive tactic (see photos above).  When it feels threatened it draws this trunk in towards its body.  This shields the head from danger and has the added advantage of inflating its body, making the four eye markings look much larger.

The caterpillars can be green but are more frequently brown with a net like pattern along the body, as well as the four large 'eye' markings at the head end.  The two colour forms may be a defence tactic.  If a predator is looking for green caterpillars it may not see the brown ones and vice-versa.

When fully grown the caterpillar moves down to the ground to pupate.  It remains in this state until the following spring (May/June) when it emerges as an adult moth.

Related Pages

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar - brown form

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar - green form

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar extending its trunk

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar retracting its trunk

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