I was really chuffed to find one of these plucky snake imitators this week at Roughdown Common. I have been hoping to spot one for the last couple of years, obsessively checking patches of Rosebay Willowherb for Hawk-moth species. In fact, I found this chap climbing a stem of Agrimony whilst nibbling on overlapping Hedge Bedstraw! Some literature suggests that both species of Elephant Hawk-moth larvae feed on the Willowherb. However, the less common of the two, the Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus), the one I’d found, actually prefers Bedstraws (Gallium sp) established on nutrient poor grassland, like the chalk-based habitat at Roughdown. Superb! I was just happy to have finally found one.
I had to improvise a bit with the photographs. As I was setting up, the larva dropped to the ground and was instantly lost in the undergrowth. I carefully encouraged it onto a leaf, took a few photos and then put it straight back. The head has the incredible eye-like markings on the top. When alarmed, the larva retracts its long nose/mouth parts or trunk (from which its name is derived) and rears up like a snake, ready to strike. Very convincing it is too!
The images below feature the Small Elephant Hawk-moth adult, trapped and photographed at Roughdown Common, on 11th June. It could well be the parent of the larva.
|The front end!|
|Side view [Left: larva/caterpillar, approx 4-4.5cm; Right: imago/moth]|
|Above [Left: larva/caterpillar; Right: imago/moth]|