I’m sure I’m not alone in finding binomial names beautiful. While the peacock butterfly’s is the Greek-sounding Inachis io, the elephant hawk-moth’s is the more typically Latin-sounding Deilephila elpenor.
My daughter noticed them first, crawling up the stems of the fuchsia by the gate. Three, no, four elephant hawk-moth caterpillars, monstrously magnificent, almost too large to be supported by the stems of the flowers. We both went for our cameras. Snapping them discomforted one sufficiently that it carried out its deterrent trick of retracting its head and trunk-like neck into its thorax, which consequently swells to enlarge those conspicuous eye-spots.
As well as rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), elephant hawk-moth caterpillars are rather partial to fuchsia. We left them to feast, reasoning that while the hardy fuchsia could probably cope with their nibbling, the caterpillars could not cope without it.
Possibly they are common-named as much for their excrement as their trunk-like neck; it looks like little logs of elephant dung, the kind that Chris Ofili used to use to prop up his paintings. Returning the next day, we found plenty of it peppered around the fuchsia’s pot.
I had hoped to document their transformation, but I’m afraid there is a sad end to the story. We won’t see them pupate or become fully-fledged pink-winged moths, because those conspicuous eye-spots weren’t enough to deter a local feline from playing with them as it might a mouse; and my daughter and I could not be there to defend the fuchsia night and day. A case of caterpillars besieged and eaten by cat.
But here to finish is the best photo I could find of this beautiful moth from elsewhere (West Yorkshire, to be precise). One day I hope one flutters by me, and by you too.
Photo of adult elephant hawkmoth by Rachel Lucie Johns. Photos of elephant hawkmoth caterpillars by awildslimalien.