Nature on our doorsteps: A spectacular caterpillar

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

Most caterpillars are relatively plain in colour, being shades of green or brown that act as camouflage while they munch away on our plants.

One caterpillar that certainly stands out though, is the larva of the spectacular Elephant Hawk Moth. This caterpillar can grow up to 7cm long, to the length and thickness of a very large thumb.

The caterpillars eye spots are a very effective defence mechanism compressor

The caterpillar’s ‘eye spots’ are a very effective defence mechanism

Its unusual loose-looking skin gives it the appearance of an elephant’s trunk – hence its name.

This caterpillar is striking, not just for its size but also for how it defends itself.

It is normally brown in colour with two large ‘eye spot’ markings located on an area of loose skin behind its head. When it feels threatened, the caterpillar pulls its head back into this loose skin, inflating the area like a balloon.

This causes the eye spots to really stand out, making the caterpillar look snake-like and much fiercer than it actually is.

This Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar was spotted in a garden in Old Bawn compressor

This Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar was spotted in a garden in Old Bawn

The adult moth is also very striking. It is quite large and pink in colour, feeding at night on honeysuckle flowers between May and July. 

In late August and early September, Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars are often spotted in gardens when they begin to venture out of their feeding places, searching for suitable spots to make their cocoons and hide away for the winter.

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