Scientific Name: Deilephila elpenor
This hungry, hungry caterpillar is full of surprises. With its long snout and bulbous body, the elephant hawk moth larva (caterpillar) is just as impressive in its larval stage as it is when it becomes a bright pink and yellow adult moth. Let’s get to know our long-nosed Bug of the Month shall we?
Named after the elephant due to its size and long “trunk,” this caterpillar won’t grow up to be a giant pachyderm. They can reach up to three inches in length and weigh less than an ounce with color variations in greenish-brown and accompanying black spots that run the length of their body. Its snout can also extend, more on that later, and it has a small curved “horn” on the end of its tail. While the adult form of the elephant hawk moth is vibrant in pink and yellow, the larva is much less attractive and noticeable than the adult. Native throughout central Europe, they have a variety of habitats and have been found in woodland and grassland areas as well as home gardens. The highest distributions are found in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Scotland, with reach as far as Japan.
Like all caterpillars, the elephant hawk moth has to eat to reach the adult stage of its life cycle. On their journey to become a majestic moth, they are known to munch through leaves of fuchsia, bedstraws, and willowherbs. Over the 27 days or so that it takes for them to reach their pupa stage, they will have eaten an amount of food that is about equal to its body weight – up to an ounce of their leafy, foliage diet.
As we mentioned, the elephant hawk moth caterpillar has to eat a lot to complete its metamorphosis into an adult. This activity of foraging for food makes it an opportune candidate to become prey for birds, bats, and spiders. But the elephant hawk has a trick up its sleeve in the form of adaptive camouflage to deter possible predators. The black spots on its body give the appearance of eyes, which can be contorted and expanded to mimic a snake. When threatened, the caterpillar draws its snout in and widens its body while taking a defensive stance amongst the brush, all of which gives it a snake-like appearance that makes any would-be predator think twice.
“Caterpillar self-defense: The creepy crawlies which mimic snakes, grow spiky spines and eat toxic flowers – all to keep predators away” Daily Mail
“’Two-Headed Snake’ Shocks Homeowner” National Geographic