October 2015 - Wild Flower Garden/Elephant Hawk Moth
Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar
We have a wild flower area in our garden, which has been maturing now for 3 or 4 years. We started it by scattering several packets of wild flower mixes in two designated areas in the spring, one in full sun, one in shady conditions under trees. First we removed all unwanted plants, including grass in the 'sunny' area (there was very little grass to remove in the shaded area), preparing the soil for the seed by raking, then treading in the scattered seeds and watering as necessary to get the seeds started. We then just waited to see what would happen. Both areas have been very successful. Both need care when it comes to keeping invading plants under control, cutting back those we don't want to take over before they seed. In autumn, the plants are cut back so that they do not compost and enrich the soil (wild flowers do not like growing in rich soil). We have kept a nettle patch, and make sure the nettles are well under control, but available for insects , such as Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies whose caterpillars feed on them. For a number of years we have developed an area which contains piles of branches, an open shed, piles of bricks, wood etc., which has proved very popular with wildlife including insects, grass snakes, amphibians and hedgehogs, both summer and winter. We keep a bowl of water in the area which is particularly popular with the hedgehogs in hot weather.
This year we were thrilled to see the first Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar in the 'sunny' wild flower area. The moths are fairly large, the length of my index finger, strikingly golden-olive in colour with bright pink bars on the wings and body. They fly from May to July, especially at dusk feeding on nectar plants such as honeysuckle. They may live for 5 weeks. The caterpillars are seen from July to September. These are greyish green or brown with 4 enormous eye spots, 2 on each side of the 'trunk' just behind the head. When disturbed these eye spots swell to ward off predators. At their rear end they have a 'hook', characteristic of all hawk moth caterpillars. The caterpillars feed on Willowherb, Fuchsias and Bedstraw. When fully grown they pupate in soil or dense low vegetation, over-wintering as chrysalides, emerging as moths the following spring.
Elephant Hawk Moths are reportedly common in gardens so keep your eyes open for these incredible creatures.
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