Elephant hawk moth and caterpillar

By David Chapman

August is a good time to spot the caterpillar of the fuchsia and olive-coloured elephant hawkmoth, says writer and photographer David Chapman
Elephant hawkmothElephant hawkmoth

Over the next few weeks you might notice an unusual caterpillar munching its way through the foliage in your garden, particularly if you have a fuchsia.

The caterpillar that I am thinking of should technically be referred to as a larva since it is the offspring of a moth rather than a butterfly and this is a big one!

The moth in question is called an 'elephant hawkmoth'.  Hawkmoths are large moths with a fast and strong flight; there are nine species resident in Britain and probably a further eight which occur as migrants.

The elephant hawkmoth gets its name from the appearance of its larva, not because it is big but because it has a long, trunk-like nose.

Elephant hawkmoth caterpillar larva by David ChapmanHowever when the larva senses danger it can withdraw its trunk creating a slightly more bulbous head shape; this is when the large eye-like markings on either side of its head can give the impression of a much more imposing creature to scare off potential predators.

During August we are probably more likely to see the larva than the adult form of the elephant hawkmoth but it is worth looking around any outside lights for one of these colourful insects.  The adult is about 4 cm long and its markings are a combination of olive green and pink!

Keep up to date with David Chapman's Wildlife Watch by subscribing to the weekly Saga Magazine e-newsletter.


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  • shelley

    Posted: Saturday 04 April 2015

    Hi all we found one of these great little creatures it has now came out as a moth what do we feed it now that its a moth and do we still spray a little water into the tank ?? anyone

  • Joujou

    Posted: Wednesday 25 March 2015

    Found a elephant hawk caterpillar thought it was a snake but then kept it in a jar and now it is in a leaf shape! How long will it take before it opens? Also what countries are they normally found in?

  • Web Editor

    Posted: Tuesday 24 February 2015

    Hi Ami, that's a very lucky find! In the wild they will usually start to hatch in May but you may find it hatches a little earlier. Keep it in an unheated room, make sure there are air holes for it and spray a little water into the tank every now and then.

  • Ami Woollas

    Posted: Sunday 28 December 2014

    Hi all ... found an elephant hawkmoth at work ... in fact found about 7 but kept one in a container and it rolled it's self up and it's still in its cacoon now ... its still alive as it moves the end of the cacoon. .. but when will it hatch ??

  • Edward Thomson

    Posted: Thursday 20 November 2014

    Found my first pupa in September. Never seen one before in my 83 years! Son-in-law identified a photo I took.

  • Liz Pinfield

    Posted: Sunday 21 September 2014

    we have found these caterpillars for several summers now here in West Dorset - always eating fuchsias. The current one is eating his way through a fuschia hedge and is sometimes looking vulnerable. I'd be interested to know when it will develop into the next stage and when it will be safe to cut the hedge?

  • Mary

    Posted: Wednesday 17 September 2014

    Just found my first Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar really scared me at first I thought it was a small snake because the head moved and looked at me I have always grown fuchsia but never found this
    sort of caterpillar. I have been gardening for over fifty years thanks for your help

  • susan hopkins

    Posted: Monday 15 September 2014

    I live in South Wales I found my first elephant hawk moth catterpila last week with my granddaughter it frightened the life out of us when his head shot out.After looking it up on the net I felt safe then,my friend found on as well she wondered what it was they are rare her in Wales.Beautifull colour when it turns into a moth hope to see more

  • Jeanette

    Posted: Sunday 14 September 2014

    Found a caterpillar crawling and had no idea what it was. Asked a neighbour who said it was a elephant hawkmoth, I moved a fuschia yesterday, so probably disturbed him.

  • Brenda

    Posted: Saturday 13 September 2014

    I found lavae of elephant hawk moth two weeks ago. Had to leave it for a few days in large container with a fuchsia plant. Returned today and it has rolled into some of the leaves and turned into a chrysalis. Will now wait for it to turn into a moth but have no idea how long this will take. It is safe in the garage so will be able to check every day.

    Would appreciate any advice from anyone who has seen the complete transformation.

  • joy evans

    Posted: Saturday 13 September 2014

    just found one wandering across a path in my garden after taking a few pics I have placed in the shubbery as I read that they like to burrow, mind you I had been wondering why my fuschias are looking so bare!!, my grandson also found one a few weeks ago, I guess it must be a bumper year for them as neither of us have ever seen one before, Is this some kind of invasion. FROM ANGLESEY

  • Andy

    Posted: Friday 12 September 2014

    Just seen these funny little chaps we have a front garden with several fuchsias and you guessed it there's 2 or 3 on each plant

  • Misty

    Posted: Friday 12 September 2014

    We are in the United States and just foumd one of these caterpillars. Are they normally found here?

  • Liam

    Posted: Thursday 11 September 2014

    Found one in the garden would like to know what's the biggest people have found them, the one we found is 10cm is that a record or something because the guide says adults grow around 4cm

  • Margie

    Posted: Wednesday 10 September 2014

    I found one in, yes, you guessed, in my little fuschia. I watched him (I suppose it's a him)for several days, but sadly he has disappeared. Do you think he might have started pupating and if so, would he be near or on the fuschia? Ive looked for the cocoon but cant find it. I got rather attached to this little chap, and would dearly love to watch him develop into a real live moth....only another 9 months away.

  • Andy

    Posted: Monday 08 September 2014

    Just seen 2 in my garden, never seen them before. Scared my wife, ha

  • Pam Twentyman

    Posted: Monday 08 September 2014

    I have seen my very first elephant hawk moth and I am 71yrs old!
    I am relieved to know what has been causing destruction to my lovely fuchsias but am in catch 22 situation as my love for plants conflicts with my love for caterpillars!

  • LizLovell

    Posted: Sunday 07 September 2014

    Does the adult moth leave the larvea there or do they search out destroy the plants.

  • Norma

    Posted: Sunday 07 September 2014

    Just seen first hawk moth lava in garden not seen one in garden before

  • jackie

    Posted: Saturday 06 September 2014

    Found the most beautiful Elephant Hawk moth Caterpillar in one of my fuschias . Never seen one before wondered what ever it was! Now I,m keeping a special eye on it,waiting to it change. Mind you its making short work of my plants.I live in Leigh-on-sea in Essex

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Elephant hawk moth and caterpillar

August is a good time to spot the caterpillar of the fuchsia and olive-coloured elephant hawkmoth, says writer and photographer David Chapman

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