Mystery caterpillar - what is it or where can I find out?

neil at neil at
Sat Aug 17 05:54:26 EDT 2002

Jay Linn wrote:

> Greetings,
>         I found an unfeasibly large caterpillar in my garden in the UK
> midlands yesterday evening [1], and I have been trying without success to
> find a pictorial guide to caterpillars on the net. There are plenty of
> butterfly and moth resources, but not a lot relating to caterpillars. Is
> there somewhere I should be looking? Or should I post a (poor) picture of
> the caterpillar somewhere for experts here to look at?
>         Thanks in advance.
> [1]    I might as well tell you about it, since I'm here - found in
> undergrowth by my cat, the caterpillar was ~50mm long, with a body 7-8mm
> in diameter, rising to 9-11mm at the head. A very fat caterpillar! Mostly
> brown/black, with two prominent eyespots to the rear of the bulbous head,
> and two further, smaller, eyespots a little further back still. Distinct
> horn or spike at the upper tail. Beige mouthparts clearly visible,
> seemingly with six "jaws". Velvety to the touch. Possibly feeding on dock?
> --
> Jay Linn
> "What bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
> But to be young was very heaven"

I somehow had a feeling what this was before I even saw your description.
I am frequently brought these things because they are so odd looking.

I think you have an Elephant Hawk moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor). It 
is so called because of the way in which it can stick its head out on what 
looks a bit like an elephants trunk.. The moth is a beautiful pink colour. 
Yes, a pink elephant! :-) . It is this colour and shape to mimic a small 
snake and frighten off predators.

There is a picture on this page.

This caterpillar norally eats willowherb and I think it will take bedstraws 
too. It also eats fuchsias in gardens sometimes and possibly if I recall 
correctly Impatiens.

There is also a Small Elephant Hawkmoth with a similar caterpillar but this 
is not nearly so common.

Neil Jones- Neil at
"At some point I had to stand up and be counted. Who speaks for the
butterflies?" Andrew Lees - The quotation on his memorial at Crymlyn Bog
National Nature Reserve


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