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Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006


Elephant hawkmoth

* Japanese name: Beni-suzume
* Scientific name: Deilephila elpenor lewisii
* Description: Large, remarkably handsome insects with a wingspan of 62-72 mm, adult elephant hawkmoths are a velvety, olive-brown in color with a gorgeous pink flush to the wings and the sides of the abdomen. They also have pink stripes on the abdomen and the leading edges of the wings, and a pink spot on the forewings. The hindwings are pink, though the undersides are white. When they fly, elephant hawkmoths seem to shimmer a gold-pink color in the air.
* Where to find them: From Honshu to Kyushu, elephant hawkmoths can be seen in damp woodlands and parks, and suburban areas. They fly from late May until early August, although sometimes they can be seen in September. Adults that emerge early in the year may lay two broods in the season. The eggs are a pale-green color, up to 1.5 mm in diameter.
* Food: Nectar from flowers, especially honeysuckle. Adults can sometimes be seen feeding in small groups. The larvae eat plants that are common in gardens, such as willowherb, garden fuchia and bedstraw, so they are quite often seen in urban areas. They are nocturnal, but can sometimes be seen basking in the sun on their food plants.
* Special features: The English name was given not for the size, but for the supposed resemblance of the caterpillar to an elephant's trunk. The caterpillars grow very long, up to 90 mm, and on the tail end they sport a large spine. At the front end there are four large spots that resemble eyes; if the animal is startled it withdraws its head and thorax into the abdomen, causing the eyespot area to swell. The appearance is something like a weird, rearing snake. Caterpillars gorge themselves until late autumn, when they move down to the ground, transform into a pupae, and remain that way over winter before emerging as adult moths in the spring.


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