The Elephant Hawk Moth is a fascinating creature with unique features that make it stand out among other moths. These moths are known for their large size, vibrant colors, and ability to hover like hummingbirds while feeding on nectar from flowers. They are nocturnal insects, which means they are most active during the night.
One of their most distinctive characteristics is their long proboscis, which they use for feeding. This specialized mouthpart allows them to access nectar from deep within flowers, while hovering in mid-air. Some examples of the Elephant Hawk Moth’s preferred food sources are honeysuckle and petunias.
Elephant Hawk Moths are also admired for their incredible camouflage ability. These moths often rest on branches or other vegetation during the day, and their intricate patterns allow them to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. This helps protect them from potential predators, such as birds and large spiders.
Elephant Hawk Moth Overview
Scientific Name and Classification
The Elephant Hawk Moth belongs to the Sphingidae family of moths, which is part of the Lepidoptera order. Its scientific name is Deilephila elpenor.
Elephant Hawk Moths are known for their striking physical appearance:
- Body: It has a uniquely shaped body that resembles the head of an elephant when it is in its caterpillar stage.
- Wings: The moth’s wings are adorned with an eye-catching pattern of bright green and pink colors.
- Wingspan: It boasts a considerable wingspan, measuring between 45 and 60 mm.
Distribution and Habitat
The Elephant Hawk Moth can be found in various regions across Europe and Asia, including:
This moth species prefers to inhabit woodland edges, hedgerows, and gardens that provide an abundance of flowers for feeding.
|Feature||Elephant Hawk Moth||Other Moths|
|Wingspan||45-60 mm||Varies, usually smaller|
|Color||Bright green and pink||More commonly brown or gray|
|Habitat||Woodlands, hedgerows, gardens||Varies, depending on species|
Overall, the Elephant Hawk Moth is a fascinating moth species with its distinctive physical characteristics and widespread distribution across Europe and Asia.
Life Cycle and Behavior
From Egg to Caterpillar
Elephant hawk moths (Deilephila elpenor and Deilephila porcellus) start their life cycle as eggs. Females lay their tiny, spherical eggs on the leaves of compatible host plants. Some examples of host plants include:
- Willowherbs (Epilobium sp.)
- Bedstraws (Galium sp.)
The eggs hatch into caterpillars after about a week, depending on the temperature.
The Caterpillar Stage
Caterpillars of both the elephant hawk moth and small elephant hawk moth (Deilephila porcellus) share some unique features:
- A large, trunk-like “nose” resembling an elephant’s trunk
- Striking color variations: green or brown, with black and white eye-like spots
During this stage, the caterpillars feed voraciously on their host plants to gain energy for the forthcoming pupation. They grow quickly over the course of 3 to 4 weeks, shedding their skins multiple times to accommodate their growing bodies.
Pupa and Chrysalis
Once the caterpillar reaches its full size, it forms a pupa, and transitions into the chrysalis stage. Elephant hawk moth caterpillars typically find a spot on the ground, such as in leaf litter, to pupate. The chrysalis is typically brown, providing camouflage from predators.
|Elephant Hawk Moth||Small Elephant Hawk Moth|
|Overwinters as pupa||Does not overwinter|
The elephant hawk moth overwinters as a pupa, while the small elephant hawk moth has one generation per year and does not overwinter.
Adult elephant hawk moths are beautiful, with prominent pink and olive-green markings on their wings. The small elephant hawk moth has similar colors, but with more of a reddish hue. Their features:
- Forewings: Long and tapered, with striking patterns
- Hindwings: More rounded, colored pink or red, with an olive-green base
- Size: Elephant hawk moth has a wingspan of 50-70 mm, while small elephant hawk moth has a slightly smaller wingspan, around 45-60 mm
Though these moths are nocturnal, they are also known to feed on the nectar of flowers during the day. They possess a long proboscis, which they use to sip nectar while hovering.
The caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk Moth are primarily herbivores. They can be found chowing down on a variety of plants found in their natural habitats. Some examples of their favorite host plants are:
- Rosebay Willowherb
These host plants not only provide a valuable food source for the caterpillars but also serve as excellent native plant options for gardens looking to promote wildlife and pollinator habitats.
Adult Moths’ Nectar Preferences
As adult moths, the Elephant Hawk Moth transitions from plant-eating caterpillars to nectar-feeding pollinators. They have a strong affinity for certain flower nectar and are commonly observed visiting flowers at dusk, such as:
Here is a comparison table of some preferred nectar sources:
|Flower||Nectar Availability||Pollination Role|
With these nectar preferences in mind, incorporating these flowers into gardens and nature reserves can help support healthy populations of Elephant Hawk Moths, as well as other crucial native pollinators.
In their natural habitats, such as gardens or nature reserves, their feeding habits contribute to the ecosystem, as they help pollinate flowers and promote the growth of native plants and trees.
Threats and Conservation
Predators and Defenses
Elephant hawk moths are large moths belonging to the Sphingidae family, and they play an essential role in pollination. They face several natural predators in their ecosystem. For example, bats are known to prey on hawk moths. To avoid this, these moths have developed some defenses:
- They can rely on their excellent camouflage to blend in with their environment.
- A threat of a sting (although they are not poisonous) can discourage potential predators.
Concerning their conservation, elephant hawk moths are not currently classified as a threatened species. They are found in various habitats and are essential for their ecosystem due to their pollination abilities. Nevertheless, it is crucial to remember that all wildlife should be protected and conserved to ensure the balance of our ecosystems. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations work towards that goal through regulations like the African Elephant Conservation Act.
Deilephila Elpenor Subspecies
There are several subspecies of Deilephila elpenor, each exhibiting unique morphological features. Among these subspecies are:
- Deilephila elpenor elpenor: The most widespread subspecies, found in Europe and western Asia1.
- Deilephila elpenor lewisii: Found in northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan2.
- Deilephila elpenor szechuana: Discovered in western China3.
- Deilephila elpenor macromera: Inhabits Japan4.
Some distinctions among these subspecies include:
- Color patterns: While all elephant hawk-moths share pink and green markings, subtle variations in shades can be observed.
- Wing shape: Slight differences in wing shapes and sizes may be found among the subspecies.
Elephant hawk-moths exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females possess distinct physical appearances. Key differences include:
- Size: Male elephant hawk-moths are typically smaller than females.
- Antennae: Male moths have broader, feather-like antennae, while females possess thinner, thread-like antennae.
A comparison table highlighting these differences is provided below:
|Feature||Male Elephant Hawk-Moth||Female Elephant Hawk-Moth|
|Antennae||Broader, feather-like||Thinner, thread-like|
In conclusion, Elephant Hawk-Moths exhibit unique morphological differences both among their subspecies and between the sexes. Careful observation of these physical characteristics can aid in the identification of these fascinating creatures.
Additional Fascinating Details
Moths That Mimic Hummingbirds
The Elephant Hawk Moth is a fascinating creature known for mimicking hummingbirds. This day-flying moth has several features that resemble a hummingbird:
- Long elephant’s trunk-like proboscis used for consuming nectar
- Hovering flight pattern while feeding
- Quick movements in flight, making them look like a hummingbird
The bright colours and beauty of this moth also make them a lovely sight to encounter.
- Attractive appearance
- Aerobatic and fast flying
- Limited to certain habitats
Significance in British Isles
The Elephant Hawk Moth holds a special place in the British Isles. A few interesting points about their presence there are:
- They are common and widespread in the UK
- They can be found in a variety of habitats, such as gardens, woodland clearings, and meadows
- They rely on their strong sense of smell to find food and mates
|Elephant Hawk Moth Feature||Comparison|
|Region||Thrives in British Isles|
|Habitat||Gardens, clearings, and meadows|
|Senses||Strong smell to locate food and mates|
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Large Elephant Hawkmoth in British Columbia
Subject: Strange Moth-Like Bug
Location: Metro Vancouver, BC, Canada
August 6, 2016 5:37 pm
My name is Jason, and I discovered this Moth-Like bug in July in the Metro Vancouver area in British Columbia, Canada. It was completely fur-less, with the wings being scale-less and almost plasticy. the rear of the abdomen ends in a sort of spike that was longish and seemed kind of flexible.
I estimated the body to be about two inches long.
I had ended up finding it because my cat was trying to eat it,and i thought it was really cool looking so I took pictures she stopped him from actually taking a nibble. just in case it was poisonous. the bright pink colour made me wary.
We were very surprised to get your submission of a Large Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, from Vancouver because this is a European species, and then we were even more surprised when we learned on the Sphingidae of the Americas site that it “has recently established populations in southern British Columbia, Canada.” According to BugGuide: “Reportedly introduced to British Columbia ca. 1995.” According to Pacific Northwest Moths: ” It is unclear how the species was introduced or if it has started to spread to other areas. It has been suggested that this moth was released deliberately by an amateur entomologist, but this has not been substantiated.” According to the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic: “This species has also recently been recorded from southern British Columbia, Canada, as an introduction.” Hawkmoths are very strong fliers that are often found far out to sea, and we were secretly hoping that the Vancouver population was a result of a fertile female flying from Siberia. To the best of our knowledge, the species is not poisonous.
Letter 2 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar
Subject: What is this?
Location: gwynedd ,North Wales, Uk
August 7, 2014 8:16 am
I have just seen a large caterpillar looking bug but I have never seen one this large.It was about 4 inches long and very fat but with a small head.can you identify it please. I live in North Wales.Uk.
Signature: Lesley T
According to UK Moths, the Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor: “feed[s] mainly on rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), but also other plants as well, including bedstraw (Galium). It is a common species in most of Britain, including Scotland, where it has increased its range in recent years.”
Letter 3 – Elephant Hawkmoth
weird alien insect
As seen in my back garden today. Any idea what it is?
This was sent to me by a mate of mine, from the UK. Would you be able to tell us what it is?
Tell your mate this is an Elephant Hawk-moth, Deilephila elpenor.
Letter 4 – Elephant Hawk-Moth from Ireland
Moth or What?
Saw this today in Co Kildare, Ireland. Found your site while trying to identify. Can you save me the bother of further searches? Nearest description I can find is for a Hook-tip Moth.
Though we did not recognize your species, we quickly located the Elephant Hawk-moth, Deilephila elpenor, with a google search. Your moth is quite beautiful. Here is a site with more photos.
Letter 5 – Elephant Hawkmoth and original postcards
British Bug Postcards
Just thought I would let you know about my new website where you can order a postcard to be sent from Britain to any address in the world. People told me I couldn’t just have ‘creepy-crawlies’ on there, so there are other pictures… but the bugs are my favourite. Your site is an inspiration, I link to it from all of my sites! Attached is a picture of an Elephant Hawkmoth that I grew myself!
We have always been enormous fans of “Mail Art” and your site is a wonderful idea. WE hope you get a few orders through our link. Thanks for sending in your Elephant Hawkmoth image.
Letter 6 – Elephant Hawkmoth
moth found in uk
I’ve just found your site and spent over an hour looking at pictures of bugs, fantastic and fascinating
stuff! Here’s the links to a couple of pictures I took of a moth – I think it’s a hawkmoth. I loved the colours, and I don’t think I’ve seen one that big before. I found it in my garden in Derbyshire, England. It stayed very still for the photos, didn’t mind me at all.
We have the Hawk Moths or Sphinx Moths on three pages. Over the years, we have gotten several images of the Elephant Hawk Moth, Deilephila elpanor, but we haven’t received one in some time.
Letter 7 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar from the UK
Large strange caterpillar
I live in the South of England, 30 miles south of London and found this lone caterpillar (pivc attached) climbing our south facing outside house wall. Never seen anything like it before. Any ideas please and suggested action(s). At present we have placed it in a plastic bag with a cabbage leave!
We are not really sure what sort of action you wish to pursue. The Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor, presents no threat to you, and it will not eat cabbage. Just because we humans find cabbage to be so very toothsome does not mean vegetarians worldwide share our fondness for the leafy vegetable. The Elephant Hawkmoth prefers to feed on willowherb and bedstraw. It is most likely the caterpillar is preparing to pupate which is why you found it near the ground. The common name referring to elephant comes from the caterpillar which has a trunk-like snout.
Letter 8 – Elephant Hawkmoth
Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 9:24 AM
Found this in my garden today(28 th June 2009) on outside wall of the house.Unable to ascertain what it is- can you help
This lovely moth goes by the unglamorous name of Elephant Hawk-Moth, Deilephila elpenor. The UK Moths Website has this to say about the Elephant Hawk-Moth: “The English name of this moth is derived from the caterpillar’s fanciful resemblance to an elephant’s trunk.
The adults are attractively coloured pink and green affairs, with a streamlined appearance. They fly from May to July, visiting flowers such as honeysuckle ( Lonicera ) for nectar.
The larvae feed mainly on rosebay willowherb ( Epilobium angustifolium ), but also other plants as well, including bedstraw ( Galium ).
It is a common species in most of Britain, including Scotland, where it has increased its range in recent years.” That range expansion might be a symptom of global warming.
Letter 9 – Elephant Hawkmoth from UK
found in my garden
June 29, 2010
this was found in my garden in manchester yesterdaybut i dont think its native to britain could you help me with identification?
There are two species of Elephant Hawkmoths in the genus Deilephila that are native to the UK. We believe your individual may be Deilephila elpenor, which is profiled on the UK Moths website. The caterpillars burrow underground to pupate. Adults emerge and must dig to the surface before their wings harden and dry. Your individual is newly metamorphosed and its wings have not yet expanded and hardened for flight.
Thanks for the prompt reply, after doing a little more research and watching it for a little while longer i discovered that it was an elephant hawk moth once its wings had dried and i now feel quite priviledged to have watch it take its first flight!
Letter 10 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar
what is this catterpillar
Location: leicester england
September 6, 2010 5:33 am
my mum has found two of these in her garden can u tell us what they are?
We have received several requests to identify the Caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, in the past few weeks. According to the UK Moths website: “The English name of this moth is derived from the caterpillar’s fanciful resemblance to an elephant’s trunk” and “It is a common species in most of Britain, including Scotland, where it has increased its range in recent years.”
Letter 11 – Elephant Hawkmoth from Ireland
June 19, 2011 5:37 am
I found this bug in my back yard. I was wondering what its called
This lovely moth is known as an Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, and according to the UK MOths website: “The English name of this moth is derived from the caterpillar’s fanciful resemblance to an elephant’s trunk. The adults are attractively coloured pink and green affairs, with a streamlined appearance. They fly from May to July, visiting flowers such as honeysuckle (Lonicera) for nectar. The larvae feed mainly on rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), but also other plants as well, including bedstraw (Galium). It is a common species in most of Britain, including Scotland, where it has increased its range in recent years.”
Letter 12 – Elephant Hawkmoth from Norway
Location: Stavanger, on the south-west coast of Norway
July 12, 2011 7:06 am
Hi. I stumbled across (almost stepped on) this little fella on my way hom from the shops. I suppose it’s some kind of moth. It’s 4-5cm from head to tail and was sitting on the ground. Can you help me with more information? Very pretty!
Signature: Aslak, Norway
This lovely European moth is an Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor. You may compare your photo to the image on the UK Moths website. We are scheduled for a short holiday, and in anticipation for being out of the office for a few days, we are preparing some letters to post while we are gone. Your letter will go live Friday morning.
Letter 13 – Elephant Hawkmoth from the UK
Subject: what is it?!
August 10, 2012 2:32 am
Hi I found this yday and wondered if you knew what it was!
This is an Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, a common species in the UK where its pink and green coloration is quite distinctive. You can get additional information on the UK Moths website.
Letter 14 – Elephant Hawkmoth from Scotland
Subject: POSSIBLE MOTH?
July 8, 2014 2:24 am
Can you please help me identify this creature? it was found at while at work. I live in the Central belt of Scotland and never seen anything like this before
This lovely moth is an Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, and according to the UK Moths site: “It is a common species in most of Britain, including Scotland, where it has increased its range in recent years.”
Letter 15 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar from the UK
Location: Southampton england UK
August 17, 2014 7:13 pm
My friend found this in her garden and wondered what it was and if it could be eating her fushias
Found it i think. An elephant hawk moth caterpillar
You are correct that this is an Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor, and according to our research on UK Safari: “The caterpillars feed on bedstraws, willowherbs and in gardens they feed on fuchsias.”
Letter 16 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar from Austria
Subject: Cigar Caterpillar
Location: Austria, 47°11’00.76″ N 15°29’22.96″ E
October 4, 2014 10:27 pm
Greetings from Austria!
I found this caterpillar on Sunday, September28 near Graz, Austria. The temperature was in the 60s and it seemed to be lumbering along the street, perhaps looking for a place to wrap itself up for the winter. The area is mountainous (ca. 2300 ft) with mixed deciduous and coniferous trees. The caterpillar was about four inches long, and I wondered if the spots at the head would be translated into the moth (?) it would become.
Thanks for being bug liaisons!
Signature: N. Fritz
Dear N. Fritz,
This interesting caterpillar is an Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor, and according to the UK Moth site: “The English name of this moth is derived from the caterpillar’s fanciful resemblance to an elephant’s trunk. The adults are attractively coloured pink and green affairs, with a streamlined appearance. They fly from May to July, visiting flowers such as honeysuckle (Lonicera) for nectar. The larvae feed mainly on rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), but also other plants as well, including bedstraw (Galium).” According to Made By Mother Eagle: “When startled, the caterpillar draws its trunk into its foremost body segment. This posture resembles a snake with a large head and four large eye-like patches. Caterpillars are preyed upon by birds, but these shy away (at least for some time) from caterpillars in “snake” pose. It is not known whether the birds take the caterpillar to actually resemble a snake, or are frightened by the sudden change of a familiar prey item into an unusual and boldly-patterned shape.”
Letter 17 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar from the UK
Subject: What’s this caterpiller
Location: Essex , U.K., england
August 6, 2017 5:16 am
Whats this caterpillar found on a fuchsia in Essex in the uk
This is an Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor. According to Learn About Butterflies: “The caterpillar is brownish-grey, marked with a network of fine dark lines, much like the folds in the skin of an elephant’s trunk. When it walks, the caterpillar habitually sways the front segments from side to side, again reminiscent of the movement of an elephant’s trunk. The anal segment bears a short horn. The first two abdominal segments each bear a pair of pink and black eye-like markings. If the caterpillar becomes alarmed, it retracts its head, which compresses the thoracic segments and causes these ‘false eyes’ to expand. This gives the caterpillar a snake-like appearance, which presumably acts as a deterrent to predators.”
Letter 18 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar in British Columbia, Canada
Subject: Elephant Hawk-Moth Caterpillar
Location: Surrey BC
August 7, 2017 6:02 pm
Hi there. I just came across the most unusual (and largest) caterpillar i have every seen, crawling along on my lawn. It is about 3 inches long, and has a long snout that pulled in when it became scared by my cat approaching. I have researched online and believe it to be an Elephant hawk-moth caterpillar, which is not common to BC. I am curious to know more about this guy and what he’s doing in my back yard.
Thanks to your submission we learned on Sphingidae of the Americas that: “Deilephila elpenor, the Large Elephant Hawkmoth (wingspan approx. 60-75mm), has recently established populations in southern British Columbia, Canada.”
Letter 19 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar from the UK
Subject: Identif this bug please
Location: Tenbury Wells, Worcestshire
August 10, 2017 8:15 am
Have found this on a rockery in garden and have no idea what it is. Can you help please?
Signature: M Colman
This is an Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, a common species in the UK. According to UK Moths: “The English name of this moth is derived from the caterpillar’s fanciful resemblance to an elephant’s trunk.”
Letter 20 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar from Czech Republic
Location: Czech republic, Moravičany
August 13, 2017 10:22 pm
Can not find what it is, will someone please help me?
This is an Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor, and according to Learn About Butterflies: “The caterpillar is brownish-grey, marked with a network of fine dark lines, much like the folds in the skin of an elephant’s trunk. When it walks, the caterpillar habitually sways the front segments from side to side, again reminiscent of the movement of an elephant’s trunk. The anal segment bears a short horn. The first two abdominal segments each bear a pair of pink and black eye-like markings. If the caterpillar becomes alarmed, it retracts its head, which compresses the thoracic segments and causes these ‘false eyes’ to expand. This gives the caterpillar a snake-like appearance, which presumably acts as a deterrent to predators.”
Letter 21 – Large Elephant Hawkmoth from the UK
Subject: Can anyone identify?
Geographic location of the bug: Northumberland national park uk
Time: 05:07 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi would be great if you could Identify this, my partner is at work and is dying to find out!
How you want your letter signed: Katherine
This beauty is a Large Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, and according to UK Moths: ” The English name of this moth is derived from the caterpillar’s fanciful resemblance to an elephant’s trunk. The adults are attractively coloured pink and green affairs, with a streamlined appearance. They fly from May to July, visiting flowers such as honeysuckle (Lonicera) for nectar. The larvae feed mainly on rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), but also other plants as well, including bedstraw (Galium). It is a common species in most of Britain, including Scotland, where it has increased its range in recent years.”
Letter 22 – Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar from the UK
Subject: Caterpillar ?
Geographic location of the bug: Uk Britain
Time: 07:42 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi, I found this on my decking and was surprised how aggressive and fast it was, could you identify it please
How you want your letter signed: Mark morgan
This is an Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor, and according to Wildlife Insight: “The Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar grows to 85mm in length and is one of the largest and most distinctive caterpillars to be found in the British Isles.
It is also the most frequently seen hawk-moth caterpillar, often found feeding and wandering in search for somewhere to pupate in gardens.
The species is named after the caterpillars resemblance to an elephants trunk.
When retracted the caterpillars head recoils giving the impression of a much larger head. The two large ‘eye-like’ markings behind the head also suggest a much larger animal, appearing startling to predators.” The aggression you mention is an act. Often Hornworms in the family Sphingidae will thrash about hoping to startle a predator into perceiving a threat.