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Elephant’s look and Snake’s Stare

Have you heard of a worm that looks like an “elephant” and stares like a “snake”? Will any predator venture to get a closer look at the worm, leave alone preying on it.

The worm that performs these actions is the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephela elpensor). It is a fat, wrinkled, leathery, grayish brown worm with a black curved horn at its rear end. At its head end, there are four bright eyespots two each on the 4th and 5th segments. The caterpillar hides beneath leaves during daytime and comes out in the evenings to feed throughout night. Its favorite food is bedstraw.

The caterpillar when alarmed by a predator retracts its head forming a trunk like bulge. This display makes the caterpillar look like an elephant. The caterpillar further startles the predator by withdrawing its trunk deep into its foremost body segments revealing the eyespots. The caterpillar assumes a snake like stance and appears threatening.

The caterpillar is active between the months of July and September. By that time it would have grown to a length of 75mm.It move underground and spins a silk cocoon reinforced with leaf fragments. It becomes pupa. The pupa hibernates until the following spring. By the middle of May, a fully metamorphosed adult emerges from the cocoon.

The Elephant Hawk Moths are found in Britain and Ireland. They also occur in Russia and China. The moth is spectacularly colored. When the moth is in motion the colors shimmer with green and red. The body is plump and furry .The wingspan is between 50 and 70mm.

Adult moths are seen during daytime, but their feeding activity begins in the evenings. They fly in search of nectar from garden plants like honey suckles.

The female moth lays eggs on willow herbs and bedstraw that serve as food plants for the caterpillars. ?

The survival value of any moth is dependant on the larva, which is able to defend from predators and adapt to climatic conditions to ensure smooth metamorphosis. The Elephant Hawk Moth is a successful insect.