Please could you help me identify this curious, little creature which I found in my conservatory this evening. I have never seen anything like it before, it completely amazed me.
I am sorry if some of the photos are poor quality. The creature was approximately two inches long, its skin brown with a distinctive pattern (see photo), and its body was curved upwards, as if sitting up. It had two eyes on the top of its head and it was looking at me. There was a tiny white prick at its rear. It actually looked somewhat like a baby snake.
This creature was found in my conservatory, in Buckinghamshire, England, this evening. I carefully removed him using a dustpan and placed him alive and well at the bottom of the garden.
thank you for all your help,
Aron's blog about the Wiltshire countryside: http://www.ilovewiltshire.jux.com
It is the caterpillar of an elephant hawk moth, Deilephila elpenor
The adult moth is a wonderful example of Nature's inventiveness with pattern and colour
Thanks for showing us your find and for putting it back into the wilds of your garden to continue its life.
This curious creature is a moth, its the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor), they are quite large, and are a common garden species. I'd love to find one!!
Those are not actually eyes but made to look like eyes and its one of the ways it protects itself from predators, by immitating a snake. It rears up to increase the believabilty of the act, that is also how it got its name, the Victorians obviously thought it looked like an elephants trunk when this happens.
They typically will stay on a food plant, but at this stage I would say it was looking for a place to pupate, they tend to wander then, this species will pupate just under the soil, over winter there, and emerge in late spring to early summer. They are stunning moths, maybe you'll get a chance to see one next year, chances are this isn't the only one you have in your garden.
Hope this is helpful
Edit: Crossed paths with Mike again, nice photo of the adult.
thanks so much for your interesting information. It is quite extraordinary what you say about the patterns of this caterpillar and how it looks like it had eyes - as per my initial description - but as you quite rightly say they're not actual eyes at all. I had to closely re-examine my photo to see that they're just markings. It's great to know about the history of this moth and how the Victorians thought it looked like an elephant's trunk when it is defending itself.
I shall keep an eye out for more of these. I have a greenhouse so I wonder if they should be placed in there as it's a bit warmer and out of the rain.
It's wonderful to have nature all around us!
They actually don't mind the rain, and if you got brave and reared one you'd need to spray it and the dirt around it every few days through the winter. A container with about three inches of soil, and it will probably dig in and pupate.
We found a pupa once in a muddy footpath and brought it home to rear for the last leg of its pupation, we kept it in a cold room (they need those cold days to mature properly as well as the water). In mid April it emerged and was amazing to release.
It is wonderful to have nature all around!
That is fascinating what you describe with the pupa you found on a muddy footpath. I've been interested in moths and butterflies ever since I visited a Butterfly Park in Malaysia, back in 2003; since that time, it has been wonderful to see the many different butterflies one can find in England. Although, I am a novice when it comes to identifying all but perhaps 5% of butterflies and moths.
I'll post again if I can manage to capture on camera the beautiful pink-brown Elephant Hawk Moth, once he's hatched and if he's still in my garden (which I hope very much!)
Hello ArkAngel, You are so lucky! The moths that ultimately develop are some of the most beautiful to be found in the UK. The foodplants of these caterpillars in the wild include Willowherb, but increasingly they are found in people's gardens on Fuchsia. (I have planted extra Fuchsias in my garden this year in the hope of attracting them.)