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25 August 2021

25 August 2021 – Caterpillars


This brightly coloured caterpillar was seen marching on the surface of a jacket that had been worn in the rose bed.  The only plants in that area of the garden are (obviously) roses and a few ferns.  I wanted to put the scrap of life back in an environment that suited it but couldn’t be sure which plant would be its food source.  I tried a mixture of leaves: rose, an apple, a blackthorn, a hawthorn and some grasses.  It waved its head in a searching sort of manner and seemed to find my choice offerings less than interesting.  Suddenly it stopped and settled down to munch along the edge of one of the leaves – but which one was it?  Now I had taken them from the trees I couldn’t remember which was which. Frass was ejected and the munching increased in fervour.  

I left it overnight and in the morning it could be seen that a considerable chunk of a fern leaf had been consumed, which was encouraging.  But the larva’s behaviour was worrying.  I wondered if it had consumed a leaf out of desperation and pondered whether this was now to be its downfall. Do caterpillars ever eat from the ‘wrong’ food out of hunger?

The following day it seemed to be trying to wriggle out of its skin so perhaps it was about to make a leap of growth but an even more remarkable transformation was taking place.

Pupa of caterpillar and discarded skin.

Here is the evidence.  The partially consumed fern leaf can be seen, along with the skin of the caterpillar now cast to one side. Between the two is a small grenade of life – a pale grey pupa.  What species it is I cannot as yet determine.  The caterpillar posessed a horn on its back and a smaller one close to its tail; there was a bright yellow marking running the length of the creature’s back but I cannot find a larva to match.

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar

Another caterpillar appeared on the same day.  Here the identification was without doubt – the Elephant Hawk-moth consuming fucshia leaves with disconcerting speed.  This larva will bury itself in the ground and overwinter to emerge as the brightly coloured adult.  A horn is a characteristic of the hawk-moths and can be found right at the tip of the tail of the creature.

Straw Dot (Rivula servicalis)

Last night was still not as warm as a summer’s night should be.  It produced plenty of Poplar Hawk-moths, an Orange Sallow, an August Thorn and this Straw Dot.  The scientific name breaks down to ‘a silky rivulet’.