A week of caterpillars

Posted: Friday 8 August 2014
by Kate Bradbury

For me, at least, it has been a week of caterpillars. Caterpillars on the allotment, caterpillars in the supermarket car park, caterpillars in the country.

Elephant hawk moth caterpillar

For me, at least, it has been a week of caterpillars. Caterpillars on the allotment, caterpillars in the supermarket car park, caterpillars in the large estate in the country (lots of caterpillars there).

I took photos of them in a bid to identify and learn more about them, and also because some of them are extremely cute – the elephant hawk moth caterpillar nearly came home with me.

Of course, cuddling caterpillars is not everyone's cup of tea. And not to be recommended if the caterpillars are hairy. The hairs of some species, like the brown tail and oak processionary moth, can irritate the skin and cause respiratory problems.

Garden tiger moth caterpillar

All caterpillars have been the larvae of moths, which is pleasing as numbers of many moth species have declined dramatically in recent years. While cutting back Alchemilla mollis I found my first two ‘woolly bear’ garden tiger caterpillars. This species used to be common but has declined by 92 per cent since 1968. I’ve never seen an adult garden tiger either and, as the caterpillar scrunched into a ball in my hand, I wondered if I’d ever see one again. Gorgeous thing.

Broom moth caterpillar

The broom moth caterpillar also scrunched into a ball in my hand. I found it on field scabious in a meadow, but apparently it has a varied diet, including broom (hence its name) and bracken.

Buff-tip moth caterpillars

A group of hairy caterpillars defoliating a lime tree in a supermarket car park turned out to be the larvae of the buff-tip moth. En masse, the caterpillars looked quite alarming, but the adults are very attractive, resembling broken twigs.

Elephant hawk moth caterpillar

And then there was my favourite – the fat, green elephant hawk moth caterpillar. I found it on greater willowherb, clinging to a stem in a half-hearted bid to conceal itself. It was so big and fat I doubt it will be long before it leaves its willowherb and finds a nice hole in the ground to pupate in. I resisted the urge to take it home and keep it in an ice cream tub of soil, but it had a cuddle.

Results of the Big Butterfly Count and Moth Night haven’t yet been published (the Big Butterfly Count is still running), but anecdotal evidence suggests flying insects are having a bumper year. I’ve never seen so many ladybirds, butterflies and big fat bumblebees. It’s about time too, and if we have another good summer next year then maybe numbers will start to increase again. I hope so – if only so I have more caterpillars to play with.

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Talkback: A week of caterpillars
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Wendy Turner 25/08/2014 at 20:30

I found 2 large caterpillars like the one in the first photo but they were dark brown/black with similar gold markings, are they a different stage of the same caterpillar or a different moth. They were about 4inches long and an inch at least in circumference. What are they??

Orchid Lady 25/08/2014 at 22:32

I've never seen as many caterpillars as I have this year, I think they are my new best friends because my sprouts tasted so good 

The other day I found a gorgeous fluffy black one in my greenhouse and today when weeding I found a yellow one with black markings.  I've only ever seen green caterpillars before so have been quite excited by these two 

SwissSue 26/08/2014 at 06:37

Did it look like this, Wendy!

 If so, the moth will look like this


philip4 17/09/2014 at 17:26

I have no love for caterpillars,the destruction on my roses this year well just unbelievable. I wish the birds in my garden would take a liking to the pests!!!!!!!!!!!!1