Sunday, 6 June 2010

Return of the pink 'un

Happiness! After a year's absence, the most striking of all the moths which come to my trap has returned, and in style. Not just one, but two Elephant Hawks were slumbering on the eggboxes this morning, lovely in their tasteful, interior designer livery of pinks and olive greens. Penny tells the story of a friend who worked on a local paper which dropped it's Pink 'Un - the sports section, sometimes also a Green 'Un - and then revived it with the slogan 'Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! The Pink 'Un's out again tonight.' This was printed on the first Saturday of the return next to a picture of the paper's beaming managing director and his wife, causing much merriment.

Well, our pink 'uns have been away too; but we have plenty of rosebay willow herb which their caterpillars love and I am glad that they are clearly established here. I have mentioned this story before but I don't expect any but the most diligent reader to go hunting back through more than two years of posts, so please forgive me repeating myself. The great John Armitage, curator of natural history at Leeds City Museum when I was a boy, encouraged my brother and me to go out looking for Elephant Hawk caterpillars in the abundant willow herb on the verge of Leeds ring road. Wait until August, when they will have changed colour from green to grey, he advised, because they will be easier to spot. Sure enough, there they were, and we hatched six adult insects. When freshly-emerged from the chrysalis, their colours are ravishing.

Why elephant? Here's a picture of a mature, grey caterpillar which I think explains. I pinched it from the website of the excellent Wickford Wildlife Society in Essex ( to whom grateful thanks. Young readers, or young-at-heart ones, check out your willow herb in two months' time.


Phil said...

Hi Martin, it really is a lovely moth. We used to have bogbean growing in our garden pond and the elephant hawk caterpillars used to feed on that .... never did figure out how they got to dry land to pupate. I've also heard reports that they'll feed on fuchsias...

Nyctalus said...

Sorry Martin but I'll have to see a copy of the front page to believe that one!!
I can readily relate to your pleasure in finding this one in the trap. Hatching one of these was an epiphanic moment that stopped me turning into a twitcher and set me off with a broader-based wildlife interest than just birds. I still vividly recall my astonishment at the colour on the fresh moth. I only had the Observer Book of Larger Moths to guide me and although the picture showed a little bit of blurry dull pink it was miles off the real thing...and it did nothing to prepare me for the site of those fabulous legs.
Thanks for the continuimg moth lessons - good stuff...

MartinWainwright said...

Hi both!

I wonder if they cans wim, Phil. You'll have to replant the bogbean and stay up all night to watch. And the Pink Un story - mmm, one of those you don't ask too many questions about, I think.

All warm wishes as ever


Therese said...

I know you probably won't read this being a post from so long ago but my parents just found an elephant hawk caterpillar in their back garden and it frightened the life out of them. They thought it was a little snake - daft things

Jude/lancashire said...

Hi,my grandson found a elephant moth in my back garden last week,and no seem to know what it was.It had fed on my geraniums stripping the leaves completely.Today i found a smaller one same place.Can any one tell me where they have come from.

MartinWainwright said...

Oh dear sorry, I only just found these last two on a trawl back

Many apologies!

That's a great story Therese - and Jude, it sounds like an Elephant Hawk or Small Elephant Hawk. They're lovely moths but not uncommon in areas where there's rosebay willowherb growing, which tends to be on 'waste' land all over the UK

sorry for the long delay and all warm wishes


Richard Hancock said...

As a Norwich boy I can absolutely verify Martin's Pink Un story, it was a local institution for footy fans which died off but did indeed return 10-15 years ago and that front-page description sounds familiar.

Strangely enough I rescued one of these very caterpillars from the road outside my house a couple of weeks ago. Not knowing the best or safest place for it I popped it in a breathable container with a bunch of leaves, which it quickly nestled in and turned pupal, really hope I did the right thing and it hatches safely as I had no idea it was destined to be such a beautiful creature!

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Richard and very sorry for delay. Hope it hatches - a glorious thing if you're lucky enough to be there

All warm wishes