Freshly emerged Elephant Hawk Moth
Elephant Hawk Moth  (Deilephila elpenor)
In the UK the largest of our native moths are the Hawk Moths. There are around 2500 different species of Hawk Moth in the world and several of those are found in the UK. One of our most colourful is the Elephant Hawk Moth. These large and brightly coloured olive-green & pink moths are also quite distinctive as a caterpillar too. The Elephant Hawk Moth gets the "elephant" part of its name from its ability to withdraw the front part of its body like a trunk. If alarmed they can retract their head, the front of their body including the front six legs, back within their body. This makes the section of their body that has the large eye-markings look like a large head with big eyes. This can give the caterpillar a snake-like appearance and confuse and sometimes deter a would be predator. These caterpillars are usually brown in colour but are also less frequently seen in green as well.

Freshly emerged Elephant Hawk Moth
Elephant Hawk Moths are usually seen from May to July, and the caterpillars are usually seen from July until September. The caterpillars feed on Willowherbs, Bedstraw and Fuscia plants. The adult moths feed on nectar. Towards the end of August - September the caterpillars are fully grown. At this stage they come down to the ground and leave their feeding plants. They now wander off looking for dry leaves, bark, loose soil and low vegetation to hide and pupate in. Here they will stay until the following May when they will emerge as an adult moth. Once buried in loose soil and leaves the caterpillar secretes a sticky fluid through its skin, as seen in the bottom-left image above. This quickly hardens and within a few days becomes a hardened pupa. The bottom-right image above shows the pupa just a few days after the caterpillar left its feeding plants. It already resembles a moth inside the cocoon.

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar - Green variety

 82mm Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar - Green variety. Shown on finger for size comparison.

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar - Green variety, feeding on Fuchsia Plant

Cinnabar Moth   -  (Tyria jacobaeae)
Both the caterpillar and the moth of this species are brightly coloured and easily identified. The caterpillar has black and orange stripes, whilst the moth is black and red. These caterpillars are vivacious eaters and feed almost entirely on yellow-flowered Ragwort plants. These caterpillars have tiny hairs on their body that release a mildly venomous toxin into human skin when handled. This toxin usually causes no more than an itchy or painful rash to anyone handling the caterpillar, but according to Wikipedia, more serious symptoms including asthma, osteaochondritis, dermatitis, haemorrhaging and even renal failure have been attributed to direct contact with this caterpillar! 

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar feeding on Ragwort

Square-spot Rustic Moth  (Xestia xanthographa)
A common moth throughout the UK, with a wingspan of 32-35mm. Drab brown in colour, with one or two square spots on each wing. The caterpillars are nocturnal and grow to around 30-35mm in length, feeding on grass and other low vegetation. The caterpillars continue to feed through the winter, and in May they dig a hole in the ground and pupate. The adult moths emerge and take to the wing from late July to the end of September. These moths are attracted by both light and sugar, and are easily caught in light traps.

Reed Dagger Moth   -  (Simyra albovenosa
The caterpillar of this moth is considerably more colourful than the adult moth which is a dull white colour. It is confined mainly to the SE of England but is also found at other coastal and river valley sites across the country. The caterpillar feeds on reeds and other plants found in marsh type habitat. Adult moths have a wing-span of 32-40mm and are seen from April to late September from two broods.

Jersey Tiger Moth  (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

A medium / large sized moth with a wing-span of 52-65mm. These moths are found across Europe and can be seen flying both day and night in during July - September in gardens or hedgerows or on cliff-tops. Originally the only places in the UK where these were found were the Channel Islands, and occasionally in Devon and Cornwall (hence their name). But over recent years they have extended their range in the UK and have been recorded in SE London and North Kent since about 2005. This specimen was photographed on the SE London / North Kent borders, where this species is a regular visitor to my garden.

Adult Jersey Tiger Moths feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, with Buddleia being a favourite. The caterpillars feed on various herbaceous plants including Nettles and Ground Ivy.

Jersey Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Despite the number of Tiger Moths declining significantly in the UK over recent years the Jersey Tiger Moth has managed to expand its range and has increased in numbers in parts of Southern England.

Swallow-Tailed Moth    (Ourapteryx sambucaria)
The Swallow-Tailed Moth is a large and unmistakable species with a wing-span of 44-60mm across. Newly emerged moths have yellow wings which fade to white in older specimens. These moths are strictly nocturnal unless disturbed during the daytime. At night they fly at great speed around woodland, parks and gardens. The caterpillars feed on a variety of woody broadleaves including Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Ivy, Elder and Horse Chestnut. They are usually seen in flight from June to August. Caterpillars overwinter in loose tree bark.

Small Magpie Moth    (Anania hortulata)
The Small Magpie Moth is a distinctive species with its orange / yellow head and body, and black & white wings. It has a wingspan of 24-28mm and flies in June and July. Caterpillars feed from rolled leaves on Nettles, Bindweed, Woundworts, Horehounds and Mint.

Speckled Yellow Moth    (Pseudopanthera macularia)
The Speckled Yellow Moth is another small and distinctive species with a wingspan of 23-28mm. It has yellow body and yellow wings with brown speckled blotches. The Speckled Yellow Moth is a diurnal species and is often mistaken for a butterfly when seen in flight on sunny days. Usual habitat is open woodland and bushy grassland sites. Caterpillars usually feed on Woodsage, but have also been recorded on White Dead-Nettle, Woundwort and Yellow Archangel.

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Poplar Hawk Moth    (Laothoe populi)
The Poplar Hawk Moth is probably the most common of Britain's Hawk Moths. This is a very large moth with a wingspan of up to 90mm! When completely at rest it sits with its underwings protruding in front of the fore-edge of its upper wings, at its abdomen curved upwards. If disturbed it can flash its lower underwings, revealing a bright orange / brick-red patch. The large green caterpillars grow up to 85mm in length and feed on Poplar, Aspen and Sallow. Adult moths do not feed, and are seen from May - July.

Large Yellow Underwing Moth    (Noctua pronuba)
A large and common moth found throughout Britain, with a wing-span of 45-55mm. It's possibly the most commonly encountered of the UK's larger moths in July - September. This dull brown / grey moth reveals it's subtle beauty when it flashes its bright yellow / orange underwings. The yellow caterpillars feed on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses.


Speckled Wood Butterfly  (Pararge aegeria)

The Speckled Wood Butterfly is an average sized butterfly with a wingspan of  47 - 56mm. It is found right across the country and is especially common in woodland. It is often found in more shady areas and on overcast days when most butterflies are not found. The Speckled Wood feeds on Aphid honeydew, which is a sugary secretion left by Aphids as they feed on plant juices. Early and late in the year when Aphid activity is low the Speckled Wood feeds on flowers. The caterpillars feed on various grasses and are not considered as pests by gardeners.


Speckled Wood Butterfly 

Small White Butterfly   (Pieris Rapae)
Small White Butterfly   (Pieris Rapae)
A common and small - medium sized butterfly with a wingspan of 32-57mm. This and the Large White Butterfly are often both referred to as Cabbage White Butterflies in the UK. This species can be found in pupa form right throughout the year. It is found as a caterpillar from June-October and in adult butterfly form from May-September and is not considered to be quite as destructive by gardeners as the Large White Butterfly.

Female Holly Blue Butterfly   (Celastrina argiolus)  
Holly Blue Butterfly   (Celastrina argiolus)  
A small sized butterfly with a wingspan of 35mm. The wings are bright blue and the females have black edges. The underside of the wings is pale blue which makes the species identifiable from the similar Common Blue Butterfly. These are usually the first of the blue butterflies to emerge and unlike the other species which tend to stay near ground level, Holly Blues are often seen flying around the tops of trees.

As the old saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's (or butterfly's) . . . basking spot!  This Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly enjoys the April sunshine.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly  (Aglais urticae)

A medium sized butterfly with an average wingspan of 55mm for males and 62mm for females. A common sight in UK gardens and meadows from April to September. Occasionally emerging in March until October in long warm summers. Found on nettles and wildflowers. Second generation Tortoiseshells can emerge as late as October and then hibernate in hollow trees and outbuildings along with Peacock Butterflies. Numbers have declined in recent years, possibly due to the increase in parasitic flies.

Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar

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Ringlet Butterfly     (Aphantopus hyperantus)
A medium sized butterfly with a wingspan of 48mm for males and 52mm for females. Found in woodland clearings, meadows, hedgerows, country lanes. Not often seen in open ares without cover. The dark colouration of its wings enables it to warm up quickly and it is one of the few British species seen flying on dull overcast days.

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Red Admiral Butterfly     (Vanessa atalanta)
A large sized butterfly with a wingspan of 64-72mm for males and 70-78mm for females. This species is found right across Britain but most of the specimens seen are migrants from Europe. In the south of England some can survive our milder winters and are resident, and these can be seen active throughout the year including sunny days in winter. Caterpillars feed on Common Nettle.

Marbled White Butterfly     (Melanargia galathea)
A medium sized butterfly with black and white checked wings. They have a wingspan of 53mm for males and 58mm for females. Found in long grass with a preference for wild purple flowers such as thistles. Usually seen in July and August. Females tend to be more brown and cream as oppose to the male's black and white colouration.

Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar
Peacock Butterfly    (Aglais io)
These large butterflies have a maximum wingspan of around 55mm, but can be as large as 75mm.. They have a vast range and can be found across the UK, Europe and Asia as far as Japan. They are predominantly a rusty red colour with large and distinctive eye markings on the wings. The underside is cryptically marked brown or black and can help disguise the butterfly as a dead leaf. In September these butterflies begin to hibernate in hollow trees or buildings such as sheds and outhouses where they hang upside down. They emerge in early spring, usually March. The eggs are laid in a silky sac at the tip of nettle leaves. When large enough the caterpillars will leave the sac and find nettles of their own to feed on. The caterpillars are black and spiky in appearance with white flecks and orange / black legs. If predators are not deterred by the large eye-spots, and are not fooled by the leaf imitation, then these butterflies can even produce an audible hiss!

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Comma Butterfly
Comma Butterfly    (Polygonia c-album)
A medium-sized butterfly found across the UK with a wing-span of 50-62mm. Caterpillars feed on nettles for around 5 weeks,

Gatekeeper Butterfly

The Gatekeeper is found across the southern half of the UK. It is a medium sized butterfly with a wingspan of 37-48mm and can be seen from the end of July until the middle of September.


Common Blue

Common Blue  (Polyommatus Icarus)

The Common Blue is found right across the UK with the exception of Ireland. It is a small butterfly with a wingspan of 29-36mm and can be seen from the end of May right up to the end of September.

Green-veined White Butterflies  (Pieris napi)

One of Britain's most widespread butterflies with a wing-span of up to 52mm. This species usually favours damp grassland and woodland sites, and is also found in meadows, gardens and parks. It is often mistaken for the Small White Butterfly.


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