KILDARE WILDLIFE WATCH: The colourful Elephant Hawk

Bog of Allen Nature Centre

Nuala Madigan


Nuala Madigan


KILDARE WILDLIFE WATCH: The colourful Elephant Hawk

The Elephant Hawk Moth PICTURE: Nuala Madigan

When I was younger I believed that the main difference between a butterfly and a moth revolved around their colours. I considered butterflies to be colourful and moths to be dull.

Learning the variety of wildlife in our communities is a lifelong learning process for each of us, and it was only many years later when I came across the Elephant Hawk moth (conach eilifinte as Gaeilge) that I began to question my original thought of the difference between a butterfly and a moth.

If you are not familiar with the Elephant Hawk moth, when you do come across this common native species, you will definitely recognise it due to its brilliant pink and olive green colour. This is definitely not a dull-coloured moth!

The adults have a wingspan of 45-60mm and fly between May and July each year. Females lay eggs on the food plant of the caterpillar which includes willowherb and bedstraw.

After 10 days, the young caterpillars hatch. The caterpillars are not brightly coloured like the adults, they are brown/green in colour and have black eye markings to warn off predators.

The caterpillar is also responsible for the name of this moth, as it’s the caterpillar’s elongated snout which remembles that of an elephant’s trunk.

The caterpillars overwinter within a chrysalis. You may also hear this stage of the moths lifecycle referred to as pupa.

They spin their chrysalis at the base of trees, within leaf litter and sometimes underground.

The adults emerge from May each year and feed on the nectar of honeysuckle.

Here are some of the main differences between butterflies and moths, however we do need to remember there are always exceptions.

Most moths are in flight during the night while butterflies species fly during the day. Butterflies have long thin antennae while moths have short feathery antennae. Butterflies also rest with their wings closed while most moths rest with their wings open.

If you would like to suggest a species to focus on for ‘Wildlife Watch’ contact the Bog of Allen Nature Centre on 045 860133 or email