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Deilephila elpenor

(Linnaeus, 1758)

  • Subfamily: Macroglossinae - Macroglossini
  • Wingspan: 58-72 mm
  • Flight period: May - Aug
  • Spread: Common
  • Host plants: Polyphagous


The Deilephila elpenor also known as Elephant Hawk-moth is a moth of the Sphingidae family with a wingspan of 58-72 mm.
The Deilephila elpenor is found throughout Europe excluding Iceland. *
Its range extends to the Palearctic ecozone, *** and has recently been introduced also in North America.
In Italy it is also found in the islands.

The front wings of the Deilephila elpenor are brown / olive green surrounded by pink. Two pink lines also cross the wings. The first line is usually thicker and ends in the center of the wings near a white point. The second line, which runs below the first, starts from the white inner margins and runs to the tip of the wing.

The hind wings have a black inner half that gradually turns pink from the center outwards. It is outlined with white fringes. The head, thorax and body are also brown / olive green with pink spots all over the place.

The Deilephila elpenor often confused with the congener Deilephila porcellus which in addition to having different designs on the wings results of smaller dimensions.
This moth is nocturnal and therefore feeds on flowers that open or produce nectar at night. The Deilephila elpenor has very sensitive eyes that allow it to see colors even in low light conditions. and it was one of the first species in which the nocturnal vision of colors in animals has been documented. ****

The habitats include rugged meadows, moors, sand dunes, hedges, woodlands, open countryside, and even urban gardens. Moths play an important role in pollination in all of their habitats. For example, previous studies on Sphingidae have indicated that they can pollinate up to 5-10% of species trees and shrubs in the area where they live.

A striking feature of this moth larva is its defensive behavior.
When annoyed or alarmed by the presence of some predator, the larva retracts the head and the first thoracic segments in the first and second abdominal segments, which are significantly expanded making the eye spots larger. The result is the striking resemblance to a snake. *****

The eggs are spherical of a glossy green color and are deposited by the female individually under the leaves of the host plants. **, *****

The larva is dimorphic, that is, it can be brown or green in color. As soon as it hatches, the 4-5mmm larva has a pale green color and presents the little horn on the last abdominal segment. The latter will be present until the maturity of the larva.
During subsequent moults, the first and second abdominal segments increase in size and the four characteristic sub-circular spots appear.
At this point the head and thoracic segments seem decidedly disproportionate. In the last moult, the larva reaches about 70-80 mm e in most cases the color changes to brown but can also remain green. *****

The pupa is 40–45 mm long, brown streaked with dark brown. The pupa is very active, and often gets rid of the cocoon even before hatching.

The larvae are considered polyphagous as they have been reported on multiple plants such as: Vitis, Parthenocissus, Epilobium, Chamaenerion angustifolium, Clarkia, Galium, Calla palustris, Impatiens, Fuchsia, Menyanthes. ******

* Lepidoptera mundi - Fauna Europea
** Bestimmungshilfe für die in Europa nachgewiesenen Schmetterlingsarten - -
*** Bestmann, H. J.; Erler, J.; Garbe, W.; Kern, F.; Martischonok, V.; Schäfer, D.; Vostrowsky, O.; Wasserthal, L. T. (1992). "Pheromone components of the female elephant hawk-moth, Deilephila elpenor, and the silver-striped hawk-moth, Hippotion celerio". Experientia. 48 (6): 610–613
**** Warrant, Eric (2004-10-01). "Vision in the dimmest habitats on Earth". Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 190 (10): 765–789.
***** Claudio Labriola, Natura, Parole e Fotografia -
****** Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa -

Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila elpenor