If you roam carefully through nature, you can discover many exciting things. Colorful caterpillars with horns, for example, which you can find between July and September with a bit of luck. Here we present 8 native species.
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characteristic of hawk moths
Incidentally, the horned caterpillars do not wear their horns on their heads, but rather on the opposite part of their bodies. In fact, it is a so-called anal horn, which sits in the middle of the eighth abdominal segment. Depending on the type and age of the caterpillar, it is colored and formed very differently. The anal horn is a characteristic feature of the hawkmoth (Sphingidae), a worldwide family of butterflies. There are about 20 species native to us, a total of around 1200 different varieties are known.
Evening Peacock (Smerinthus ocellatus)
The evening peacock is a common, native hawk moth whose caterpillars are found between July and September. The animals feed mainly on different types of willow, poplar, birch, apple and other fruit trees. They are mainly found near water bodies. In the advanced caterpillar stage you can recognize the species by these characteristics:
- Body length up to 80 millimeters
- mostly blue-green, sometimes yellow-green colouring
- fine white dots all over the body
- yellow slanting side stripes
- Back lighter colored than the rest of the body
- light blue anal horn
Hummelschwärmer (Hemaris fuciformis)
The bumblebee hawkmoth is a common, native species of hawkmoth, but it is also very shy and therefore difficult to observe. In contrast to other swarmers, the animals are diurnal. You will find their caterpillars between mid-June and early August, primarily on honeysuckle (Lonicera), but also on honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), rennets (Galium), Deutzia (Deutzia) , snowberries (Symphoricarpos) and scabious (Knautia). Typical features are:
- Body length between 35 and 40 millimeters
- after hatching only about three millimeters
- initially light yellow, later strong light green
- bright longitudinal lines on the sides
- rough body surface with many bright point warts
- reddish spot
- Anal horn initially dark, later red at the base and brown at the tip
Kiefernschwärmer (Sphinx pinastri)
The pine hawkmoth is one of the most widespread hawkmoth species in Central Europe. The caterpillars not only feed on various types of pine, but can also be found on other conifers such as spruce and larch as well as cedar and Douglas fir. You can find the animals between July and September. They can be recognized by these characteristics:
- Body length between 75 and 80 millimeters
- after hatching about five millimeters long
- initially yellow body coloration, later green
- six light yellow longitudinal lines after the first moult
- Anal horn dark, split at the end
Lesser vine hawkmoth (Deilephila porcellus)
The pretty Small Wine Hawk-moth is primarily at home in sunny, dry and open locations such as dry grassland, but also on roadsides and railway embankments. The caterpillars can be found in the months of July to August. Above all, the various cleavers, but also willowherb are among the preferred food plants.
These features are characteristic:
- Body length up to 70 millimeters
- first green, later brown basic coloration
- two eyespots each on the second and third segments
- Anal horn is just a small hump
Ligusterschwärmer (Sphinx ligustri)
The privet hawkmoth is often found in gardens, as its preferred caterpillar forage plants are also among the most popular hedge and ornamental trees. The little animals like to feed on the privet , but also on lilac, ash, berry trees, honeysuckle, snowberries and spiraea. Many a gardener fears for his beautiful hedge when discovered, but don’t worry: the pest does not cause any damage. The number of existing caterpillars is simply too small for this.
Typical characteristics of the caterpillar:
- fully grown up to 100 millimeters long
- bright green coloring
- seven white-pink to white-violet side stripes
- numerous yellow dots
- Anal horn pale at the base, darkening toward the tip
Lindenschwärmer (Mimas tiliae)
The linden hawk moth is a very large night owl with a wingspan of up to 100 millimeters, but adult specimens are rarely found. On the other hand, the swarmer caterpillars are all the more common, especially on lime trees, birches and cherries. They are similar to those of the evening peacock butterfly and the cottonwood hawk moth. You can recognize linden hawkmoths in the caterpillar stage by these characteristics:
- shortly before pupation between 55 and 65 millimeters long
- after the slip about six millimeters
- initially light green, later green to blue-grey colouring
- distinct yellow diagonal stripes on the sides of the body
- many yellow tubercles
- almost triangular head capsule
- Anal horn blue or violet, anal plate red to reddish yellow
When the animals are about to pupate, they change color drastically: now the upper side is inconspicuous grey-brown, while the underside is pale greenish-violet.
Medium vine hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor)
Between mid-June and August, the caterpillars of the medium-sized hawkmoth can be found primarily in humid environments, such as near bodies of water. The animals can often be found in parks and gardens, as their preferred caterpillar forage plants are often cultivated as ornamental plants. The caterpillars feed on various species of willowherb, balsam, fuchsia, loosestrife and evening primrose .
- Body length up to 80 millimeters
- Coloring initially green, later brown to brown-black
- two distinct eyespots in the head area
- Anal horn long and tapering
The caterpillars are similar to those of the Lesser Vine Hawk-Moth, but you can tell the two species apart by the distinctive shape of their horns.
Papula swarms (Laothoe populi)
The yellow-green caterpillars of the poplar hawkmoth are mainly found on poplars, but also occasionally on willows and fruit trees (mainly Prunus species such as plums, peaches, etc.). The yellow horn is characteristic, which allows a distinction to be made between the very similar offspring of the evening peacock. While these can be quite bluish in color, the horns of the small poplar hawk moths are blue at most at the base. With a wingspan of between 72 and 92 millimeters, the adult hawk moth is one of the largest moths in Europe
frequently asked Questions
The “sting” of the species of hawkmoth presented here may look threatening, but neither the horn nor the animal belonging to it is poisonous. Hawk moth caterpillars cannot sting with this “sting” either.
Horn and eye spots, which are often also present, are intended to signal “danger” to potential predators. Ergo, these typical species characteristics serve self-preservation, sometimes also mimicry, which is widespread in the animal world. That means they just act like they’re dangerous.