Country Diary: Caterpillar resembles an elephant

Elephant hawk moth caterpillar.
Elephant hawk moth caterpillar.

“Have you lost a black ferret?” enquired a young lady, ascending the cliff from Cloughton Wyke. She had photographed one on the beach, peering from behind a rock. Being bred for catching rats and rabbits, it seemed quite capable of fending for itself.

Next day we found a stray dog near our drive. Quiet and subdued, it allowed Michael to leash it. What a handsome, dark brown labrador, with smooth glossy coat! Apparently it was well-known to the vet, as its owner let it wander. The dog warden was to be informed, and the owner reprimanded.

On a happy note, a previous neighbour of ours has recently rehomed a delightful dog with wonderful temperament. It’s a saluki, or Persian greyhound, with long legs and smooth, silky coat. One evening a fox ran by, almost past its nose! Which was most shocked? Maybe, “Freya” the saluki - “the goddess of love”.

Friends reported discovering a huge caterpillar in their garden. It was the same species we found last year, which we placed in a safe corner and left to pupate. This caterpillar can extend its foremost segments in a way suggestive of an elephant’s trunk. When these segments are retracted, the eye-spots on the caterpillar resemble those of a snake. This may have some defensive value. Have you guessed its name? It’s the elephant hawk moth larva that feeds mainly on willowherb and bedstraw.

Search these food plants and you may find a larva, as they’re not rare. It will develop into a beautiful moth that flies at night and feeds from flowers such as honeysuckle.

Take a walk along Scarborough’s Marine Drive. What is missing? Along our coast, vast colonies of seabirds arrived last spring, and for several weeks the cliffs were ‘alive’ with activity. Yet, by midsummer birds were already moving away, some to spend months at sea, out of sight of land until spring calls them back.

Scarborough’s Castle Hill cliffs have been an eye-catching spectacle. Kittiwakes have nested on precarious ledges, and hundreds have wheeled over the sea producing a great volume of noise.

Now - it’s over, and silence reigns. Kittiwakes are real birds of the sea, and unlike many gulls, don’t scrounge at refuse tips or feed on beaches.

In winter, the majority are far out to sea.

Now the nesting season is drawing to a close, some species gather into flocks as they seek food. About a dozen long-tailed tits foraged a neighbour’s tree for insects, before briefly alighting in a long line on a telephone wire - all facing the same direction.

I’ve recently received a good piece of news! It has been agreed that all the sculptures will be cleaned and treated with Owatrol oil around the same time. This has been arranged for September, when all the schools have re-opened. I’m sure this will make the job much easier, and at a time of year usually blessed with dry days.