What is the most common garden caterpillar in the UK?

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Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) 30mm caterpillar having molted out of green instar © 2014 Steve OgdenIt seems appropriate that the 500th caterpillar enquiry of the year was for an Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar, Deilephila elpenor.

Ever since the Wildlife Insight website went live, 5 years ago, the Elephant Hawk-moth has been the most commonly enquired about caterpillar in the British Isles – the grey form outnumbering the green by 15 to one and the fully grown black form limited to just two sightings.

Of course this doesn’t mean that it’s the most common caterpillar, it solely means it is the most noticed of the ‘unrecognised’ caterpillars (if that makes sense) – the Cabbage White butterfly caterpillar being far more common but recognised by most people so less frequently enquired about.

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar head (Deilephila elpenor) © 2013 Steve OgdenThe main reasons for the Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar topping the numbers are its large size and often startling appearance, its presence in gardens (showing a particular liking for fuchsias) and its habit of wandering around during the day searching for somewhere to pupate.

Your sightings also suggest that if we overlook them cats don’t! – frequently bringing them into houses or leaving them on doorsteps.

It is also interesting to note how many are recorded at the edge of ponds. I have read reports of them swimming but have yet to witness this myself. If anyone has seen this I’d be fascinated to know.

More large caterpillars can be seen in the Hawk-moth caterpillar section of the gallery.