Elephant hawk-moth unearthed

A COOKSTOWN woman unearthed an unusual insect from her garden last week, prompting her to contact the Natural History Museum in London in a bid to solve the mystery over its identity.

The woman was shifting trays of carnations that she had planted when this large insect fell out, and despite scouring the dictionary and looking online, she was still unsure what it was and where it had come from.

The woman put the insect in a jam jar, punctured with a hole along with some foliage and took a photograph.

She emailed the picture to the Natural History Museum on Monday night and they replied promptly on Tuesday morning identifying the insect as an elephant hawkmoth caterpillar.

According to the Natural History Museum, these insects are often found feeding on Fuschia plants in gardens.

“We got out the dictionary and looked up slugs and moths and looked at the photographs on the computer, but we couldn’t find anything identical to it,” said the Cookstown woman.

“It was great to get information from the Natural History Museum - they were really quick in coming back to us,” she added.

According to the website, the hawkmoth caterpillar alarms some enquirers to the museum’s Identification Advisory Service, with its eye spots at one end and unusual ‘horn’ at the other.

“People often call us and say they have never seen anything like it before and think that it must be a foreign species,” explained the IAS insect expert Beulah Garner.

“However, it is a master of disguise as well as a great mimic. As soon as people start to describe the caterpillar we know straight away what it is.”