It's my birthday, hooray, and I always hope that a nice moth will come to mark the occasion. One has, this beautiful Elephant Hawk, a species which has a special place in my life. When I was 12, the marvellous natural history curator at Leeds Museum, John Armitage, encouraged me and my brother to look for Elephant Hawk caterpillars along the verges of Leeds ring road between Moortown and Adel one August.
It might have been a risky tip, knowing how disappointed children can be, but John knew his stuff and sure enough, we found half-a-dozen of the curious creatures, which resemble elephants' trunks with small eyes at one end. Hence the name for a moth which is elephantine in no other discernible way. They hatched and we saw this beautiful moth at its newly-emerged best. This one which came last night can't have left its pupa that long ago either. Lovely.
Hawk moths have stylishly raked wings, shown here (right) in what looks like a crashed stealth bomber or spacefighter from Star Wars' rebel alliance. I have seen Convolvulus Hawk moths flying round streetlamps in Italy; in fact when I was a teenager, villagers lent me a ladder to catch a few near Ancona. The moths are formidable flyers, as powerful and fast as bats.