Thursday, June 11, 2015

Elephant Hawk Moth in Washington State


I am so beyond excited about this! May 26th, I was playing with A, and saw something on the deck. I had no idea what it was and went out with just my phone. I came back in and got my real camera and snapped these photos. 

After some googling trying to figure out what the heck it is I got in touch with Merrill Peterson of Western Washington University. I'm so grateful and excited that he got back to me. 









That little beauty is an Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila Elpenor). It isn't supposed to exist here, and from what I've read hasn't been seen in Washington or the United States. How amazing is that! 

From Mr. Peterson 
"The species is a relatively recent invader, and tracking the rate of its spread would be helpful, so your observation would be great to add to our database."
From this PNW moth site
Identification

Adults
Deilephila elpenor is an attractive olive-green, pink, and black large (FW length 26 mm (n=1)) Eurasian sphinx moth that was discovered recently in the Lower Fraser Valley of British Columbia.  The forewing is typical in shape for the family and is smooth olive to bright green.  The costaterminal area and fringe, and the oblique straight post medial and subterminal lines are pale to bright pink.  No spots are evident.  The hindwings are bright pink with a black basal area and white fringe.  The head, thorax, and abdomen are olive variably tinted with pink, with white lines on the lateral tegulae.  The pale antenna is club-like.

This moth is easily identified by its olive-green and pink color and large size.  It is only likely to be found near Vancouver, British Columbia, but could conceivably spread to other parts of adjacent British Columbia and Washington since its food plant is widespread and common.

Larvae
Few if any immature stages have been discovered in North America so morph variations are unknown.  In its original European habitat there are both brown and green morphs.  Later instars can telescope three of its thoracic segments into the first abdominal segment to enlarge anterior eyespots in response to a threat. 

Habitat
This exotic Eurasian species has been discovered at one site in North America.  It prefers open sunny wetland habitats near creeks and marshes.
Distribution

Pacific Northwest
The only Pacific Northwest observation of this species was at Pitt Meadows east of Vancouver in southwestern British Columbia.  It is unclear how the species was introduced or if it has started to spread to other areas.  It has been suggested that this moth was released deliberately by an amateur entomologist, but this has not been substantiated.

I'm not an Entomologist, but I do understand how an ecosystem works and the disasterous potential of a foreign species being released where it doesn't belong. This has been a great teachable moment for the kids, even though they are too young to understand the potential consequences of one little moth. When they're older they can say we found one of the first (if not the first) Elephant Hawk moth in the country. 

W.J. Turner of Washington State University had this to say about it

"Your images of the hawk moth seen at your home were nicely done. They seem to show the elephant hawk moth, an recently introduced species to this area. From Wikipedia, I see that British Columbia is listed as one place of occurrence for this species. Lynden, WA is not that far from Vancouver and I am pretty certain that the moth cannot recognize international boundaries! Once introduced, many insects spread from the initial area to other places close by and even farther. It is not unusual or unexpected that this species now occurs in western Washington. As for your action at this time, enjoy the opportunity to see the critter first hand. By now your specimen has probably departed under the cover of darkness. Do not be surprised the see additional individuals attracted to lights around your home. This species is now probably a permanent member of the moth fauna in your area. "


Check out PNW Moths I have learned so much about different species already.

This is what can happen when you look at the world around you.


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