Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Elephants in the garden

The people living next door have purchased a kitten; a mischievous ginger and white imp whose explorations of the wider world now place many of the creatures living in my garden at risk. Frogs, butterflies and bumblebees seem to be the current favourites, each of which is stalked, pounced at and, occasionally, caught. While there is something about the wide-eyed naivety of the kitten, it is worth remembering that this is a cold-blooded killer practising its hunting skills. For the frogs, butterflies and bumblebees that it stalks, this is a matter life and death.

Earlier this week I found the kitten transfixed by two elephant hawk-moth caterpillars. These are large caterpillars, though not quite our largest, and it is easy to see why they had caught the eye of the kitten. The kitten, however, seemed unsure about the caterpillars, though it had obviously found them somewhere else and delivered them to our back door. Elephant hawk-moth caterpillars tend to hide up during the day, emerging at night to feed on willowherb, bedstraw or a number of other plants. The kitten has already got the measure of me and quickly left the scene upon my approach. Both caterpillars appeared unharmed, though quite how the cat had transported them to my door was unclear. Both were released in a stand of willowherb elsewhere in the garden.

Less than 10 minutes later and the kitten was back with another elephant hawk-moth caterpillar, this time a much larger one. The caterpillar had swollen the segments with the ‘eye’ markings somewhat, suggestive of a large-headed and more threatening creature than it really is. This seemed to unnerve the kitten, which retreated when the caterpillar turned towards it. Another rescue and now I was intrigued to see if more would appear. Sure enough, another hour or so later and two more caterpillars were wandering outside the back door, although there was no sign of the kitten. Perhaps all of the caterpillars had made their own way to the door. But where had they come from? There was no cover or foodplants nearby, and what were they doing out in the daytime? It must have been the kitten – if only he’d favour the delights of an indoor life!

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