Caterpillar of the Oleander hawk-moth on Tagar

I recently visited friends in Kolhapur who live close to the New Palace. Their boundary wall with the neighbouring building (like all boundary walls) is lined by a few bushes of which one was a shoulder-high Tagar Tabernaemontana spp). I was surprised to stare right into a pair of blue eyes – these were not on a person but on a large caterpillar. I guessed it was a sphingid (hawk-moth) but not sure which it was. Searching the bushes revealed two large moths each about three-four inches long.

The caterpillar with large blue eye-spots

The moth caterpillars were bright green with two large amazingly beautiful blue-eyespots. The sides had a line of white spots arranged as if demarcating a saddle . On the sides it had small vertical black marks.

First I searched  the Hosts Lepidoptera foodplant database with keywords “Sphingidae” (the family to which hawk-moths belong) and  “Tabernaemontana” (scintific name of the genus to which Tagar belongs). The search gave me four likely candidates. Information on Wikipedia and Encyclopedia of Life enabled me to ascertain that it was the caterpillar of the Oleander Hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii)   and not the other three.

Oleander Hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii) (Image:Viern Vaz on Wikimedia Commons)

The English entomologist W.F. Kirby (1844-1912) writes in his “A hand-book to the order Lepidoptera” that :

The moth is very abundant throughout Africa and Southern Asia, but becomes scarcer and more local in Southern Europe, and migrates northward in Central Europe in warm summers.  Single specimens have been captured in the South of England at long intervals.

This is a fairly easy caterpillar/foodplant combination to identify though it is difficult for beginners to distinguish which species of Tagar the hostplant may be.  Tagar belongs to the plant family Apocycnaceae, which contains many toxic plants. Tagar, I assume,  is also toxic and should give the caterpillar/pupa/moth added protection by seqestration of plant toxins. The usual hostplant of the Oleander hawk-moth is Nerium or Oleander which most of us know is poisonous.

Pupa of Oleander hawk-moth (image:Viren Vaz on Wikimedia Commons)

The Oleander Hawk-moth is also a relatively easy moth to find and rear in India. Most of the images seen here are by my friend, Viren Vaz, who reared them on the balcony of his Chembur home.

Notice : This is a version of an email sent to IndianMoths email group which you must surely join if you are interested in Indian moths.

Explore posts in the same categories: aposematism, caterpillar, Daphnis nerii, immature stages, nature, Oleander hawk-moth, poisonous substances, Pongamia pinnata, Tagar

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16 Comments on “Caterpillar of the Oleander hawk-moth on Tagar”

  1. jenniesisler Says:

    This is a gorgeous photograph. Would you believe that I saw one of these last week in Maryland? I had no idea what kind of moth it was, and he only graced our presence for a couple of days on our beach vacation, but he was flat out gorgeous! I called him “Army Strong” because he looked like he was camouflaged. I can’t imagine something that is common in India being found in Ocean City, Maryland, but there it was. Thank you for the fascinating insight into this creature.

  2. Clyne Says:

    My daughter found one. Really different (place Kauai Hawaii)I’m 50 years old and it’s the first i seen in Hawaii

  3. Beth W Says:

    I live near Oxford, Ohio and found one on my back porch two summers ago. I took photos and was shocked to find out it’s supposed to live in Africa!

  4. becky Says:

    I saw one last night in western Wisconsin, it was resting on the front step to my house. Amazing camouflaged moth. I took lots of pictures.

  5. jenniesisler Says:

    Actually upon further investigation, the one I saw, and the one you probably saw, Becky, wasn’t an Oleander Hawk moth, but a similiar species called a Pandora Sphinx moth. They are very close in color and markings but there are differences too. Here’s a post to a pic I took of mine, together with a commentary from a man who studies moths. Gorgeous creatures whichever species they are.

  6. George P Says:

    Just saw one of these in Bangalore, India. My nephew found one in the garden! So beautiful!

  7. Sokha Chan Says:

    I have them a lot on my plates in my garden but have no idea how long it take to turn into moth. Could you please advise if you know?

  8. Peline Says:

    I am from Singapore, the very moment I saw this on Thai Jasmine plant, I thought what a beauty it was ! Took lots of pictures and video of it having meals. I have 5 of them now.

  9. Lars-Erik Schackt Says:

    I’m living in Phuket, Thailand. In my kitchen garden, we have a couple of small lemon leave trees. There we often have those beautiful caterpillars. But we have to replace them every time becouse they eat all the good leaves.

  10. bck1402 Says:

    I’ve been trying to identify this caterpillar for a while now.
    Found it here!

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  12. Ian Says:

    Great to find this photo to identify 2 voracious caterpillars munching on giant pinwheel flower bushes (Tabernaemonta divaricata)in our suburban Bangkok garden. The blue “alien” eyes are really cool. Nature’s design is stunningly mind-boggling. Actually it was the prolific green pellets scattered under the bushes that drew my attention to the feeding caterpillars. I also would really like to see the actual moth so I am rearing the caterpillars in a plastic pail. If anyone can answer how long does it take? And do they need earth for the pupae? Thanks in advance.

  13. Punam Says:

    I just saw this today in my garden. And my curiosity to identify this bought me here. Glad it helped me.

  14. I have 2 huge nerium oleander plants in my garden in Chennai, India and i have been seeing new caterpillars almost every week now in the last 3 months ❤

    Is the caterpillar in itself poisonous to handle by hand?

    I am looking for ways to move it out of my grandma's eyesight 😛 to observe the full lifecycle..

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