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 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.
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.
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.