RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...‘Monsters’ pose no threat at all to us

It is hawk-moth time again.

The first picture of the season has come in from Joan Scowen of Fishbourne who is a keen gardener and does not miss much that goes on around her.

She photographed the beautiful popular hawk-moth last week as it emerged from the ground where it pupated last autumn.

It is a mighty insect like all the rest of the tribe, with a wingspan of three-and-a-half inches. It is shown, below, on a poplar leaf.

In the next few months gardeners all over the south will see gigantic caterpillars of the various hawk-moths feeding on bushes and shrubs and wonder whether they should kill them or not.

These caterpillars are again, three-and-a-half inches long, as fat as your finger, and will be marching across your lawn or driveway or flower borders, looking so strange and out of place in our often manicured home environment.

They are fairly common south of the Chichester area because the climate is dryer and warmer and there are some fairly good habitats and wild places still available.

If you see one of these monsters please do not be troubled, it will do you no harm. Just leave it alone and let it get on with its own life.

The caterpillars, once fully-fed, will march about looking for a safe piece of ground into which they will burrow and turn into a chrysalis, emerging as a moth.

This female in the photo will already have laid her eggs on a willow, poplar or aspen and her children will emerge as new moths in August. Her grandchildren will appear in Joan’s garden next May.

No-one can surely mind if such a beauty eats a few willow leaves.

Another hawk-moth common in Chichester district is the convolvulus hawk-moth, that breeds around Oving. No threat to gardeners. Then the privet hawk-moth will chew a few leaves on your privet hedge.

The biggest hawk-moth of all in Britain is the death’s head which has the likeness of a human skull on the back of its neck and which can squeak when alarmed like a mouse. It is hardly ever seen these days.

The caterpillar is five inches long, a thrilling sight in its purple and yellow colours as it feeds on woody nightshade or jasmine.

This bird-like moth cannot survive our winters and a few come in from France as immigrants in the summer.

I noticed the first hawk-moth appeared on BBC TV regional news the other day, much to the bemusement of the presenters.

That one was an elephant hawk-moth, not so big as the poplar but more colourful.

Its caterpillars feed on rosebay willowherb and the moth has the same sort of colours as the flower on its wings. Do keep sending in your photos of these gorgeous moths to the Observer, and tell me your reactions and where you found.

You could see a dozen different species in this area and they are all pretty big but harmless, so let them live and enjoy their lives as we do.