Eye On Nature

A small, brown bird ran up the stone wall of the stables

A small, brown bird ran up the stone wall of the stables. I thought it was a mouse, but it stopped to pick flies off the wall as it ran. What was it? - Brigid Flanagan, Dromiskin, Dundalk, Co Louth

A wren.

Recently, we found a caterpillar crossing the road. It was three and a half inches long, purple and red on top, salmon pink underneath and completely hairless. I put it in a jar and fed it leaves but it didn't eat them. It seemed to be pushing the leaves up into a wigwam held together with "thread". - Janesta Freeman, Cahirciveen, Co Kerry

The size suggests the caterpillar of a hawkmoth. Perhaps the caterpillar of the convolvulus hawkmoth in its brown form (it also has a green form). The moth is a migrant to these islands from southern Europe and although caterpillars are occasionally found here they do not reach maturity. It may have been trying to burrow under the leaves to pupate.


I found a huge caterpillar under our privet hedge with markings very similar to a tortoise. At full stretch it is about five inches long with a little yellow antenna at its back. It is a muddy yellow ochre colour with brown V marks down its back. There are white markings for the first section below its head. Is it an elephant hawkmoth? What size will the moth eventually be, what does it eat and where will it overwinter? - Aoife Kane-Thomas, Avoca, Co Wicklow

It sounds like the caterpillar of the elephant hawkmoth. The moth itself is bronzy green and pink about 40 mm long with a wingspan about double that. The caterpillar feeds on willowherb, bedstraw, bogbean, evening primrose and fuchsia. It pupates in autumn and the pupae hide in leaf litter or just under the surface of the ground.

Some weeks ago I noticed a large, white butterfly trying unsuccessfully to fly. On close inspection I saw that there was a wasp clinging to its rear wings. I separated them and the butterfly flew off minus part of its rear wings. Is it normal for wasps to attack other insects in this way? - Frank Smyth, Sutton, Dublin 12

Yes, when they are still rearing their brood.

While playing a round on Westport golf course I spotted a fox sitting up sunning herself in the long grass near the 15th tee. She saw me but did not make any move to run off. I called softly to her and she came slowly towards me. I threw some chocolate down to her and she came closer and picked it up and ate it. I would doubt if she was a pet, but she was undoubtedly used to humans. - Anne McKay, Skerries, Co Dublin

Michael Viney welcomes observations sent to him at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo or by email to viney@anu.ie Observations sent by email should be accompanied by postal address as location is sometimes important to identification or behaviour.

Michael Viney

Michael Viney

The late Michael Viney was an Times contributor, broadcaster, film-maker and natural-history author