Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bedstraw hawkmoth caterpillar

with 37 comments

While walking around a stretch of Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, on September 7th, we encountered a handsome caterpillar on a fireweed plant (Chamaenerion or Chamerion or Epilobium angustifolium). A member of bugguide.net identified, and another at Butterflies and Moths of North America later confirmed, my subject as the larva of Hyles gallii, a type of Sphinx moth known as a bedstraw hawkmoth.

A few of you may remember the forlorn Hyles lineata moth that appeared here in 2012.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 6, 2017 at 4:52 AM

37 Responses

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  1. Very handsome. Does ‘handsome is as handsome does’ apply if we take into account that the larva will turn into a handsome, useful moth?


    October 6, 2017 at 6:18 AM

    • Speaking of handsome, we could say that the moth is a kind of hand-me-down of the caterpillar. Now you’ve got me wondering about the shift in meaning of handsome, which must originally have had to do with hands. I just looked it up and found that the original senses were ‘dexterous; skillful; handy; ready; convenient.’ One example of early usage: “That they [engines of war] be both easy to be carried and handsome to be moved and turned about.” Something handy and useful then came to be conceived as admirable, appealing. The dictionary entry at


      includes the proverb you quoted.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2017 at 6:48 AM

      • Certainly a word which we don’t use according to its originally senses. Handy, useful, and appealing reminds me of the William Morris quote,”Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” He could have shortened it to, “Only have handsome things in your house.”


        October 6, 2017 at 8:12 AM

  2. Great designer coat for this little critter! 🙂


    October 6, 2017 at 6:44 AM

  3. As soon as I read “forlorn,” I remembered the story of that particular moth. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that nature’s ways aren’t always our ways. My first impulse is to rescue everything in sight, but sometimes rescue is helpful, and sometimes it’s just an excess of sentimentality.

    The color of this caterpillar seemed unusual to me. I wondered if it got its name from the straw-like color. What I found is that it feeds on a plant called Galium verum, or “lady’s bedstraw,” and that the plant once was used to stuff mattresses, just as Spanish moss was used in the American South: bed-straw.


    October 6, 2017 at 7:33 AM

    • You have an excellent memory for such stories. For me, that encounter is still so current I have trouble believing it took place five years ago. Tempus fugit, and all that (or as a friend of mine likes to say: tempus fidgets).

      Thanks for researching the bedstraw connection. Now the etymologist in me can sleep well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2017 at 7:54 AM

  4. Stunning photo, Steve. A very cool caterpillar.

    Jet Eliot

    October 6, 2017 at 9:57 AM

  5. Cool. I use bugguide too. Terrific folks man it.

    Sherry Felix

    October 6, 2017 at 9:57 AM

    • Both you and the previous person, who also coincidentally commented at 9:57 (my time), described this as cool.

      I’m grateful to the bugguide folks for having identified a bunch of things that I submitted over the past few years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2017 at 10:02 AM

  6. You’d expect to find this one smoking a hookah and talking to Alice.


    October 6, 2017 at 11:57 AM

  7. This blog earned a Bean Pat as blog pick of the day. Check it out at http://patbean.wordpress.com

    Pat Bean

    October 6, 2017 at 1:28 PM

  8. As caterpillars go – that one is pretty


    October 9, 2017 at 6:25 PM

  9. […] or Chamerion or Epilobium angustifolium). This is the second appearance recently of fireweed in a supporting role with an animal; the prolific plant will eventually appear in its own right. In the meantime, if you want a much […]

  10. That is some handsome caterpillar … with a penchant for purple 😀


    October 14, 2017 at 9:34 PM

  11. […] name would have flowers that look as good—assuming you’re close enough. After one view of wilted flowers and another of fresh ones from a bit of a distance, you’re finally getting a proper look at […]

  12. […] and animals. In one case it was with a bumblebee, in another with a ground squirrel, and the third with a caterpillar. What impressed me about the plant in its own right was its seeds. The reddish seed pods are long […]

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