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The Death's Head Hawk Moth is a very beautiful and unusual insect

Updated on September 11, 2015

Death's Head Hawk photos

Death Head's Hawk Moth
Death Head's Hawk Moth
Death Head's Hawk Moth fully grown caterpillar
Death Head's Hawk Moth fully grown caterpillar
Brown caterpillar
Brown caterpillar
Death's Head Hawk Moth pupa
Death's Head Hawk Moth pupa

The Death Head's Hawk Moth

The Death Head's Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos) is a very large insect in the hawk moth family (Sphingidae) and is a very rare migrant visitor to the UK. It is also regarded as a bad omen because it has a skull marking on its thorax as well as a striped body that can be likened to the ribs of a skeleton.

The caterpillar grows to a very large size and eats a large variety of plants in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae) , the Verbena family (Verbenaceae) and the Bignoniaceae. Among the food plants are the Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium) and other Datura species, the Potato, various species of Nightshade including the Deadly Nightshade (Atropos belladonna), the Lantana or Yellow Sage (Lantana camara) and the Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata).

A rare moth that steals honey and can squeak

The adult moth can squeak and hop about, which adds to its scary reputation as well. The insect was featured in the film Silence of the Lambs starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster

The caterpillar can also make a noise and can bite, although by day it usually prefers to stay quietly hidden on the lower parts of the plant it is eating and doing its feeding under cover of darkness.

There are three colour variations - a green larva, a yellow variety and a brown one. The green and yellow types have conspicuously striped sides and all the caterpillars have a curious bent horn on the tail-end.

When fully grown they pupate under the soil or amongst leaf litter.

The Death Head's Hawk as an adult cannot easily feed on many flowers, because unlike other hawk moths, it has a very short proboscis and so it is forced to rob bee hives for honey, and also sucks the juice of rotten fruit as well as tree sap. It is also known as the Bee-robber and in large numbers can cause a serious problem for bee-keepers whose hives it attacks.

The Death's Head Hawk Moth is found in Africa and the Canary Islands and migrates into the Mediterranean countries, Europe and the UK but it cannot survive winter temperatures below zero so is only found in summer and early autumn.

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    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 7 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Hi Norah! Yes, it sounds like it was Death's Head Hawk. Only you know what its visit meant to you!

    • profile image

      Norah Johnson 8 months ago

      I had a very large Moth visit me on my balcony in Tenerife it was beautiful with a body as big as a mouse it was lost and frantic when I caught it to set it free it sweaqued but I was only helping it on its way . What does its visit to me signify

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for letting me know, Julie! Most moths are pretty tough really... I suppose they have to be!

    • profile image

      Julie Hume 6 years ago

      I think I had a Death's Head Moth in my house last week. When it flew in we thought it was a little bird; it seemed too big to be a moth. Got a picture of it - a little blurry but his eye must be huge because it gleams red in the picture. Never knew you could get red-eye on a bug picture. I'll upload it to my FB account Steve and if you catch it maybe you can confirm whether I was indeed visited by this little harbinger of doom.

      In the end I was able to put the kids fish net over it as it sat on the wall and get it back outside. I was worried that I would have caused it some damage (is it true that if you touch a moth's wing they can no longer fly?) but he was gone by morning so I guess he was alright.

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Hi Emily! I am glad my hub helped identify it!

    • profile image

      emily 7 years ago

      Hello Bard, my student was cutting plants in her garden in La Laguna and she found this enormous brown caterpillar, so I was looking it up and I came across your page :)

      un beso

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Yes, they are! Thank you for posting!

    • erthfrend profile image

      erthfrend 7 years ago from Florida

      Hawk moths are so fascinating. The first time I saw one drinking the nectar from my lantana plant, I thought it was a hummingbird..I found out differently after i uploaded the picture to my computer and got a close up of it. I thought, what the heck is that?! Very interesting article. This type of hawk moth you discussed sounds very unique!

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for posting!

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 8 years ago from Southern California

      Interesting article, but I couldn't look at the pictures, as I'm very squeamish. Thanks for sharing the info.

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, Stars439!

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 8 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Informative Article. God Bless

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      And very rare in the UK! I am glad you got to see one too, Adele!

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile image

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 8 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      I was bringing in the laundry one evening at dusk, and wondered why I'd put three pegs onto one garment. Only when I looked closer, through the deepening night, did I notice it was one of these moths. A gorgeous creature!

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, GPAGE!

    • GPAGE profile image

      GPAGE 8 years ago from California

      COOL HUB! Always love to learn something new. Will send my nephews here to this hub. They love all sorts of INSECTS!!!!!!! G

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, Maggs! Yes, Elephant Hawks are really pretty and quite common still as are Eyed Hawks and Lime Hawks. Elephant Hawk caterpillars sometimes make the news after somebody finds one and wonders what it is!

      One very pretty very large moth that is sadly vanishing is the Garden Tiger. I am not sure why because the woolly bear caterpillars eat all sorts of weeds and garden flowers. I have seen them on Dock, Rhubarb, Nettles, Hollyhock and many other plants.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_tiger_moth

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 8 years ago from Sunny Spain

      What a fascinating hub, the first hawk moth that I saw was an Elephant Hawk moth and until I had seen this moth I had no idea we had such beautiful and large moths in England.

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      The first caterpillar in the pics had eaten a whole datura plant!

    • lxxy profile image

      lxxy 8 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

      It has the audacity to rob bee hives? And in it's catapillar stage it eats members of the deadly nightshade family?

      That is one moth I don't want to get angry, that's for sure.

      Probably not a good idea for creatures to eat it, either.

      They'd probably be subjected to a delerious state..or death.

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am not sure but I think it does it with its proboscis! It is quite loud.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      Very interesting! How does it make its squeak?

    • Bard of Ely profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for your posts, XTASIS and Wesleycox!

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Cool hub, I imagine the fright of finding a moth in the house that is squaking.

    • XTASIS profile image

      XTASIS 8 years ago from The Beginning

      Very interesting !I like moths and butterflies.Not in the stage when they're caterpillars.Thank you !