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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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