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Death’s-head Hawk Moth (Acherontia Atropos)

Wild Death’s Head Hawk Moth larvae resting on potato plant. Allotment - Eastleigh, Hampshire, UK. 02/09/84

I always wanted to find a Deaths Head hawk moth in the wild but never thought I would be lucky enough until my Father handed me a full-grown caterpillar found at a local allotment. I knew there would be at least three caterpillars feeding so we returned to where the caterpillar was found and searched for more. I found another large larvae resting on top of a large pile of potato leaves which were just going to be burnt. I then went through a patch of growing potato leaves looking for the large droppings on the bare earth as I knew the caterpillar would be difficult to find and was soon rewarded with a full-grown caterpillar well camouflaged against the potato leaves. I decided to take a few pictures of the caterpillar in its wild environment before taking it home. In captivity they can be reared on Privet I reared the larvae which were very healthy changing into very large pupae. As the deaths head has a famous reputation for invading old fashion type bee hives for the honey I borrowed a honeycomb from a beekeeper friend for my photography. The moth can squeak, this might be used to pacify the bees and it is believed it can mimic the bees scent. As soon as I placed one of the newly hatched moths onto the honeycomb it started to squeak it then uncoiled its short dagger-like tongue (proboscis) adapted for breaking through the honeycomb cells and drank from one cell to the next. The moth on the honeycomb made a great composition for my photography when freshly emerged the face or skull markings on the moths thorax near its head from which it gets its name is quite striking to see. When handled or together in a cage the moths squeak quite loudly. The Deaths Head hawk moth can be bought and reared easily and is highly recommended; now entomologist knows how to breed them.

Andy Newman Images©

Interesting email with pictures of a Deaths Head Hawk moth Larvae found in Dubai, 07/05/13.

As always I did answer with advice.

Hello Andy

I hope you won’t mind me contacting you like this, but I’m somewhat stumped. I came across your pages while searching how to look after a Death’s Head Hawk Moth caterpillar. I was very excited to see that you have successfully raised Death’s Head Hawk Moths and I wondered if you could please give me a few pointers. We live in Dubai and my 9-year-old son found the caterpillar on our back step under our Jasmine plant. I have attached a couple of photos of the little beastie. As we have a lot of birds and cats in our compound we placed it in a jar with Jasmine leaves while found out what we needed to do. Today I transferred it to a new large ventilated jar half filled with dry sandy soil and fresh damp Jasmine leaves. It immediately buried itself, so I’m guessing its ready to pupate. In my research so far I have not been able to find out how long its likely to take before it emerges as a moth. When it does, I would like to be able to film it or take time-lapse photos.

 Do you have any advice please on what I need to do now? Its buried, so I can’t see it anymore, and I wonder if I need to remove it from the soil when it becomes a chrysalis? Or what?

Yours hoping you can help

Chrissie Ryder

Dubai UAE

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Wild Deaths Head Hawk Moth, location Dubai.

Another email with picures of a Deaths Head Hawk moth Larvae found in Spain, 25/10/13.

I hope you can help me. I live in Southern Spain and we are fortunate enough to have about 5 Deathshead Hawk Moth Caterpillars munching their way through my Jasmine. My husband, children and I are keen to follow them through their full cycle and were wondering if you could offer any advice on how to best to look after them. I have attached some pictures, one of them is particularly interesting because it's brown which I understand is a rare mutation. I look forward to your reply

Kind Regards. Becky Kitchen, Los Alpujarras, Spain

My Reply. -

Hi Rebecca - You are lucky they are only visitors in our country, I will show you email and pictures on my website if that is ok, not for sale. I have never seen a brown caterpillar before. I know it might not be possible but the caterpillars should be protected with a sleeve of black netting or even white curtain or parasitic wasps will find them. When fully grown they will change to a darker colour before looking for earth to pupate into. This is the stage they wander about and when they get picked up by birds, etc. You will need a strong box with earth or peat without fertilizer for them to burrow into. When they first change to pupae they are very soft and fragile and should not be moved, I leave my hawk moths for a few weeks but I do remember my Deaths Head metamorphosis to be quicker than I expected. I carefully remove the pupae to a netted cage can be bought from eBay or made easily. Lightly spray around the pupae regularly with water, they will be a large pupae and will turn soft before hatching and you might be able to see the shape of wings inside developing. Don't forget to have sticks or netting for the freshly emerged moth to climb and expand their wings. I have reared not bred this species before so I am sending you an interesting link from LBA.

 

http://www.lba.uk.com/Rearing-Acherontia-atropos_ASZNH.aspx

This is a very large and beautiful moth and well worth the trouble. Hope this is of some help to you and good luck. 

Kind Regards

Andy

Hi Andy

Thank you so much for replying. Please feel free to use the photos as you wish.

We hunted for a few days to find the caterpillars and were worried they had already gone to ground. After giving up on them one of my sons found our brown 'mutant' wondering past the front door, I didn't have a box prepared for it so we quickly popped it into a pot growing parsley where it quickly buried itself. The next day we found one crawling along our sofa! No idea how it managed to get inside the house, but it too is now safely tucked up in another pot. So now we are playing the waiting game (Whilst my husband makes a cage for them to be transferred into).

We are hoping the remaining 3 are safely underground too.

Thank you once again for your advice.

Best Regards

Rebecca

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Wild Deaths Head Hawk Moth, location Southern Spain.