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The largest moth that is acknowledged in the British Isle is the death's-head hawkmoth. Yes, it is real! The popularity of this moth is extended to popular culture in form of films and literature. The well-known movie 'Silence of the lambs' has incorporated death's-head hawkmoth as a crucial element. It made an appearance in Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula' as an allusion to death, hunger, and catastrophe, in Thomas Hardy’s 'Return of the native', and in Keats 'Ode to Melancholy'. The death's-head hawkmoth comprises of three species the African death's-head hawkmoth, the lesser-death's-head Hawkmoth, and the greater death's-head hawkmoth. These species can be found in Asia, Europe, and Africa and are recognized for their extraordinary skull-like pattern on their thorax primarily related to the bad omen. Out of the three species, the Acherontia atropos is the largest of all. The death's-head hawkmoths possess the capability to produce a squeaking sound like the bees that occur due to exhalation when their flaps are open.
Are you already intrigued? Then keep reading this article as interesting facts about the death’s-head hawkmoths are stated below.
One of the most prominent genera of moths that are recognized for its incredible skull-like pattern is the Acherontia death's-head hawkmoth which has three moth species Acherontia atropos, Acherontia styx, and Acherontia lachesis.
The death’s-head hawkmoths belong to the class of Insecta, the family Sphingidae, and the genus Acherontia. The genus Acherontia has three moth species Acherontia atropos, Acherontia styx, Acherontia lachesis. While the A. atropos, A. styx do not have any subspecies, the A. lachesis has two subspecies A. lachesis lachesis and Acherontia lachesis diehli.
The total number of death's-head hawkmoths present in the world is currently not known.
The three distinctive subspecies have different geographical distribution range. The A. atropos primarily inhabits the regions of the Middle East, Mediterranean, the major part of Africa, the western part of Saudi Arabia, India, Azores, Canary Islands and migrates towards the south of Great Britain and other countries of Europe. The A. styx can be found in Asia particularly the eastern continental region. It can also be discovered in Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Suadi Arabia, Iran, Israel, and Jordan. The A. lachesis inhabits largely in India, Nepal, Pakistan, the complete Oriental region, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
There is no definite death's-head hawkmoth habitat, however, these moths are predominantly found in gardens, potato fields, and allotments.
Moths are not absolutely social like bees. However, whether the death's-head hawkmoths are solitary or not is not stated.
The entire lifecycle of the death’s-head moth is incredibly small and they hardly live more than six weeks.
The entire reproduction process of the death's-head hawkmoth has not been documented elaborately. The method of reproduction is sexual. After copulating successfully, the death's-head hawkmoth eggs are laid beneath the leaves of potato plants and other nightshades. The larvae possess a posterior horn. The larvae after being hatched have to go through distinct phases of growth where various changes can be observed like the modification of its tail horn from black to yellow. The larvae are harmless and click their mandibles when threatened. After growing approximately 5-5.1 in (12-13 cm ), they pupate in the chambers under the ground for a month. Metamorphosis is complete when they turn into adult moths.
The conservation status of Acherontia is Not Listed under the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature or the IUCN.
The three species of death’s-head hawk are large moths with an average length of 3.5-5 in (9-13 cm). The largest of them is the A. atropos with an approximate wingspan of 5 in (13 cm). The death’s-head moth begins their life as a larva which can be grayish-blue or green. After the larval phase, it converts into a caterpillar, and gradually the bright color of its body gets darker after feeding. The caterpillars undergo the process of pupation where they pupate in the underground chambers. The pupa is lustrous and smooth and it takes around one month to convert into an adult moth. Adult moths are big with a skull pattern on their thorax that has been adapted in the official poster of 'Silence of the lambs'. This pattern of the skull is associated with a bad omen. They have a mottled appearance with pale and dark brown wings.
The caterpillars of this species are extremely cute, they are small and green, unable to cause any potential harm to humans as they can only click their mandibles when threatened. Adult moths have a different appearance and may not be contemplated as cute because they are associated with death and catastrophe.
Just like the queen bee, the death’s-head hawk species can generate a squeak-like noise as a response stimulus. However, the exact purpose of this squeaking sound is still uncertain.
The death’s-head hawk is a large moth with a skull pattern on its thorax, the approximate size is 3.5-5 in (9-13 cm). They are bigger than the white-lined sphinx which has a wingspan of 2-3 in (5-8 cm).
The death's-head hawkmoth is the fastest species of moth that can fly in the air at a speed of 30 mph (48 kph).
The weight of these moths is not known yet.
There are no specific names for male and female death's-head hawkmoth.
The female lays eggs under the leaves of potato plants or other nightshades. The death's-head hawkmoths have specific phases. They are called larvae initially, then caterpillar, then the pupa, and finally the adult moth.
The diet of the caterpillar consists of potatoes, and a variety of deadly nightshade while the adult survives on nectar and honey. The adults infiltrate the beehives and consume honey directly without being detected by the bees.
No, be it the death's-head hawkmoth caterpillar or the adult, it does not possess any potential danger to humans, just like a peppered moth.
In 'Silence of the Lambs', we have witnessed the killer harvesting these moths. However, it is not known whether keeping them in captivity is a good suggestion or not.
The species A. atropos is named after the goddess Atropos who was one of the three Morai. The three Morai were the goddesses of fate and destiny.
The genus Acherontia is named after the river Acheron which is in Epirus.
The death's-head hawkmoths have been adapted as an allusion in various literary works of Hardy, Keats, and even in Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula'. They are especially associated with catastrophe, death, commotion, and bad omen as depicted in the film 'Silence of the Lambs' where the moths were harvested by the serial killer.
The most unique feature is the skull pattern on the thorax of the death's-head hawkmoth. The common moth doesn’t exhibit such a unique feature. The death's-head hawkmoth species can generate a squeaking noise by exhalation which is very similar to the sound of the queen bee which cannot be observed in other moths. The death's-head hawkmoth also possesses the ability to infiltrate the hives of the honey bees and consume honey directly from the comb which common moths cannot. However, the actual explanation behind this phenomenon of the death’s-head moth infiltrating the hives without getting stung is still not clarified.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these rosy maple moth facts and plume moth facts pages.
You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable death's-head hawkmoth coloring pages.
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