Death Moth: About the Death’s-Head Hawkmoth

October 4, 2022
Death Moth
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Death Moth: -head Hawk-moth is the rebel of the world of moths.The moth was an omen of death since it was large, had a skull-like mark on its chest, and squeaked when afraid.

The Return of the Native, and its presence as a bad love token in William Holman Hunt’s 1851 painting The Hireling Shepherd shows that trouble is coming for the young couple in the picture.

King George III’s erratic behaviour was blamed on the moth. Two enormous moths found in his bedroom in Kew, London, in 1801 reportedly drove him “crazy.”

” When they showed up at Court, it caused quite a stir, and conspiracy theories started up right away. The Death’s-head Hawk-moth doesn’t live in Britain year-round. Its true home is in southern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, where it is warm. Still, it is a great traveller and moves north every year to reach all parts of Europe.

So, this huge moth does live in Britain, and it probably used to be more common there. The caterpillars of the Death’s-head Hawk-moth like to eat the leaves of potatoes, but not the potatoes themselves. Insecticides have probably hurt the Death’s-head Hawk-moth population over the past few decades.

Remember how Buffalo Bill pretends to have a broken arm to get his victim into the back of the van? How about Hannibal Lecter’s brave escape from his jail cell in the courthouse? And the night-vision goggles showdown.

In Buffalo Bill’s basement-cum-dungeon? And while we’re talking about it, didn’t Buffalo Bill’s record collection look pretty good for a movie serial killer? Even if you didn’t notice the great music, you probably remember Bill’s love of collecting insects.

First, though, a few basics

Death Moth

The name “Death Moth” refers to three different bugs: Acherontic Atropos, Acherontic Styx, and Acherontia lachesis. Let’s try to keep track of them. Even though all three belong to the same genus and have the same characteristic skull on their backs, they live in different places.

Unless I say otherwise, I will be talking about the A. Atropos species that has been studied the most.  A. atropos lives in Africa and parts of Europe, while the other two live in Asia.

Some can be found as far north as the UK, but they usually spend the winter in warmer places because the pupae can’t survive a freeze. The wingspan of the death’s-head moth is as wide as 13 cm (A. styxis is the smallest of the three) (over 5 inches). It lives at night, like most other moths, but not all of them. And that’s where the similarities in how they act end and their quirks start.

A life of crime

Many adult Death Moth get the food they need by drinking nectar from flowers, but death’s-head moths prefer to eat honey from beehives. As you might expect, this is a hard job to pull off, but the moths have made some changes to make sure nothing goes wrong.

The body has a thick cuticle that makes it hard for stingers to get through. The moths may also have some resistance to bee venom. Their clawed feet make it easy for them to move around the hive, and their short proboscis is the perfect tool for cutting through honeycomb. But chemicals may be more important than physical tools.

Inside the hive, bees use their sense of smell to find their friends. It has been shown that the death’s-head moth can hide by chemically mimicking the smell of bees (A. Atropos specialises in robbing a particular species of bee, Apis mellifera). So, once they get past the guards on the outside, they don’t run into much trouble. In the past, the death’s-head moth was sometimes called the “bee tiger” because it was mean to bees.

The moths are quiet

When I told my boyfriend about my latest article about lifeforms, he said that our back door “looks like the entrance to Buffalo Bill’s arts and crafts room.” That’s right. There is a moth craze going on outside, which is probably caused by our ridiculously bright outdoor security light.

But when I walk into the house after dark, all I can hear is the sound of wings flapping. Our moths are just regular ones. No one is talking. The death’s-head moth, on the other hand, makes a sound.

Death’s-head moths squeal loudly. They make the noise by pushing air out of their proboscis, which looks like a long nose, through the pharynx, a flap near the opening.

Some scientists have noticed that the noise is similar to a sound that queen bees use to control their workers (specifically to make them stop moving).

The Metamorphosis

In The Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill probably plants Death Moth pupae in his victims to show that they will change from ugly to beautiful, from a common caterpillar to a beautiful winged moth (or maybe a butterfly would have been a better choice?).

But the death’s-dead caterpillar’s last stage, called an instar, is pretty in and of itself. Look at how complicated the blue and green patterns are. Someone should really put a design like this on socks or maybe neckties.

When it’s time to change into an adult, the brightly coloured caterpillar covers itself with a substance that looks like saliva and makes its skin darker. Then it digs a hole in the ground to make a cocoon where it will grow into a moth.

Death Moth caterpillars can grow to be about 12 to 13 cm long, just like the moths. They devour young plants and were popular on potato farms before pesticides were employed.

When scientists at the University of Whales found one of these animals eating their potato experiments in 2003, it was unusual enough to land.

The article shows that the noticeable caterpillar was about the size of a Nokia cell phone from the early 2000s. A comparison device sure to confuse future generations.

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