Lepidoptera The Death’s-head Hawk Moth – Acherontia Atropos

Our first example of the Sphinges is the beautiful Death’s-Head Hawk Moth-an insect that often attains a breadth of five inches from tip to tip when the wings are fully expanded. Its popular title has been applied on account of the peculiar markings of the thorax, which are said to resemble a human skull; and this feature has certainly some connection with the superstitious beliefs of ignorant country folk concerning this moth. But this characteristic is probably not the only one that has caused the creature to be regarded with superstitious alarm. Both its superior dimensions and nocturnal habits serve to intensify the unfounded fear; but, what is particularly striking and unique about it is its power of uttering a squeaking sound, which it does when disturbed. Even the earlier stages of the insect possess this strange power. The caterpillar makes a peculiar snapping noise when irritated, and the chrysalis has been observed to squeak shortly before the emergence of the perfect form.

The fore wings of this moth are of a very rich dark brown, beautifully mottled with lighter tawny shades, and with a small but conspicuous yellow dot near the centre. The hind wings are yellow, with a black band and margin; and the body is yellow, with six broad black bands, and six large blue spots down the middle.

The Death's-Head Hawk MothFig. 97.-The Death's-Head Hawk Moth.

The moth is rather widely distributed, and even common in some parts, but is not nearly so often met with as the larva. It is on the wing during August and September.

It is probable that the reader will never have an opportunity of capturing the perfect form of this remarkable species, but he may with a little perseverance obtain some caterpillars and rear them. These larva feed on the potato, the deadly nightshade (Atropa Belladonna), and the woody nightshade (Solanum Dulcamara); and they are well known to potato growers in some parts of the country.

The colour of the caterpillar is generally pale yellow, with numerous small black dots, and seven oblique violet stripes on each side. The horn is yellowish and rough, and is bent downward, but recurved again at the tip.

It feeds during the night, and remains hidden throughout the daytime. In August it is fully grown, and then retires into the ground to undergo its transformations.

The Moth Larva of Atropos Fig. 98.-The Larva of Atropos.