Cheshire Macro-Moths - Death's-head Hawk-moth

The Death's-head Hawk-moth larva (Acherontia atropos) (Photo by: Steve J. McWilliam) The Death's-head Hawk-moth - Acherontia atropos Linnaeus

Imago / Adult:

The large adult moth (imago) varies between 100 and 135 millimetres in wingspan. The ground colour of the forewings is a deep velvety black whilst the hind wings are a vivid orange-yellow. The English name of the moth is derived from the markings on the back of the thorax which resemble, broadly, a skull although there is some evidence that under UV light this more closely resembles the head of a queen honey bee. The moth is a regular immigrant which used to be moderately common in the county of Cheshire about 100 years ago, the larvae and especially the pupae being found in potato fields by the potato pickers at harvest time. Unfortunately, with the advent of poisonous sprays to combat insect 'pests' on crops this is now a rare event. May to September are the usual months when the moths appear in this country and it is most commonly found along the southern coastal counties although it has turned up over most of Britain.


The large larvae, usually 100 to 125mm in length, are of the normal hawk-moth larval format being large and fat but instead of having the normal hawk-moth larval spike/point/horn/tail at the rear of the body, they have a small yellow or brown lumpy growth. The ground colour of the larva is usually a bright yellow though variants of a yellowish-green, or even a darkish brown do occur. The body of the larva has oblique purplish-grey stripes on the sides and also has spots on the upper surface towards the head-end of the same colour. The spiracles are large and a dark purplish-black in colour.


The foodplants consist of many species of Solanum, especially Potato. In captivity it has been successfully reared through to the adult on Privet (Wild and Garden varieties), on Ash and on Lilac.


The moth does not overwinter in Britain. Our winter climate of cold, and especially damp, kills off any late developing larvae and pupae.












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