Death’s head hawkmoth larva a ‘cracking find’

Photo by Barbara Lawrence

Photo by Barbara Lawrence

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This death’s head hawkmoth caterpillar was photographed in Castletown.

Barbara Lawrence, who took the photo, said: ‘It is a very, very rare sight on the Isle of Man.

photo by Ian Scott of the death's head hawkmoth with the skull-like markings on the back of the head

photo by Ian Scott of the death's head hawkmoth with the skull-like markings on the back of the head

‘This one was found in a garden in Castletown by my daughter Becky Taylor.

‘Its Latin name is acherontia atropos.’

The caterpillar was identified by Garry Curtis of Manx Butterfly Conservation.

‘It is a cracking find,’ he said, ‘and in the knowledge that at least one mated female death’s head hawkmoth has reached the island there is the potential for other caterpillars to be found.’

However, neither the caterpillar nor the pupa can survive a British winter and accordingly cannot establish as a resident breeding species.

The island’s moth recorder Ian Scott explained: ‘The death’s head hawkmoth is the largest moth recorded in the British Isles.

‘It is a rare migrant species from Southern Europe normally recorded on the island from August to October, but can be outside these months as well.

‘There have been around 30 previous reported records of the adult moth and larvae across the island since it was first recorded in 1878.

‘It is frequently found as a larvae on potato plants, but can also be found as an adult at bee-hives seeking food. This is not a pest species and as a rare British migrant does not pose any significant risk to either crop or hives.’

He said: ‘The genus was made famous more recently in the film Silence of the Lambs and the moths depicted in the film and in the literature associated to it, such as the posters, were of the European acherontia atropos despite the story referring to the Asian acherontia species – acherontia stix.’

‘The last local record of the species, I hold, was of an adult moth on the October 9, 2006. It was trapped by Doug Allan in Knocksharry,’ added Mr Scott. A photo of this moth (inset above) shows the skull-like markings on the back of the head, which gives rise to the vernacular name of the moth.

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