Death's-head Diary

Like many people interested in moths, the Death's-head Hawk-moth is a species that I had always wanted to see.
So when, on August 27th 2005, I received news that a local garden centre had found a large moth that they believed to be this species I wasted no time in getting there. It appeared that a pupa had been inadvertently imported from Italy buried in the soil of a potted shrub and the moth had probably emerged during the previous night. It had climbed the trunk of the shrub and was still drying it's wings amongst the foliage when it was found.

I was very pleased to confirm the staff's initial identification - the moth was an immaculate, freshly-emerged male - and I brought the specimen back home to photograph it. Although fairly docile whilst being photographed, it did demonstrate the classic 'squeaking' noise that the species if famous for - as well as 'fending off' approaching objects with it's front legs when being positioned for photos, which was quite a surprise!

Coincidentally, I had already ordered some Death's-head eggs from a commercial supplier and some larvae from another breeder. These all arrived a few days later. The idea was to photograph the caterpillars as each instar developed, then the pupa and the resultant adults.

All the larvae were reared on privet leaves and grew rapidly to enormous size but the two batches showed considerable differences in colour. The ones supplied to me as larvae were all the 'normal' colouration except two - one was the yellow form and the other an example of the rare green morph. The larvae from the batch supplied as ova were mostly of the less common brown form with just a single 'normal' example.

All the larvae from both batches successfully reached full size. They then coated themselves with saliva and left the foodplant, burying themselves to pupate. The pupae took 4-6 weeks to emerge.

Click here for images of Death's-head Hawk-moth   Click on the thumbnail image (left) to return to the main Death's-head Hawk-moth page.

Keith Tailby - 2005