Thursday, May 2, 2013

Death's-head Hawkmoth

Acherontia lachesis
The common name of today's animal actually can be applied to all three species within the genus Acherontia. One of the three lives in Europe and Africa, while the other two call Asia their home. All are very similar in size and appearance, and all actually are able to mimic the scent of bees so that they can enter hives unnoticed to steal honey-- interesting!

Death's-head Hawkmoths get their ominous sounding names from the human skull-like patterns that are found on the thorax. Because of their appearance they have long been associated with evil and death. Their genus name even derives from the name of a river that is said to be a branch of the river Styx. The three species names-- atropos, styx, lachesis-- all relate to the underworld.

Another feature that has given these insects a creepy reputation? They shriek. When threatened they expel air from their pharynx, created a very eerie high pitched squeaking noise.

The Death's-head Hawkmoth has appeared in art and literature, including the novel Dracula and in works by Poe and Dali. It is also the iconic moth found on the poster for the film The Silence of the Lambs, though the skull on that image is actually a derivation of a Salvador Dali work.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Africa, Europe, Asia
Size : Wingspan up to 5in (13cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Sphingidae -- Genus : Acherontia
Image : Mosmas

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