death's head hawkmothimage credit:
death's head hawkmothimage credit: Igor Siwanowicz, via
death's head hawkmothimage credit: Ryan Brookes, via Flickr
death's head hawkmothimage credit: Westy Esbensen
Habitat: throughout the Middle East & Mediterranean, as far north as southern Great Britain
no conservation concerns

Though the Death’s-head Hawkmoth is completely harmless, it has earned quite the reputation for itself. There are actually 3 species, but the most well known and pictured here is Acherontia atropos. The vaguely skull-shaped pattern on its thorax has struck fear into the hearts of many and there are various superstitions surrounding the moth. You really only have to worry about the Death’s-head Hawkmoth if you’re a honey bee, however. At night the Death’s-head will raid the hives of Western honey bees, being attacked by guard bees at the entrance. It just so happens that it has a thick skin and resistance to bee venom so it is able to wander inside unharmed. Once deep within the hive no one bothers the moth because it actually mimics the scent of the bees! Very sneaky, eh?

You might also remember the Death’s-head Hawkmoth from the popular horror movie The Silence of the Lambs (a personal favorite of mine). The moth was used as the calling card of the serial killer, Buffalo Bill. It’s also featured on the promotional posters for the movie.

silence of the lambs poster“Hello Clarice”

When disturbed, the Death’s-head Hawkmoth tries to deter predators by emitting a loud squeaking noise. It does this by expelling air through its proboscis. It’s rare for a moth to be able to make any sound, let alone one like this!