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The Moth With The Startling Skull

Keeping one’s eyes open is one of the prerequisites for keeping a daily photo blog alive for an uninterrupted 42 months. Like yesterday, when on my way to the car I spotted this amazing Death’s-Head Hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos) outside our front door. Quite suitably, the Spanish call this moth the Esfinge de la muerte (Catalan: Esfinx de la mort), possibly for it belonging to the Sphingidae family and, obviously, referring to the skull-like pattern on the insect’s thorax. I understand this moth is one of the largest one around; it certainly looked biggish when I spotted this male specimen. The moth was dead when I found it.

Wikipedia has us know that the moth ‘has numerous … unusual features. It has the ability to emit a loud squeak if irritated. The sound is produced by expelling air from its proboscis. It often accompanies this sound with flashing its brightly marked abdomen in a further attempt to deter its predators. It is commonly observed raiding beehives for honey at night. Unlike the other species of Acherontia, it only attacks colonies of the well-known Western honey bee, Apis mellifera. It is attacked by guard bees at the entrance, but the thick cuticle and resistance to venom allow it to enter the hive. It is able to move about in hives unmolested because it mimics the scent of the bees‘. Poor old Apis.

You may know this moth with the startling skull from Thomas Harris’s novel and Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s performance on the Big Screen: The Silence Of The Lambs.

The photo (top) was taken in Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: November 15th, 2010. The time was 10:47:54. The photo (centre) was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of flickr and Javier Taibo. The movie poster image was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of Wikipedia and Orion Pictures Corporation. Thank you very much, and

muchas gracias.

2 replies »

  1. Just read your blog about the large moth. We are on holiday here in Mallorca and one turned up in the villa. I don’t think it’s very well but made the noise you describe when we made an attempt to move. I enjoyed the blog – very educational. Thanks!

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November 2010


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