A Death’s-head Hawk-moth caterpillar Acherontia atropos visits Ashton-under-Hill
I was getting into the car in late afternoon on Tuesday 19th August 2014 when I spotted something large and bright yellow on the drive against the house wall. After checking it out and finding what it was I was tempted to cancel my talk that evening! I left the caterpillar in a container with loose soil and fresh potato leaves overnight.
Over the next two days, in relatively cool daytime temperatures of about 15-18oC, it remained relatively sluggish, but active, and was passive when handled and photographed, but it took no food (01-05).
By the morning of 22nd August it had covered itself with its oily pre-pupation secretion and was very active all the time, and was ‘aggressive’ when handled. I transferred it that day into a deep container with loose soil/compost in which it buried itself within two hours.
The container was kept under shelter outdoors until early October, it was then moved inside to an unheated room where it has remained since. It has only been disturbed twice since August, firstly on 2nd November, when I checked and found it had successfully pupated and was very much alive (06, 07). I checked it again on 2nd March 2015 and it is still fine and active when disturbed, so all I have to do now is wait.
Where the caterpillar had been feeding before I found it is a mystery as there were no reports of decimated potatoes nearby, nor the many wild Solanaceous plants. Finding it away from its food plants is not unusual as many caterpillars move some way from their food plants when they are seeking suitable pupation sites, and this is therefore the time we are most likely to see them.
PS. Overnight on 21 May 2015 exactly nine months after it buried itself on 22 August 2014 the adult emerged See pictures (08-14). Also pictures (16, 17) show the earth cell and the empty pupal case after emergence. It was quite firm but gradually crumbled on handling. The moth flew into the dusk on 26th May 2015 (15)
On 4th August 2014 another Death’s Head Hawk Moth caterpillar found near Worcester was brought to the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s offices at Lowerr Smite Farm near Hindlip north of Worcester. It was slightly injured but Tony Simpson took in into custody. It pupated and the moth emerged on 10th October 2015 (18, 19).
01. Deaths head hawk moth caterpillar. Roger Umpelby.
02. Deaths head hawk moth caterpillar. Roger Umpelby.
03. Deaths head hawk moth caterpillar. Roger Umpelby.
04. Deaths head hawk moth caterpillar. The horn. Roger Umpelby.
05. Deaths head hawk moth caterpillar. The head. Roger Umpelby.
06. Deaths head hawk moth pupa. Roger Umpelby.
07. Deaths head hawk moth pupa. Roger Umpelby.
08. Deaths head Hawkmoth. Roger Umpelby.
09. Deaths head Hawkmoth. Roger Umpelby.
10. Deaths head Hawkmoth adult. Roger Umpelby.
11. Deaths head Hawkmoth. Roger Umpelby.
12. Deaths head hawkmoth. Roger Umpelby.
13. Deaths head hawkmoth. Roger Umpelby.
14. Deaths head hawkmoth. Roger Umpelby.
15. Deaths head Hawkmoth adult ready for take off. Roger Umpelby 26 May 2015.
16. Deaths head Hawkmoth empty pupal case in earth cell. Roger Umpelby.
17. Deaths head Hawkmoth exit hole from earth cell. Roger Umpelby.
18. Death's-head hawk-moth larva near Worcester. Wendy Carter.
19. Deaths-head hawk-moth near Worcester. Wendy Carter.