The Bug Box: Death’s head hawk moth

Wayne Jones


This bug is creeping around your property. He may be friend or foe.

Name: Acherontia atropos

Alias: Death’s head hawk moth. This rather interesting insect is closely related to the sphinx moth in our area. It is a very large moth with a wingspan of up to about 5 inches. The caterpillars also reach that length. Most hawk moths feed on nectar from flowers. The death’s head hawk moth has its mouthpart partly attached to its body so it cannot probe deeply into flowers to feed on the nectar. Instead, they feed on sap from trees. They will also enter bee hives and feed on the honey. Because of its association with bees, it is known in some parts of Britain as the bee robber. It can produce a loud shrill squeak by forcing air out of its proboscis. This somehow subdues and controls worker bees whose honey it is robbing. It is also able to give off pheromones that make it seem like it is not an intruder to the hive. The larvae feed on a number of plant species, including those in the potato family and cannabis. The larvae are able to make a noise similar to the sound of a spark by rubbing its mandibles together when it is handled. After the larvae mature, they pupate in the soil. Just before emerging the adults make a hissing sound. When handled, adults produce a loud shrill squeak. There are about two generations a year.

Crimes: It feeds on several crop plants but seldom causes economic injury as numbers seldom build to damaging levels.

Redeeming Qualities: This would be a fascinating specimen to add to any insect collection.

Sentence: Chances are you will not run across this particular species unless you travel to Europe. It is easily controlled and has several natural predators.

For more information on dangerous and beneficial bugs, call agent Wayne Jones at the Bonneville County Extension Office at 208-529-1390.