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There are three species of Death's-head hawk moths, all large (wingspan 9-13 cm; 3.5-5 inches) impressive moths from the genus Acherontia of the sphingid moth family. Acherontia atropos, found throughout Europe and much of Africa, is the best known; the other two species, A. styx and A. lachesis, occur in Asia. The three species have very similar life histories and habits. Death’s head hawk moths all have a pattern on the dorsal side of their thorax that resembles a human skull and thus earns their common name, as well as a cultural association with death. Hawks moths have figured in numerous popular movies, books and superstitions with connections to the occult and death, although they are, in fact, completely harmless. Nectar and sugar eaters, adult moths like honey, and because they produce a scent mimicking the scent of bees, they can climb into hives without alarming the bees inside. Their thick skin also protects them from stings. Unlike the other two species which are more general in types of bees they raid, A. atropos only invades the hives of the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera. Another unusual feature of this moth is that it makes a loud squeaking sound as a protective device if it is threatened.

Acherontia atropos lays single eggs on the bottom side of solenaceous plants, especially potato. They also use plants from families Verbenaceae, Cannabaceae, Oleaceae, as hosts. Caterpillars grow to a maximum of 12-13 cm (4.75-5 inches), and in some instars have various horns on their back and coloration patterns varying between yellow, green and brown. Their large size occasionally makes them a minor pest because they can damage small potato plants.

(Visser 2006; Wikipedia 2011)


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