Thursday, 18 September 2008

Shock Horror Cannibal Moth Drama

Sorry, I've been a bit busy this morning and it was too cold to trap last night. But Lo, my colleague Jeevan Vasagar has come to the rescue. He's one of the News Editors steering the mighty ship Guardian at Farringdon Road, where interest in moths is commendably intense. He's just emailed me the following, which I print verbatim, if only to give you a taste of exciting news agency style.
I'm extremely jealous of mum-of-three Amanda Chittock. The Death's Head Hawk Moth is very high on my wish list, and to breed one from a caterpillar would be excellent indeed. Observe the pixies of both, above, courtesy of and Btw observe also, that I have discovered at last how to do italic and bold. Respect! Anyway, here we go...
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Rare monster caterpillars made famous by horror film The Silence of the Lambs have been found in a country garden.The two giant 6 inch-long Death's Head Hawk moth caterpillars were spotted by mum-of-three Amanda Chittock on a jasmine bush by her front door.
The strange-looking caterpillars, which have been nicknamed Hannibal and Lecter, are one of Europe's rarest breeds and only one moth has been seen in England this year. "It's a very exciting find. They are infrequent immigrants to the UK and very impressive beasts,"said Mark Parsons, head of moth conservation at Butterfly Conservation. "They are immigrants to the UK and don't usually survive as they need warmer weather."
The bright yellow and blue caterpillars, which usually feeds on potato plants, deadly nightshade and honey, are normally found more than 1,000 miles away in southern Europe and northern Africa. Mum-of-three Amanda, who lives in Rayne, Essex, has now given the rare creatures to her brother Paul Dawson, 38, who hopes they will hatch.
"They are the biggest caterpillars I have ever seen and have some really amazing markings," said Paul, a vehicle technician in Great Dunmow, Essex. "My sister was worried they would get eaten by a bird if she left them outside so we phoned a moth specialist to get some advice. I couldn't believe it when he said they were rare hawk moth caterpillars and that he had never seen them before. He was very excited.
"One of the caterpillars has now started to bury itself in dirt and hopefully it will hatch next spring." Adult moths, which can develop a seven-inch wingspan, have been spotted in Britian before, but the larvae, which can be yellow or green, have rarely been seen here. They pupate by burying themselves in soil and hatch some moths later as a spectacular moth.
Mark Parsons added: "Historically they have been found in Britain in greater numbers than in recent years. "In this case an adult female must have travelled here earlier in the year and laid eggs. The pupae need to be kept warm and there is a pretty good chance of them hatching next spring. They are marvellous creatures and it's a very lucky find."
According to superstition, the death's head hawk moth, Acherontia atropos, which has skull and crossbones markings on the back of the adult moth~s head and a loud squeak, was a harbinger of death, war and disease. In Europe its appearance in a candlelit room was considered an omen of death.
In France, dust from its wings was thought to cause blindness and in Poland, its strange cry was thought to be the moaning of a grief-stricken child. It is best known for featuring in the Oscar-winning flim Silence of the Lambs, when serial killer Hannibal Lecter, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, leaves the pupae of death's head hawk moths in the mouths of his victims.
An image of the moths was on all the promotional pictures.


Christine Alvin said...

This reminds me of about thirty years ago (and given the state of my memory, that shows how dramatic it was), when I encountered a Puss Moth caterpillar on our front door frame. It reared up and spat acid, and I think my scream must have been heard over quite some distance. However, once recovered, we - small daughter and I - found out what it was, and put it on the willow tree in the garden from whence it proably came. Later it pupated, and we kept it over winter until it developed into a large but undramatic moth. I've never seen one since then, but I suspect my reaction would be similar even now. But our daughter is well-trained in identifying creepy-crawlies and is passing the interest on to her daughters. That's genetics for you. Calvin

MartinWainwright said...

I have always wanted to find a Puss Moth caterpillar. And for that matter, one of the Lobster Moth's too. But hawk moth caterpillars are pretty good and if you search Willow Herb at the right time (which I can't remember off the cuff, alas), you have a good chance of finding Elephant Hawk ones.