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11 May 2014

All About The Death's Head Moth.

What is Britain's largest moth, the largest moth in the UK? What does a Death's Head Moth look like? What stories and legends are there concerning Death's Head Moths?


Deaths Head Moth
A print of The Death's Head Moth


I remember once coming back to my clinic on a Sunday morning when I was startled by a strange large insect resting on the wall close to the front door, I was able to recognise it at once due to the skull like markings on its upper thorax, it was a Deaths Head Moth.

This was not a good omen! This striking insect has long been thought to be a harbinger of war, pestilence, and destruction to man and beast alike, it's appearance was thought to be an omen of death in the house it enters.You have probably seen an artistically enhanced version of it on a poster for the film "The Silence of the Lambs", in the same film the pupa of the deaths head moth were placed in the dead victims' mouths by the serial killer.

The Deaths-head Hawk-moths are the largest moths found in the UK however they are very rarely seen as they are chance migrants. The very few that you might see in the wild such as the one I saw will have flown to Britain from Europe or even North Africa in the spring, but they cannot survive our winters and so die out with the first frost. It is so amazing to me that such a small creature can fly many hundreds of miles in it's migrations.

It is unusual not only because of its large size, but also because it flies by day which is not typical of moths and also because it makes noises audible to the human ear. The noises it makes has been described by some as a dismal melancholy cry and like the plaintive squeaking of a mouse.

In Poland, where it is known as the Wandering Death Bird', its cry was heard as a voice of anguish like the moaning of a grief stricken child and this of course further adds to the evil reputation of this sinister looking insect. Another name for this moth is " Bee Robber " as it is said to enter bee hives to feed on the honey and for some reason the bees leave it alone, it is likely though that it can feed from other sources as well.