Gorgeous Mystery Caterpillar
Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 8:49 AM
I found three of these little guys, first they were with blue patterns with black and when i took the pic they were green, i havent seen these guys before or anything like them, they also have a funny little tail, they seem very timid and slow, could you please let me know what they are exactly, and what are their needs?
Durban, South Africa
At first we were going to write back and just say that you found a species of Hawkmoth Caterpillar in the family Sphingidae, commonly called Hornworms because of the caudal horn. When we googled Sphingidae Africa, we quickly found an image of a Death’s Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Acherontia atropos, on a Biodiversity of South Africa website and we feel pretty confident that is your species. The adult moth is pictured on the movie poster of the Academy Award winning Silence of the Lambs and played a role in the narrative of that film. Regarding the derivation of name , according to the Biodiversity website: “The Death’s head hawk moth is so called because of the skull-like pattern on the thorax . As far as the latin name is concerned, according to Pinhey (1975) : ‘Atropos, one of the Fates, was a daughter of Nox and Erebus and was illustrated… with veiled face and a pair of scissors to cut the thread of life. This is the thoracic pattern of a mask with scissors below it. A sinister but undeserved portrait.'” Excellent information and more photos can be found on the Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic website. The downward curve of the horn is distinctive in the mature caterpillar and is evident in one of your photographs. By needs, we are presuming you want to raise the caterpillar to maturity. Your photo of the yellow caterpillar indicates it is mature, or fifth instar and that it will soon pupate. You should continue to feed the Death’s Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar with leaves of the plant on which it was found, and provide it with several inches of loose soil, not too moist and not too dry. The caterpillar will dig into the dirt to pupate. When its metamorphosis is nearly complete, the pupa will wriggle to the surface, the skin will split, and an adult moth or imago will emerge. We would love it if you are able to provide us with images of the adult Death’s Head Hawkmoth.