What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Yellow caterpillar in South Africa
Mon, Apr 13, 2009 at 10:43 AM
Good day,
A week ago we encountered a big yellow caterpillar in our garden and we have never seen anything like it before. We spotted it walking quite fast across a slab of slate towards a flowerpot.
It is just over 90mm in length. We picked it up and placed it in the garden underneath a bush, where it climbed onto a thin twig (see photo’s – I held a South African R2 coin next to it) and stayed there for the night and following morning. Sometime during the day it disappeared not to be seen again. Could you please help us to identify this creature?
Many thanks
Linda Pollhammer
Boksburg, Gauteng Province, South Africa

Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Hi Linda,
This is the Caterpillar of a Death’s Head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos.  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 d erivation of name , a ccording to the Biodiversity of South Africa 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.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

2 Responses to Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar

  1. Dave says:

    This one is edible too!

    Someone who followed the Doctrine of Signatures might not consider this species edible, but I have documentation of its consumption in West Papua [formerly Irian Jaya, the Indonesian half of New Guinea]. I’ve eaten tomato hornworms, but they were raised on artificial diet and were not tasty.


  2. sleepercell says:

    Hi Bugman,

    I live in Durban in morningside and I have never see this worm but I have seen the moth’s. Please could you mail me if you get any more of these as I would love to take some off your hands mailto://marckruger@ymail.com.


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