What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Death Hawk Moth Caterpillar in Johannesurg South Africa
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
December 9, 2010 2:49 am
I noticed that you had a picture and confirmed siting of this caterpillar in Durban South Africa about 600km away from were mine was found.
I only have one specimen. It’s getting close to pupation. It’s living off my Jasmine plant.
How widespread is the Death Mask Hawk Moth in South Africa? (That is what is its range?) I’m sure the Hawkmoth is not endemic to SA – where did it come from and how long has it been in the country?
I note you asked your previous correspondent from Durban to take pictures of the moth. Any advice on how to do this – simply I understand the caterpillar will bury itself and I’m scared I’ll lose the pupae. How long before the moth appears?
I really hope you can assist me with this – it’s the most exciting piece of nature in my garden in a long time.
Signature: Martin

Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Hi Martin,
WE are always thrilled to be able to write about the Death’s Head Hawkmoth and its beautiful caterpillar.  According to the Biodiversity of South Africa website, of the three known species in the genus
Acherontia that are all commonly called the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, the species found in South Africa is Acherontia atropos.  The distribution is described as:  “Found throughout Africa, Madagascar and most of Europe. A slightly different form, regarded by some as a separate species, is found throughout Asia.”  The Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic website has much information, but alas, there is no map. For some unknown reason, the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic website does have a distribution map that indicates the species may be found  in southern Africa, but we do not understand the difference between the green dots and the blue dots.  South Africa does seem to be considered part of the range of the species.  There is generally a period of several weeks spent in the pupal stage though that would vary with the severity of the winter.  We cannot say for certain when the adult moth will emerge.

Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Thank you so much for your prompt reply.
Much appreciated – I’ve been doing a bit more research  and it looks like the pupal stage can be as short as two weeks – that is South Africa is currently in summer and if there is a chance of a second cycle in the season the Death’s Head Hawkmoth may use the opportunity.
Really hoping to get pictures of the moth.
Thanks again

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: Africa

46 Responses to Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar in South Africa

  1. Chrissie says:

    Hello There
    We live in Dubai and my son found a Death’s Heath Hawkmoth caterpillar on our back step under our Jasmine plant.
    As we have many birds and cats in our neighbourhood we placed it in a big vented jar with Jasmine leaves so that we could find out more about it. I have today transferred it to a fresh jar with a dry sand/soil mixture and damp Jasmine leaves and it immediately buried itself, I’m guessing to start pupating. My question is, how will I know when it is ready to emerge? I would love to set up a time lapse camera to capture the moments. Any advice please?
    Yours sincerely Chrissie

    • bugman says:

      Sorry, we cannot say how long it will take the Death’s Head Hawkmoth to eclose. We suspect temperature and other conditions like humidity might play a factor.

  2. michelle says:

    is a deaths head hawk worn caterpiller poisonous

  3. marc Potgieter says:

    I just found one in my garden today 12:04 Sunday 26 May 2013 . I live in Bryanston, in Gauteng, South Africa. He was about 6cm long and well fed. Very lethargic so maybe about to change.

  4. Ilona Turner says:

    Hi we found one today in our garden Monday 15 July 2013 we are in Roodekrans, Gauteng, South Africa what a beautiful creature.

  5. Peter says:

    My sons found one on 28 Nov 2013 in Honeydew, Johannesburg.

  6. Elna van Wyk de Vries says:

    I found a DHH caterpillar in my garden in Centurion, South Africa, needless to say I first thought the grandchildren threw a toy into my plants, and then I freaked out!!!!!! The date 19 April 2014

  7. Stephen Naude says:

    Found one in my driveway yesterday, easily about 6 to 7 cm…very thick, over a centimetre. We are in Alberton, Gauteng. I have some pictures if you want.

  8. Verity says:

    I found a beautiful one today in Garsfontein Pretoria. Never seen anything like it – very exciting ..

  9. Gerhard Fourie says:

    My wife found one in our garden in Windhoek, Namibia. First time we have ever come accross anything like this!

  10. eric says:

    Hi all just found a deathshead hawkmoth caterpillar in my allotment on my spuds in sunny devon uk!! About 3 inches long , beautiful yellow with silver stripes and a little tail. The beauti of nature , regards eric.

  11. Bob says:

    We live in Portugal and have just found the brown bodied white faced specimen on a climbing plant by the Villa wall. It is about 8cms long and not very active. Should we remove it with some of the vine to a plant pot so that it can pupate? The ground below where it is gets very wet over the coming months. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you. Bob

    • bugman says:

      We believe the pre-pupal caterpillar will choose an appropriate place to pupate. If you do decide on relocation, include the necessary food plant.

  12. Bethany says:

    I found one in my garden in Despatch (Port Elizabeth) South Africa. It’s Dec 7th and he’s huge! Going to keep him until he pupates, take a picture and then set him free!

  13. Matthew says:

    I found one today on my jasmine plant, in Linmeyer, Johannesburg south. I have put it in a spare arboreal tarantula tank I have, and brought it indoors before a mynah bird eats it up. It is in a warm space, with my tarantulas. I want to watch it pupate. I have seen several death’s head hawk moths, and several other species of hawk moth quite frequently. Often the cats catch them in, and if they are badly injured, end up as tarantula food. Once this one pupates and hatches, I will be releasing it again.

    • bugman says:

      If you take an photos, we would love to have them submitted.

      • louis alberts says:

        found a dhhm in.my home centurion today. are they protected. i have never seen this before in 60 years.

      • Thelma Larsen says:

        I am from Germiston in Gauteng. I unfortunately found a huge caterpillar in my swimming pool. By the time i got it out, it was too late to save it. I am going to look and see if i can see any more in my back garden. This one was black (more than likely because it was dead), but it had the definite yellow tail and you can see spots on its sides. It was about 15cm long and about 2cm in diameter. I could not believe the size of this caterpillar.

  14. Janelle says:

    HI there, I found not 1 but 3 DHH caterpillars on my lavender plant in my garden! Very exciting. Hoping they will stay so that we can see the moths. This is in Durban North, KZN, South Africa. Let me know if you would photos of them.

  15. Matthew says:

    Mine was in it’s enclosure for about 3 days, when it burrowed to the bottom of the peat and pupated. I am keeping the humidity constant and am keeping it at about 22deg daytime and 15deg nights. Are these temps okay, and do you have any idea how long it could take to emerge in these conditions?

  16. Jared Donaldson says:

    Hi my name is Jared Donaldson and I am 5 years old. My nana found a DHH in our garden today 4 June 2015. Mom and dad say I can take it to school tomorrow to show my teacher and friends but only if I am super careful with a “creature of God”. Please could you help me with what I need to buy for my old fish tank(substrate) forthe DHH to grow into a moth. Written verbatim by my dad.

  17. Andrea says:

    just had a DHH moth fly into our house in centurion. Biggest moth I have ever seen!!!

  18. Hilda Moll says:

    I found a huge DH in the garden in Montagu, Western Cape, kept it with some leaves overnight in an ice cream container with vent holes, but felt sorry for it and have just set it free, onto the same tree where I found it, scuttled away into the undergrowth eventually, maybe too hot at 5.30pm in Montagu. OK, I won’t see the moth but at least I gave it it’s freedom. I measured 9cm, it was really huge with all these psychedelic stripes, too beautiful to keep in captivity.

  19. Anita Jordaan says:

    Hi I found one this morning on my basilplant only the stalks leftA truely a magnificent creature it is about 5-6inches long.I live in PAROW NORTH CAPE TOWN

  20. Marcella Otridge says:

    Hello I live in Douglasdale , Gauteng, South Africa and found a DHHM on a plant near the veranda. Very beautiful but not at all active, maybe about to pubate? Would love to witness this. We have remarked that for the first time ever we have a number of really large moths flying about – will try and study them to see if they are in fact DHHMs.

  21. carol says:

    Two days ago found the brown version with white head on the Jasmine plant in my garden. Absolutely huge about 5 inches long and an inch thick. Very immobile.

  22. carol says:

    The hawkmoth caterpillar was found in Parkhurst, Johannesburg.

  23. Christine Mansfield says:

    We live in Weltevreden Park, Johannesburg. We found a Death Head Hawkmoth caterpillar in our garden. We could not find the plant that it was eating from. Our cats kept on playing with it. We are concerned as we don’t know what it eats. After researching on the various websites we have put it at the back of our garden on a tomato plant. Have we done the right thing?

  24. Juanne L says:

    I found the yellow one on my wall in my backyard today. Very pretty and huge. Took a photo. A friend of mine in America ID it for me. I am staying in Annlin in Pretoria. Tnx for the info.

  25. Gail Kohler says:

    I am trying to identify the caterpillar found in Argentina. There is a video online and on Rumble. I agree it is a Hawk Moth but what species of Hawk Moth is it? The only ones I can find originate in Europe (England) and Africa. But no mention of Argentina, South America.

    • bugman says:

      Hawkmoths from the family Sphingidae are found on all continents, except possibly Antarctica. You can try searching under Argentina on Sphingidae of the Americas.

      • Gail Kohler says:

        Thank you I will try that. I didn’t expect a reply this soon, if at all. Thank you for responding so quickly. A lot of these types of web sites go unchecked, so I was indeed very surprised! I wanted to add to my description of the caterpillar that it also had what I describe as a blinking hole on the top at one end. It also had a scaled type skin like a snake. I am going to try the link and info that you provided but if the added info I provided rings a bell for you could you please let me know? Thanks again!

  26. Shawn says:

    Recently we trimmed our lavender bush and brought it inside, the table where we chose to display some of the lavender branch soon became spotted with small lumps I recognised it as caterpillar poo having had silkworms as a kid and we found 5 large caterpillars on the plants. They froze up when I moved them. The largest one bit me, hurt more than I expected. I put them back on the lavender plant and have been monitoring them. There us 7 in total. 2 are a brownish black colour with white heads. The biggest was the yellow bugger who bit me, 13cm and super fat. They actually blend very well into the lavender bush despite their alarming size and colour. They have been steadily vanishing only the smaller ones are left now, small as in 10 to 11cm, I was confused and a little stressed when I couldn’t locate their cocoons but I’ve just now read they bury themselves so I’m glad. They really seemed to love the lavender bush. They doubled in size from when I first found them rather quickly. I took lots of pictures i dont know how to post. I am looking forward to seeing the moths.

  27. Hettie van wyk says:

    Found Death head hawkmoth catterpillar on my grass. Endicott Gauteng 13.04.2018

  28. stantons@global.co.za says:

    I found such a caterpillar (big fat brown segments, with arrow marks on its back, four white spots for a face and a speckled white tail) in my garden in Dainfern on 25 March 2019. It was lying on the ground, looking for all the world like a dog’s dropping, and then started to burrow its face into the soil. It rubbed its body to and fro, to form a furrow in the ground for its body. The spot it chose is close to the fence where my dogs like to run and bark. How should I protect this caterpillar in its pupa stage? Also, when might I expect it to emerge, so that I can see the moth?

  29. Andiswa says:

    I found one DHH at our school, in Gugulethu (Cape Town) 06 May 2019 at 13:56, no one knew what it was, we watched it for a good 20 minutes… we took a pic…

  30. Brian says:

    just found a DHHm in garden in Benoni Nov2019. Got pics was bright green about 6/7cm long and fat..it had attitude

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