What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Subject: Creepy Kigali Caterpiller
Location: Kigali, Rwanda
January 29, 2013 6:33 am
What is this? We are american Expats living in Rwanda, the Rwandans were terrified of this thing. I can’t find anything online about it. We have been seeing these in our yard.
Signature: Joe Marlin

Fulvous Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Dear Joe,
This is the Caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae.  Sphinx Caterpillars are commonly called Hornworms.  They are not dangerous.  They are not poisonous and they will not sting nor bite.  We will try to determine the species.

Update:  January 31, 2013
We realized that this is most likely the caterpillar of a Death’s Head Hawkmoth.  You can see some wonderful images on the Natural History Museum website.

Correction Courtesy of Bostjan Dvorak
Subject: Rwanda caterpillar found on 29th January
February 3, 2013 1:52 pm
Dear Bugman, dear Joe,
what an interesting discovery!
This is a caterpillar of Coeleonia fulvinotata. It’s caterpillars look very much like those of Acherontia atropos – in both variations, the yellow blue-striped and the greyish pattern. But in contrary to the death’s head hawkmoth’s larva, this one has a thinner and longer horn, a slightly different shape of lateral stripes – and it will pupate to a thinner pupa with a long curved proboscis case very similar to those in the most american Manduca or the asian Psilogramma species. All the 5 species of the exclusively african genus Coelonia are very similar in shape and colour pattern to the Acherontia as adult moths as well, but they have a very long proboscis and feed from flowers howering above them. (Indeed they look like a combination between a Death’s head and a Convolvulus hawk-moth or a Tobacco hornworm, with their brownish marbled wing pattern and yellow body stripes, and long proboscis; in fact, this is a closely related genus, having evolved from the same ancestor as Acherontia, which developped separately in a very special way, with it’s short proboscis and unusual way of life, specialized on feeding from bee-hives, a unique one among the Sphingidae.) Since the moths of all Coelonia species (like this one: C. fulvinotata, the “Fulvous hawk-moth”) don’t migrate and therefore stay confined to afrotropical areas, they are almost unknown, or at least far less known than the migrating genera Acherontia and Agrius. The similarity of the caterpillars in both known patterns, in Acherontia and Coelonia, is really fascinating, making evident that these shapes and colours are a good condition to survive in their common homeland region…
Please continue with Your fascinating site, presenting these great beings!
Best wishes from Berlin,
Bostjan Dvorak
Signature: Bostjan Dvorak

Thanks for your correction Bostjan.  Do you have a link with an image of the caterpillar?

Thanks for Your answer, Daniel; yes, some of them are here, eg.:
http://www.papillon-poitou-charentes.org/spip.php?page=document&id_document=27170 (Photos taken by Constanza Michelle in Yokadouma, shown on the site Papillons de Poitou-Charentes)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/zimbart/7519943262/ (Photos taken by the botanist Bart Wursten, shown on Flickr)
http://www.insecte.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=87615 (Photos by Sebastien Cally, taken in Madagaskar and showing the other colour pattern, also known in A. atropos)
Best wishes,

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

4 Responses to Fulvous Hawkmoth Caterpillar from Rwanda

  1. Andrew Koros says:

    So, with the correction from Bostjan, do they have toxins if accidentally touched? We have some reports about them in parts of Kenya as dangerous . http://www.allaboutworms.com/killer-caterpillar-in-kenya

    • bugman says:

      The link you provided included the following comment from Bostjan who also frequently comments on our Sphingidae postings: “This is a grown-up caterpillar of the Fulvous hawkmoth, Coelonia fulvinotata, from the Sphingidae family. It cannot sting nor bite and is completely harmless – in spite of its eventually dangerous appearance; most caterpillars of the family Sphingidae have a hornlike ornament on their rear end, and are therefore often called “hornworms”. This is a typical tropical African species, a moth with a very long proboscis, taking nectar from flowers at night and pollinating some rare orchid species; moths from this group are fast-flying animals, active at night, sleeping on walls and tree-trunks at daytime. The caterpillar of the Fulvous hawkmoth can be found on many different plants; it is found as single animal predominantly on wild species – but can also occur on cultivated plants introduced from other families, and is therefore considered as a synanthropic species in some areas. (Yes, the caterpillar may be poisonous, when it feeds on toxic crops like a tomato or potatoe plant – but only if somebody eats it.) It would be very interesting to know about the plant on which You found the caterpillar… Do You have some photos of that yellow flowers? – Many Thanks in advance, and nice wishes from Berlin, Bostjan Dvorak.” We agree with Bostjan. The Fulvous Hawkmoth does not sting nor does it bite. It has no venom nor any urticating hairs, the most frequent way a caterpillar can be dangerous. Many caterpillars absorb toxins from plants that they are feeding upon and it is possible that they might pose a poisoning danger if eaten.

    • Gabi Fuerst says:

      Nothing is dangerous. I have often caterpillars of that hawk moth and the moth self in my compound at mt.kenya area. Here exist many

  2. Andrew Koros says:

    Hello, the claims are made that they were found on Duranta repens ‘Gold mine’ and Duranta erecta, which are popular garden plans in Kenya and East Africa:


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