Geographic location of the bug: Central Switzerland
Time: 10:14 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: We build cedar greenhouses with wood imported from Canada via England. A customer found this beautiful creature and we would like to know where he came from and how to care for him.
How you want your letter signed: best regards : David
We are very confident this Death’s Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar, Acherontia atropos, did not come from Canada, and though it is possible it might have come from England, chances are better it originated in Switzerland. According to Breeding Butterflies: “Originating from the continent of Africa and parts South-Europe (Kreta, Greece, Spain) the deathshead hawkmoth is a large species of hawkmoth that prefers warmer climates. Interestingly, the moths are excellent migrants and can be found migrating all the way from Africa to North Europe and Russia, where they are spotted in countries such as France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe/Balkan, and Russia. Here they are also able to reproduce themselves here during the warmer months of summer and autumn – the larvae are sometimes found on potato, nightshade or privet – but interestingly they are unable to survive the cold winters of Central and Northern Europe. This means that every winter, their remaining populations in these parts of the world are systematically wiped out as most moths and larvae succumb and die in the cold weather. The populations in Greece, Spain and the continent of Africa are able to survive and often repopulate Central and Northern Europe again after migrating there in summer.” According to UK Moths: “The largest moth to appear in Britain, sporting a wingspan of up to 12 or 13cm, this is a striking species, though it is not native. Immigrants arrive from southern Europe, usually several in each year, during late summer and autumn.” Minden Pictures has an image of a caterpillar taken in Switzerland. We believe this individual hatched from an egg laid by a female Death’s Head Hawkmoth that flew north to Switzerland from a warmer, southern climate, and if Breeding Butterflies is to believed, it will not survive so far north to provide a future generation, unless of course global warming has affected the climate in Switzerland enough to allow future generations to survive. It is also possible that a generation might survive in the climate control of your greenhouse. Food plants are listed on Breeding Butterflies: “Their host plants consist of a large selection of nightshades (Solanaceae) – among which are potato, tomato, tabacco, deadly nightshade and many more. Apart from nightshade they also feed on plants from the olive family (Oleaceae) including privet, ash tree, jasmin, lilac and more. They have also been reported to feed on cannabis and sometimes oleander. In the wild, larvae are most frequently found on Ligustrum, Fraxinus, Solanum sp. (potato and tomato are very suitable), generally Oleaceae and Solanaceae. Also reported on Cannabis and Buddleia and are renowned for being able to feed on the more toxic kinds of nightshade.” Your individual might not be interested in eating. It might be ready to pupate.