Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar in Portugal

unidentified giant caterpillar
Location:  Portugal
August 16, 2010 3:08 am
Hi bugman
my parents found this in their garden in portugal. we can’t identify it – can you? thanks ever so much

Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Hi Kate,
This appears to be a Death’s Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar,
Acherontia atropos.  According to the Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic website, the caterpillar is:  “Polymorphic, with a distinctly granulose yellow or light brown, downward-curving, S-shaped horn. Bears pronounced bi-coloured oblique lateral stripes and dorsal spots in the final instar. Clicks mandibles if molested.”  There is a vintage print of the stages of metamorphosis on the site, and the food plant looks like the plant in your photograph.  Can you identify the plant the caterpillar was feeding upon?  The UK Moths website has this information:  “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.  It has the unusual habit of entering beehives in search of honey, and if handled, emits a loud squeak.  The large caterpillar feeds on potato (Solanum tuberosum), and is sometimes found in potato fields during good immigration years.” Because of the markings on the thorax of the adult moth, which resembles a human skull, this insect has been a popular subject for artists, including the movie poster for the Oscar winning film The Silence of the Lambs.

you’re a genius, thank you so much.

While your claims are wildly exaggerated, we appreciate the compliment.  Can you identify the plant from your parent’s garden that the caterpillar was feeding upon?

August 18, 2010
hi daniel
I’m sorry it took so long to get back to youy. turns out our flora identification skills are as poor as our fauna ones. they have no idea. but they CAN confirm that it isn’t a potato plant.
the caterpillar (named Hannibal) has burrowed into some soil and we eagerly await his hatching.

Please send additional photos of pupa and adult if possible.

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