Hawkmoth Caterpillar from South Africa: Coelonia fulvinotata

Subject: Worm?
Location: South Africa
April 26, 2013 3:44 am
I found this worm crawling into the house. It’s the second one we have found trying to make it’s way indoors. The first on was yellow and green if I remember correctly.
What is it?
Signature: Don’t understand the question

Death's Head Hawkmoth Caterpillar
Hawkmoth Caterpillar:  Coelonia fulvinotata

This is a Hornworm, a caterpillar in the Hawkmoth family Sphingidae.  We believe it is the caterpillar of a Death’s Head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos, though this is not the typical color we see for the species.  Typically, the caterpillarof the Death’s Head Hawkmoth are a bright green and yellow color like your email indicates.  According to the Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic:  “Prior to pupation, the fully-grown larva darkens over a period of several hours, during which stage it anoints its whole body with ‘saliva’; this appears to hasten the darkening process. This completed, a suitable location for pupation is sought.”  We are not certain why they are trying to get indoors, but they might be seeking a suitable location to pupate.

Update:  May 5, 2013
We just received a wonderful correction and explanation of why this is actually Coelonia fulvinotata.

2 thoughts on “Hawkmoth Caterpillar from South Africa: Coelonia fulvinotata”

  1. Great discovery, congratulations! This is Coelonia fulvinotata again, not Acherontia atropos. It can be distinguished from a Death’s Head Hawkmoth’s by that it’s horn is thinner and longer and not as “bushy” and curved as in the last, in which it is covered by much longer tubercles. The caterpillars of the two species occur in almost completely the same colours (in both patterns, the greenish yellow and the greyish brown one), but the moths differ in that Coelonia has a very long proboscis and feeds from flowers like a humming bird, whereas Acherontia has a very short one and only lives from honey found in bee hives. Though the beautiful moths are very similar too and genetically really closely related, and have developped in the same areas of Africa, their developpment apart of each other took many millions of years. Contrary to Acherontia atropos, which regularly attends European countries, and whose sister species A. lachesis, A. medusa and A. styx populate Asian tropics, the genus Coelonia has no migrating species and is therefore not well-known outside Africa, the homeland of all Acherontiini, and, probably, all Sphinginae. Their pupae have long, bow-shaped proboscis cases, whereas those of Acherontia have none.


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