Please help me ID Snakie -Giant Caterpillar
Location: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
July 5, 2011 2:04 am
Dear Mr.B.,
I found this snakeike creature in the yard. it is about 6-inches long, with contrastng brown and black colours , resembling and behaving like a snake. I don’t know if this was just me or my anti-snake/spider ’sensors’ going off, but I jumped a bit at first.
It was found this July in tropical environment, with mediterranean/savannah like environment, but in recent rainy wearher. I am located in Port Moresby in (Papua) New Guinea. I just hoped somone could assist. This is the largest caterpillar I have ever seen until your wb page about the French caterpillar.-July 2011. I am not a collector but curious and scientifically minded.
Anyway thanks for your attention. . –
Signature: Nick.L

Hornworm from New Guinea

Hi Nick,
While we are unable to determine the species at the moment, we can tell you that this Hornworm is the larva of a Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae.

Location: New Guinea

3 Responses to Hornworm from New Guinea

  1. Bostjan Dvorak says:

    Hello, very interesting caterpillar! It looks very much like the dark form of Acherontia lachesis. This form occurs in all the three known Acherontia species, like in A. atropos, but also in the genus Coelonia from Africa and Madagascar. If I am wrong and this is not Acherontia lachesis, it may be a caterpillar of a species from a closely related genus of the Sphingini-tribe, eg. a Megacorma species, which are officially not yet known or described…

    Best wishes from Berlin,

  2. Bostjan Dvorak says:

    I’d just like to revise myself – it IS an Acherontia lachesis, of course; why should a caterpillar of another genus in this region be that similar? Its colour, shape and horn completely correspond. The greenish yellow color variation with blue stripes is much more usual and better known, like in its western relative A. atropos; when the larva is about to pupate, its green and yellow colors turn to orange, but the lateral stripes remain bluish, whereas the brown and grey nuances in the present type of pattern on the photo do not change at all. The caterpillar was on its pupating trip, and therefore found when walking on the ground; they dig themselves deep into moist soft soil (down to 50 cm), just like in Agrius, Manduca or Cocytius, to burrow there an egg-shaped hole and to pupate in it – the soil must be of brown mineral type, as they don’t like humus and would get infected. It is relatively difficult to find a corresponding place of humid (but not wet) and adequately tender soil under everyday conditions, and this is the weak point of all Acherontini tribes – which, therefore, are often forced to seek or wait for a long period to find it; most of the widespread, well-known species from these genera are migrants, which originally lived in much restricted areas. And caterpillars of the most of them prefer to feed on annual plants requiring fresh soft soil, and this is generally to be found on bluffs and after landslips – and of course, in cultivated areas, where soil is being agriculturally treated, just to grow those plants. (That’s why Manduca sexta and Manduca quinquemaculata, the classical american “hornworms” are that spread in the New World; plants of the family Solanaceae (like potato and tomato, peppers and tobacco) primarily grew on a few points, but got wide-spread by man; the most of edible and applicable kinds of this plant-genus, highly branched in the New World, originate from there – an exception is the eggplant (Solanum melangena), coming from India. The Manduca species are often the only pollinators of the american Solanaceae, which therefore open their long chaliced blossoms at night only – like the Nicotiana (tobacco) and the Datura (jimson weed); this is similar in Coelonia and Xanthopan from the African area, but, the larvae of the latter only live on the tree genus Annonaceae, like the most species of the neotropical moth genus Cocytius, and the Asian Meganoton.)
    As soon as potatoes were introduced in Europe, the larvae (ie female moths) of Acherontia atropos – which were formerly predominantly found on Oleaceae (like privet, Ligustrum, olive tree, Olea, jasmine or ash, Fraxinus) showed a clear preference for this plant. The gorgeous caterpillar is well known in its usual, yellowish green, blue striped pattern type… and less in the much more rare greyish brown one. Like that of Manduca and Agrius, its big pupa is of reddish brown color, but has no proboscis case at all.
    The beautiful moth is very massive, of a dark brown basic color with some bluish shine and whitish points and spots; there is an impressive skull-like pattern of light hair on its thorax, reminiscent of a “deads head”, which led to its popular name. In the eastern species A. lachesis, the light whitish yellow pattern is additionally reinforced by a fluorescent red. All the three species of the “death-head-hawkmoths” are highly similar; their bodies are dark brown with two lines of dorsal yellow spots – very similar to those in the american Manduca species. However, the most striking difference to those, and to all other species of related genera, is the fact, that they have an extremely short proboscis, which disables them to live from any flower nectar – they are bee-hive visitors instead, drilling the cells and stealing honey. To protect themselves from angered bees, they can produce a strong, effective squeaking noise, which has the same frequency and works like the appeasing sound of a bee-queen – and is very loud and easy to hear by human ears; every of the three moth species is specially adapted to a local dominating kinds of honey bees. Due to this old feeding adaptation, moths of the genus Acherontia are not only vigorous flyers and migrants, but also very strong walkers, finding the smallest holes and clefts to enter and escape from a closed space (whereas all other butterlies and moths can only fly towards a source of light). Additionally, they are very smooth and therefore prettily unseizable for bees, and, as experiments have shown, they even smell like bees. Though, in a case of accident, the huge moth corpse is covered by wax; it is quite heavy and can’t be drawn out by bees, and those “mummified” corpses are sometimes found by bee-breeders. In some areas of Egipt, the moth is even called “Father of the family” – due to an evident misunderstanding; it is supposed to be the male, visiting the queen.

    The large caterpillar on the photo may have transformed to a moth in the meantime…

    Nice wishes,
    Bostjan Dvorak

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