Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs part ll......

This post begins with good news and bad news.

The good news is that one of my Death's-head Hawkmoths has unexpectedly emerged. The bad news is that  one of my Death's-head Hawkmoths has unexpectedly emerged.

If you find that confusing, then let me further befog the issue by adding that even since I typed those words, a second has now also emerged.

Why am I saying that the good news is also the bad news? Well because I only had four pupae and these two have now emerged and seem to be both female? Certainly the same sex anyhow. That means no chance of mating and egg laying. Furthermore, I now have just two chances left for a pairing and those have to be one of each! (Unless I know less than I thought about mother nature?) I am fairly sure that it is too late for the last two to emerge as moths this year now (yes, I know I said that once before) and so I will have to cross everything and wait the winter out.

And a closer look at that fantastic mask-the markings on the two moths are very similar to each other...

Knowing that these moths feed on honey directly from the hive I knew it might be challenging to get them to feed in an unnatural environment. I had read and seen videos of how you need to encourage at least the first feed, by gently unfurling the proboscis and placing it in the honey.
I tried everything I knew for days on end to encourage feeding with no luck. I then e.mailed a friend who'd raised some already and asked for advice/tips, but she informed me that she'd had no luck with all five of hers and never did get them to feed. I tried different mixtures ranging from neat honey to honey and water and even sugar water but it was all refused. Then on the seventh day after emerging, I finally persuaded the first moth to have a feed by soaking some cotton buds in honey...

Please remember that you will need to view the blog online to see these videos-they do not show in the e.mailed version



These really are beautiful and impressive moths with quite powerful, large wings. In this little clip I allow the wing to beat against my finger to show the sound it makes. It then decides on a maiden flight around my studio. You can hear it squeaking and bumping into the light and is way faster than I can follow with the camera, before settling once again. I apologise for my rather hairy hand here too-I am not a particularly hairy person but for some reason my right hand seems so in this clip! Must have drunk too much potion last night?



You can hear the squeaking noises they make better in this clip where I am encouraging it by gently moving the moth. It also displays the defensive posture of raising itself up. They achieve the noise by expelling air from their proboscis (the part that looks like a long nose), past a flap near the opening called the epipharynx.They make the sound when startled, but also do quite a lot of squeaking when conducting their honey raids.



And so all things being equal, that is where this update should have ended. Sans to say perhaps that I have learnt so much from being able to observe  these monster moths. I should also mention I suppose  that they are now in a roomy flight cage and are fed and warm.

But...time has been tight of late and this update has taken a while to compile. Today October 5th turned into a very warm day for the time of year and I guess the remaining two pupae thought it must be spring and low and behold, they too have now emerged within a few hours of each other!

Emerging Death's-head Hawkmoth

Emerging Death's-head Hawkmoth

This one was last to emerge-this was about 15 mins later

I think the first photos show a male emerging? That's what I hope anyhow, with the final one being yet another female. I am not too sure about the last one as you can see the wings have yet to inflate fully (this can take about an hour) and the antenna are still folded down making it tricky to tell if they are the larger ones sported by the males.

And so now I have two that have fed okay and two to yet persuade to do so. Hopefully it will get easier with each one.

Once they are fed and ready I shall put these into the flight cage with the others, plus some food-plant and hope for a pairing. 
Watch this space because there could be more to add to the story yet.

Until the next time...



  1. Oh. Wow. I absolutely promise not to pepper this comment with exclamation marks but - !!!!
    I also hate that word 'gobsmacked' so I won't use that either, nor that equally ridiculous word 'awesome'.
    How incredible though that they should emerge at this time of year! They obviously wouldn't have stood a chance outside so I am assuming the flight cage for pairing is indoors?

    Love your videos and I'm really suprised by the thickness and shortness of the proboscis - so they are honey eaters/stealers then - not sure I knew that (you may have told us, but I've forgotten, sorry) but I haven't actually read up a huge amount about these moths for obvious reasons.

    Also laughed my face off at the video when the moth buzzed off - don't apply for a job filming professionally, will you? ;-)

    Can't wait for the next installment. Would you mind if I shared this to facebook as I have some buggy friends who I know would be really interested.

  2. Hi Mandy...thank-you for this lovely commenting.

    Yes, the flight cage is in my little studio at the end of the garden which is kept heated. The proboscis is that way exactly because of the food they consume, they also have clawed feet (I meant to include a close-up shot of one) to allow them to climb around the beehives with ease. I have read that they can also mimic the smell of bees as a further disguise?

    Yeah I wasn't expecting that moth to fly off so soon and the little point and shoot, together with my slow reactions meant I had no chance of following it once airborne.

    Please feel free to share to fb Mandy, hope your chums find something of interest.

  3. Stonking blog! I love the videos! Especially the one of the squeaking. Never heard a moth squeak before. They're absolutely gorgeous aren't they? Hope that the last two to have emerged have now fed and more importantly, that the male makes the most of being the only one with 3 females! Lol!
    I too look forward to the next instalment! :-)

    1. Why thank-you Maria ;-) I know, it is amazing how they make this noise isn't it and quite disconcerting actually as you don't expect a moth to be vocal?

      All are doing well at present but not sure there is any...hanky-panky going on......yet! I am actually not that hopeful of egg laying but you never know...

  4. PS nice mug!! :-)


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