CLOSE
Original image
istock

12 Facts About the Death's-Head Hawkmoth

Original image
istock

Celebrate National Moth Week with a few facts about one of the most striking insects in the animal kingdom: The Death's-Head Hawkmoth.

1. The Death's-Head Hawkmoth gets its name from the skull-like mark on its thorax.

2. Given its unusual markings, it's probably not surprising that people once considered it a bad omen. In 1840, entomologist Moses Harris wrote that "It is regarded not as the creation of a benevolent being, but the device of evil spirits—spirits enemies to man—conceived and fabricated in the dark, and the very shining of its eyes is thought to represent the fiery element whence it is supposed to have proceeded. Flying into their apartments in the evening at times it extinguishes the light; foretelling war, pestilence, hunger, death to man and beast."

Wikimedia Commons

3. There are actually three species in the genus Acherontia, which takes its name from the Acheron, the River of Pain in the underworld: A. styx, found in Asia, is named after the boundary river of Hades; A. lachesis, found in India and other parts of Asia, is named for the fate who measures the thread of life; and the best known of the bunch, A. atropos, found from Great Britain (at least in the warmer months) to South Africa, takes its name from the Fate that cuts the thread of life.

4. The caterpillars come in three colors—bright yellow, bright green, or a mottled brown—and have a tail horn that changes color and curves as the larvae mature. They feed on more than 100 plants, including nightshade, and grow up to 5 inches long. You don’t want to mess with them: When threatened, they click their mandibles and try to bite their attacker!

5. The caterpillars molt four times before it’s time to pupate, at which point they cover themselves with a saliva-like secretion and go to ground. When they find a suitable spot, they burrow 5 to 15 inches below the surface and shed their skins.

6. The moths are big: The smallest, A. styx, has a wingspan between 3 and 5.11 inches; A. lachesis, the largest, has a wingspan of 4 to 5.19 inches; and A. atropos has a wingspan of 3.5 to 5.11 inches.

7. When disturbed, the moths squeak. The sound is produced by an internal flap, called the epipharynx, which sits at the base of the proboscis.

8. The Acherontia moths raid the hives of honey bees. In the 1836 book The Natural History of British Moths, Sphinxes, &c, James Duncan wondered how they did it, writing, “This insect is in the habit of entering the hives of the common domestic bee, where it takes up its abode for a time, and regales itself on the honey. … It is not easy to understand how a creature without offensive weapons, and unprotected by any hard covering, can either resist or survive the attacks of so many armed assailants.”

Some scientists believed it might have been the moth’s squeaking—which sounds like the noises a queen bee makes—while others thought that the mark on the thorax resembled a worker bee’s face. Recently research shows that the moths excrete an odor that contains the same compounds present in honeybee odor, which might mask their presence from the bees.

Wikimedia Commons

9. A. atropos is the fastest moth in the world; it can fly at speeds up to 30mph! The insects can also hover like hummingbirds as they drink nectar from flowers.

Orion Pictures

10. The moth has popped up in literature: In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the titular vampire sends the moths to his thrall, Renfeld. Thomas Hardy wrote about them in The Return of the Native, and John Keats mentioned them in his poem “Ode to Melancholy.” And in Thomas Harris’s book Silence of the Lambs, the killer places the pupae of the Acherontia styx in his victims throats. (In the movie adaptation, the filmmakers either used the pupae of the tobacco hornworm or A. atropos.)

11. Two large moths were discovered in the bedchamber of King George III in 1801, during his second major incident of madness. One of the moths, collected by the monarch’s physician, Robert Darling Willis, is at the University of Cambridge. There’s no evidence that the King actually saw the moths.

12. Don’t want to call it a death’s-head? In Dutch, they're called Doodshoofdvlinder; in French, le sphinx à tête de mort; in German, Totenkopfschwärmer; in Spanish, cabeza de muerto; and in Swedish, Dödskallesvärmare.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

Original image
Noriyuki Saitoh
arrow
Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
Original image
Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
A Simple Way to Prevent Bed Bugs: Do Your Laundry While on Vacation
Original image
iStock

Bed bugs are perhaps nature's worst house guests. Not only do they, y'know, feed on your blood while you sleep, but the critters also mysteriously sneak their way into our abodes without warning, only to turn around and invite all their friends over for a slumber party. Since they won't be dissuaded by an empty fridge or an expired HBO subscription, what steps can one take to ensure their home stays free of these dreaded visitors?

For starters, do your laundry while traveling, according to a new study spotted by Gizmodo. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, its authors found that bed bugs are twice as likely to convene on and inside tote bags with dirty clothes as those containing clean clothes. They discovered this after creating a mock bedroom with cotton laundry bags—one filled with "dirty" worn clothing, the other with clean items—and observing which of the two a cageful of unleashed bed bugs preferred.

Researchers know that bed bug populations have surged around the world thanks in part to the rise of cheap air travel. They also have theorized that they're attracted to human scent, which can linger on clothing for at least a few days. Still, they didn't quite know how, exactly, the critters make the jump from the outside world and into our abodes—especially since these insects are relatively sedentary and rarely leave their feeding places. These new findings suggest that the bugs could be stowing away in attractive-smelling suitcases—which after traveling through hotels, airports, and taxis, end up right back in our bedrooms.

Since some bugs, like mosquitos, are attracted to carbon dioxide (it indicates the exhalation of a nearby animal or human—a.k.a. a food source), researchers checked to see if increases of the gas made bed bugs more or less likely to congregate on the dirty laundry bags. This ended up prompting foraging behavior, but the insects weren't any more prone to hanging out on the soiled clothing heap than they were before. 

Keeping your luggage free of bed bugs while traveling can be relatively simple, study author William Hentley, an entomologist at the UK's University of Sheffield, told Science. Since not everyone has ready access to a washer and dryer on vacation, avoid the bugs in the first place by placing your suitcase atop the metal luggage racks commonly found in hotel rooms, even if you've already given the room a precautionary sweep. (Bed bugs can't climb up smooth surfaces.) If your room is sans rack, seal your dirty clothes inside an airtight bag to keep the insects from getting a good whiff, or wrap up your entire suitcase if it's frequently been home to unwashed garments in the past.

That said, not all is lost if you arrive home from a long vacation with a bag full of well-worn outfits. Take your clothes immediately to a washer/dryer and run them through a hot cycle. That should be enough to kill invading bed bugs before they've even had the chance to learn how comfortable your couch is.

[h/t Gizmodo]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios