Acherontia atropos

Acherontia atropos (L.)

Taxonomic placing: Insecta, Holometabola, Lepidoptera, Sphingidae.

Common name: Death’s-head hawkmoth.

Geographic distribution: Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Morphology: The adult is about 50 mm long, Thorax dark with central yellow and dark markings that resemble a skull (thus the common name). Abdomen yellow with many mid-dorsal wavy darker slashes. Forewings dark with several wavy darker stripes, hindwings yellowish, with 2 dark stripes. Larva up to 130 mm in length, its coloration varying according to its host plants, being yellow, green and brown, with diagonal blue stripes and five pairs of prolegs.

Host plants: Various Solanaceae, as well as Jasminum, Vitex, Olea, Nerium and some other plants. At times the hawkmoth adults enter honey bee hives to feed on honey.

Life history: Females emerge in spring and place single eggs on host plants, which are eaten by the larvae. Towards autumn they descent to the soil to pupate, thus raising only a single annual generation.

Economic importance: This moth is an occasional, usually minor, pest of potatoes and tomatoes. A single larva on a plant can completely defoliate it. The moths may raid beehives for honey at night and are sometimes killed by the bees.

Management Biological control: The endoparasitoid tachinid Zygobothria atropivora (Robineau-Desvoidy) (also known as Drino atropivora) attacks the pest in the spring, emerging from its host only in the following spring. The pest is also attacked by other tachinids and by several Ichneumonidae, but their effect is unknown.


Bolu, H., Kara, K., Zirek, D. and Özaslan, C. 2015. A new host Acherontia Atropos (Linnaeus, 1758) (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) record for Drino atropivora (Robineau-Desvoidy 1830): (Diptera: Tachinidae) from Turkey. Journal of the Entomological Research Society 17: 11-16.

Hill, D.S. 1987. Agricultural Insect Pests of Temperate Regions and Their Control. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 672.

Moritz, R.F.A., Kirchner, W.H and Crewe, R.M. 1991. Chemical camouflage of the death’s head hawkmoth (Acherontia Atropos L.) in honeybee colonies. Naturwissenschaften 78: 179-182.

Stavrakis, G.N., 1976. Greece — Outbreak of Acherontia Atropos L. on olive trees. Outbreaks and new records. FAO Plant Protection Bulletin 24: 28.