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A surprise guest!

Evelyn Cherry, aged 10, made an incredible discovery on her patio...

Hi, my name is Evelyn Cherry, I am 10 years old and I have an interesting story to share with you. I live in the beautiful countryside near Wiveliscombe in Somerset and have had the privilege of finding not one, but two Death's-head hawkmoth caterpillars! They mysteriously appeared on my garden patio one week apart; the first on the 23rd of September and the second on the 30th. 

I enthusiastically rushed to do some research and soon found that they transform into the largest and rarest moth in the UK! The caterpillars I found were huge, around 12cm in length. I believe them to be Acherontia atropos, one of the three species of Death's-head hawkmoth. My research also taught me that the correct term to use is larva, rather than caterpillar. My family have never seen anything like this before, we were overwhelmed by the size and colour of the caterpillars! 

Their unusual name originates from the skull shaped markings on the thorax (body) of the moth. These moths sometimes migrate to Britain for the summer months, from southern Europe and north Africa, but prefer warm conditions, so are rare in the UK. When the moth is disturbed they emit a high pitched squeak and can even create a perfume that smells like a bee! They are known to enter bee hives in search of honey and trick the bees into believing they are the queen. The moths' wingspan is very large and can reach 14cm wide. 

We have put both our caterpillars into a plastic container filled with soil and some Buddleia leaves as food. I have discovered that they feed most commonly on potato leaves, privet and deadly nightshade but we have none of these in our garden and we are struggling to identify what the caterpillars had been eating before we found them. They are so large the damage should be obvious! 

Both the caterpillars have burrowed down into the soil and have begun to pupate. We are hoping that if we can keep them warm enough they will complete the pupal stage over the next few weeks and transform into giant moths. 

I was fascinated by this discovery and have enjoyed finding out amazing new facts. If my larvae hatch successfully into Death-head hawkmoths, I would love to update you all with my exciting news! 

By Evelyn Cherry, aged 10


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