Just by looking at a death’s-head hawk moth, you know that they mean trouble. With a distinguishable skull pattern across their wings and the ability to squeak loudly if disturbed, this species of moth is often associated with the most sinister of connotations.
A species native to Europe, the death’s-head hawk moth has found itself in many works of note. From German artworks to the works Edgar Allen Poe, the species has always found itself close to the supernatural. And who could forget its ominous presence in the film ‘The Silence of the Lambs’!
How does the death’s-head hawk moth compare to other moth symbols in our guide, and where did it originate from?
There are three main species of death’s-head hawk moths. They are the Styx, Atropis and Lachesis. All three terms are derived from Greek mythology and their meanings are profound.
The Acherontia Atropos is a large species of moths, with a wingspan often reaching lengths of 5 inches. They are identified by their brown and yellow wing patterns, and are often found raiding bee’s hives at night in the search for honey.
The species name was derived from the goddess Atropos, who was one of the three goddesses responsible for fate and destiny. The ancient Greeks believed that Atropos created the mechanism of death upon mortals.
This ties back seamlessly with previously explored moth symbols of death upon one’s self and loved ones.
Native of South Asia, the Acherontia Lachesis has unique patterns across its wingspan, not nearly as dense as those of the Apropos moth. They cover almost all areas of Asia, including recently becoming established across parts of the Hawaiian Islands.
In Greek mythology Lachesis was the sister of Atropos, who with Clotho formed the Moirai (the incarnations of destiny). Lachesis determined the life of a mortal, and had control of their destiny.
No, we’re not talking about the rock band here!
The acherontia Styx is also common through Asia, and are known to be quite the pest in South Korea due to their ability to pierce and damage the yuzu fruit (which is similar to a mandarin). Their hind wings have a distinctive skull-like pattern with the foreign being striped – similar to that of a tiger moth.
Styx has a significant place in Greek Mythology. The River Styx formed the boundary between the Earth and the Underworld. It was an essential feature of the afterword (similar to the Christian version of hell), and by name association this links the species to the common moth symbol of the afterlife. This moth symbolism is common amongst many religions, as we can see in our guide to the spiritual meaning of moths.
The death’s-head hawk moth holds negative connotations among the superstitious. This can be traced back to the 1600s, where the Brits believed the first instance of the moth was noted at the death of King Charles I.
Although it’s been used in art and various works of fiction it’s undoubtedly most recognised from the fictional horror film ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. They used the moths to play into the macabre elements of the film – knowing that the patterns of the moth resemble the dead. There are also similarities between a moth’s metamorphosis and that which key villain Jame Gumb was attempting to do. He was wanting to transition from something ugly and insignificant into something he perceived to be more beautiful. This emulates that of the moth, whose transformation from a caterpillar to something more beautiful is a common symbol as we’ve seen in previous guides.
Interestingly however, the moths actually used in production were not deaths head hawk moths! They were tobacco horn worm moths, painted by the film’s prop artists by gluing fake manicure nails onto their wings.
Have you had an encounter with a death’s head hawk moth? Comment below to let us know what you thought it meant!