A “wasp” in the Caldera

Acherontia atropos, the commonest of the Death's-head Hawk moths, in the Caldera de Tabutiente, La Palma island
Acherontia atropos, the commonest of the Death’s-head Hawk moths, in the Caldera de Tabutiente

Look what I found on a walk in the Caldera. It’s huge for an insect – that body is about as big as my thumb.

It was fluttering along as though it had only just come out of its chrysalis and its wings weren’t quite working yet, so I managed to get several photos. I thought it was a moth because of the fluttering movements and the thick body, but when I showed the photo around, I was assured that it was a hornet.

I was pleased I hadn’t got any closer.

But when I looked at the full-size photos on the computer at home I realised that it couldn’t be a wasp. In spite of the very wasp-like colouring, there’s no sign of a wasp waist, and wasps have transparent wings.

It took a bit of hunting, because the photo in my insect book only shows this animal with the wings folded. The tops of the wings are a dark camouflage pattern. But it’s actually a Acherontia atropos, or Death’s-head Hawk moth. Wikipedia says that they spend the day camouflaged, and flash the bright colouring to deter predators. (Come to think of it, it was certainly flashing the bright colours at me.) At night they frequently raid beehives for the honey.

 Acherontia atropos, the commonest of the Death's-head Hawk moths, in the Caldera de Tabutiente, La Palma, Canary Islands
Acherontia atropos, the commonest of the Death’s-head Hawk moths, in the Caldera de Tabutiente

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