I love it when I can share with you full-sized images. When they are as well-preserved as this 1831 book illustration, that’s even better. This imposing fellow is a death’s head hawkmoth. He is so named because of the skull-like pattern on his back just about where his “neck” would be.
There are three species of moth with this odd marking and they also have something else in common. They can actually make noise. Not with their wings but they can expel air and create a squeaking noise. With one of the three species, the noise is similar to a mouse’s squeak.
Is it any wonder with the odd symbolism and the unique ability to make sound that people were afraid of them for centuries. The names of the three different species atropos, lachesis and styx all have ties to Greek myths related to death. It has been used as a symbol of death in a number of literary works, the most famous of which is The Silence of the Lambs (both the book and the movie had one of these large moths found in the throat of a murder victim). People have been so silly about this moth that folks in France one thought coming in contact with its scales caused blindness.
This death’s head hawkmoth drawing was from a children’s storybook but it looks as well detailed as many of the botanical works that I’ve seen. I hope you can find a new use for him.
This image is copyright free and in the public domain anywhere that extends copyrights 70 years after death or at least 120 years after publication when the original illustrator is unknown.