Rare Death's-head Hawkmoth causes stir in Co Sligo.
Bunninadden National School had a rare visitor drop in on Friday, 9th October. Two boys from the Senior class noticed a large insect in among some leaves on their way in to school. Realising it was something unusual they asked teacher, Emma Gormley, to take a look. Emma snapped a photo and sent it to me for identification as she knew I recorded moths. I immediately recognized it as a Death’s-head Hawkmoth, a rare visitor to Ireland from the Mediterranean region, and the largest species of moth to occur in the country with a wingspan of up to 13 cm. Eager to see it, I rushed out to the school and placed it in a container and then took it in to the classroom where the children gathered with great excitement. I told them of some of the interesting habits of this species of moth. It is able to raid bee-hives and has the remarkable ability to give off the scent of bees, which has a calming effect on the bees, allowing the moth to feed on honey unmolested. It can also emit a loud squeak when disturbed in order to scare off predators. The skull-like pattern on the thorax has given rise to many superstitions and myths and the Death’s-head Hawkmoth has featured in several books and films including, most famously, the 1991 film ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. Though they are generally found in warmer countries they migrate north with a small number reaching Ireland, most sightings being from the east and south coasts. The only record pertaining to Co Sligo is from 1915 so the children’s discovery is very noteworthy.
After leaving the school, I returned to Ballymote with the captive moth and together we visited Ballymote National School, Ballymote Community Library and several shops and businesses and the moth was seen by hundreds of people many of whom where in awe at the impressive looking insect. Photographs reached thousands on Nature Learn’s Facebook page. After a road trip around Co Sligo I took the moth back to Bunninadden National School where the whole school gathered to see the now famous moth (named Silkie by the children) being released.
It is ironic to think that a creature long associated with death and the subject of morbid superstitions should do so much to promote a greater awareness and appreciation of the wonderful diversity of life.